David Haye has enjoyed a storied career, unifying all the belts as a cruiserweight before moving up to heavyweight to mount an assault on boxing’s glamour division. Since making the move in 2008 he has won four times, claiming the WBA heavyweight title in the process. He became the first Briton since Lennox Lewis to win a heavyweight belt, and only the fifth in boxing history.
Haye immediately declared himself ‘a legend in the making’, and has been telling anyone prepared to listen that he the new big thing in boxing, a man who will fight anyone, anywhere.
There is only one slight problem with this: enter Wladimir and Vitali Klitschko. The German-based Klitschko brothers have split the heavyweight kingdom between them for the last decade, dominating all-comers whilst steadfastly refusing to fight each other out of respect for their mother’s sensitivities.
Avid chess-players and the only boxing world champions ever to be awarded PhD’s (albeit in sports science), the Klitschkos are unquestionably the best heavyweights of the modern era.
This is a mantle that Haye vociferously wants. To have any right to the label he must defeat one or both of the Klitschko brothers. And Haye knows this.
Ever since entering the heavyweight division he has been bellowing about fighting them, goading and challenging the Klitschkos incessantly. A small selection of quotations from Haye will convey a flavour of it: ‘I will knock out both the Klitschkos in 2010’, ‘Fighting Wlad will be the easiest fight ever’, ‘When I fight Wladimir it will be his last fight. He will retire after I have beaten him to bits.’
Haye even arrived at a press conference wearing a t-shirt depicting himself holding the severed heads of both brothers, and declaring ‘I will dispose of the whole Klitschko family. First I will take care of Wladimir, then I will take care of Vitali.’
If words were punches then Haye would doubtless have felled both of the sturdy Slavs. The only problem is, Haye has shown absolutely no enthusiasm for trading in the verbal blows for fistic ones.
Enraged by Haye’s constant volley of insults, the Klitschkos first agreed to fight him, and then, over the course of time, have developed almost an obsession with punishing Haye for his impertinence.
Responding to the severed head incident, Wladimir said of Haye: ‘He is a young man who cannot control his emotions. I will teach him a lesson and show him how to deal with it. I can best do it in the ring. I thought I would knock him out in the first round but then I thought better of it. I will make it a long and painful process. I will not knock him out before the 12th round. I will enjoy the process, it will be fun.”
Like baited bears, the Klitschkos have become increasingly enraged. Wladimir recently declared ‘I said I wanted to make Haye’s face into a pizza. Now I want to make his face into a pepperoni pizza with salami and ketchup on it.”
Such gastronomic metaphors aside, the Klitschko brothers have shown a willingness to get into the ring with Haye that has not been shared by the Londoner.
A contract was signed between Haye and Wladimir to fight on the 20th of June 2009. Haye pulled out some weeks before the fight complaining of a back injury, which he refused to allow to be corroborated by an independent doctor. Then Haye agreed to fight Vitali Klitschko, but pullout again at the last possible moment. Another fight date was made with Wladmir, and again Haye pulled back, citing a quibble over television rights to broadcast the event.
Most recently a deal was once again in place for Haye to fight Wladimir, but with all the details arranged Haye refused to go through with the fight after Klitschko insisted on having a warm up bout.
Haye’s remarkable tenacity in avoiding ever actually stepping into the ring with either of the two great heavyweights of this era has garnered him the nickname ‘the ducker’ in the American press. For someone who speaks of wanting a legacy, this is not the most desirable sort reputation to possess.
It is now high-time Haye found a backbone to match the adroitness of his tongue. Boxing is dying because the best won’t fight the best. For the sake of his sport, his country and his own self-respect, Haye should step up to the plate, don some gloves, man-up and fight one of the Klitschkos.