After all the talk of dramatic destruction, what we got from David Haye against Wladimir Klitschko on Saturday night was 12 rounds of hit-and-run boxing with one of the ingredients missing. Haye was disappointing, Klitschko was workmanlike and the much-anticipated heavyweight title fight turned out to be a dud. (“Wake me when the fight starts,” HBO sage Larry Merchant laconically commented in the eighth round.)
Over at Sky Sports, did I really hear the studio crew describing Haye’s performance as valiant? To me, valiant was Tommy Farr going 15 rounds with Joe Louis and making a fight of it, Don Cockell surviving brutal blows and taking Rocky Marciano into the ninth round, or Danny Williams picking himself off the canvas four times before being pulled out after eight one-sided rounds against Vitali Klitschko. Haye’s performance against the younger of the Klitschko brothers was more in the nature of Joe Bugner going 15 rounds with Muhammad Ali, except that Bugner heard the final bell by means of covering up behind a shell-like defence whereas Haye did so by getting on his bike.
It is difficult not to assess Haye’s performance harshly. For months — or was it years? — Haye had been telling the boxing world that he was going to demolish the Klitschko brothers. He even asked Klitschko at one of their face-to-face meetings if the towering Ukrainian would be willing to meet him in the middle of the ring and fight. Yet when Klitschko advanced at the sound of the opening bell, Haye started moving away from him as fast as he could.
Klitschko greeted the broken-toe excuse Haye gave to explain his lack of aggression with scorn, perhaps rightly so. Elite fighters “fight hurt” as they say in the trade and often find a way to win.
Larry Holmes went into his fight with Ken Norton suffering from a biceps injury, Floyd Patterson battled with a broken right hand for perhaps the last six rounds in his first fight with Tommy “Hurricane” Jackson, Ali went something like 10 rounds with a broken jaw in the first fight with Ken Norton.
Haye’s strategy seemed to be to keep out of Klitschko’s way and try to get lucky with a big overhand right. Most of the Hayemaker’s haymakers were wild misses but he did seem to jolt his bigger opponent the few times he connected, and certainly Klitschko was sufficiently shaken in the final round to feel the need to hold on. Yet the fight ended as it began, with Klitschko pursuing Haye around the ring.
Am I missing something here? Haye said he wanted Klitschko right in front of him, he got his wish and yet in essence he bailed out of the fight.
Look, if anyone, in any field, is going to talk the talk they have to be prepared for criticism if they don’t walk the walk.
Haye didn’t want to get knocked out, and so to go 12 rounds could be called a moral victory of sorts — but only if you disregard all the over-the-top trash talk. As Klitschko said, Haye had derided the big man’s past challengers for failing to fight aggressively and then adopted the same survival pattern — “super-defensive” as Klitschko put it.
Larry Merchant called Haye’s performance “humiliating” although he did seem to be mildly amused by the British boxer’s frequent flopping to his hands and knees, suggesting that Haye had turned the arena into a “flop house”.
While I picked Klitschko to win, I now feel embarrassed for suggesting that this was a dangerous fight for him. And yet, watching the HBO coverage, I really thought Haye was in with a chance for the first few rounds — but then it was as if he discreetly withdrew himself from the combat. There were lots of feints but very little fighting — Haye was simply “making moves” as the old-time British boxing chaps would say. To paraphrase the title of an old Peter Sellers comedy flick, he was the mouth that didn’t roar.