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Scott Jordan Harris

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The Heavyweight Title Deserves More Than Haye and Klitschko Were Willing to Give

Posted: 07/13/11 12:38 PM ET

There is a new update available for David Haye's Klitschko-baiting iPhone app; presumably, punches have been removed for a more realistic gaming experience. It's well over a week since Wladimir Klitschko embarrassed Haye, and Haye embarrassed Britain, but the disappointment still stings British boxing fans like the ache from ribs broken by a body shot.

Haye, who was introduced as 'The Fighting Pride of London, England' did not give London, England a fight of which it can be proud. Rather, he gave it one of which it has to struggle not to be ashamed.

He was beaten, and well beaten, but he did not blame that beating on its true reasons (his lack of artistry and endeavour; his inability to break through his opponent's guard the easy way and his refusal to do it the hard way; and the chasm in class between his trainer, Adam Booth, and the master strategist in Klitschko's corner, Emmanuel Steward). Instead, he blamed a broken little toe.

Is Haye a coward? By the standards of normal men, of course not. But normal men are not the comparison point for a legitimate heavyweight champion of the world, which is what Haye insists he is (or rather, was). Haye's pre-fight rhetoric, the belt around his waist and the magnitude of the match all mean the only relevant comparisons to be made are with the great heavyweights of history.

The introductions underlined this. The entrances were preceded by an appearance, via video, from Mike Tyson; Haye was led to the ring by Lennox Lewis, and Klitschko by George Foreman. The message was loud and could not be confused: great heavyweight boxing is back, and the stars of today are as bright as the stars of the past. But this is as far-fetched a fantasy as Haye's assertion that the fight would end with Klitschko crawling across the canvas on his hands and knees.

Had Tyson, Lewis or Foreman -- or Sir Henry Cooper, who never won a world title but was more 'The Fighting Pride of London, England' than Haye could ever understand -- lost a championship match because of a broken toe, they would have been too ashamed to admit it, never mind to climb atop a table at a press conference and display their feet to incredulous cameramen. (Indeed, offered the chance to fight for the Heavyweight Championship of the World, Tyson, Lewis, Foreman or Cooper would have torn a toe off to get it and fought on as their boots filled with blood.)

But it wasn't just Haye's character that was weak: his strategy was witless. His plan was to retreat and await an opportunity to throw a decisive punch. But the defences around Klitschko's chin cannot be snuck through: they have to be battered down.

All those un-thrown blows Haye was saving for Klitschko's jaw should, once it became obvious he could not manoeuvre himself in sight of it, have rained relentlessly on the side of Klitschko's arms. Eventually, the high guard would have drooped, the telescopic jab would have become slower to extend, and an opportunity would have appeared.

For Haye, the exhaustion incurred by this tactic would have been excruciating, and the head shots he would have absorbed while pursuing it would have jeopardised both his short-term aim and his long-term health. But this is the cost of the Heavyweight Championship of the World, and these are the risks taken by those who deserve it.

Mark Kram wrote that during the third Ali-Frazier fight, the fabled 'Thrilla in Manilla', 'Frazier stayed in the mouth of the cannon, and the big gun roared again and again'. Klitschko versus Haye should have presented a similar spectacle -- but instead Haye cowered from the cannon, and the big gun roared only enough to remind us it hadn't rusted.

For Klitschko, too, has little to celebrate. He gave a fine display of how not to lose his championship, but such an effort is insufficient for the biggest heavyweight fight in years. The admonishment Steward gave him after the eighth round could have been given to him after any round: 'You're not throwing enough punches! You've got to let punches go!'

Unlike Haye, Klitschko, with his five world championship belts, can legitimately claim to be a descendent of Joe Louis and Joe Frazier, Mike Tyson and Muhammad Ali. Had any of those great champions swallowed the insults Haye spewed before the fight; had they seen an opponent wear a T-shirt showing the severed head of a member of their family; and had they promised to punish that opponent for it, the thrashing to which they subjected him would have made onlookers cringe.

Faced with a fighter as arrogant and un-ferocious as Haye, the aforementioned men -- and all who are worthy of the immortality conferred by the World Heavyweight Championship -- would not have quietly out-pointed their opponent after 12 rounds. They would have put him through the ropes inside six. Klitschko has the belts of a champion, but not the spirit.

There is now the inevitable speculation about a return bout or a quasi-return bout, with Haye battling Wladimir's older and slightly more bloodthirsty brother, Vitali, for the WBC Heavyweight Championship. I should be uninterested in this prospect, but I am fascinated by it for one very strong reason: Haye versus Klitschko left me with an overwhelming urge to watch a rematch -- not because I have one scrap of desire of to see again the fight I saw, but because I am still waiting to see the fight I should have seen.

 
 
 

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