Britain’s David Haye is about to square up to Wladimir Klitschko in what is undoubtedly the biggest bout of his career. ShortList’s Andrew Dickens devises him a fight plan
Career-defining moments come in many forms. For a footballer it may be a cup-winning goal or glaring miss (hello, Ronny Rosenthal), while for many of us it might be a slightly-too-honest moment with the boss at the office Christmas party. For a boxer, however, defining moments come neatly divided into the 12 three-minute segments known as a boxing match. For Britain’s David Haye, one of these moments will happen in Hamburg this Saturday.
Haye is taking on Wladimir Klitschko, a Ukrainian fighting on adopted home soil, in the biggest fight of both their careers. The winner will walk away with the WBA, WBO and IBF heavyweight belts (three of the four good ones), the prestigious The Ring magazine title, and the genuine claim of being the best heavyweight boxer in the world. For Haye, who has sworn to retire before his 31st birthday this October, it’s likely to be the fight he’s remembered for. So how does he make sure history views him well?
The most obvious obstacle facing Haye is Klitschko’s size: at 6ft 6.5in high and with a reach of 6ft 9in, Haye is giving up 3in in each dimension, not to mention an extra 37lb of lean Ukrainian beef. But Haye memorably defeated Nikolai Valuev, who stands some 6in taller than Klitschko, so there is hope.
“He shouldn’t worry about the height,” says Lamon Brewster, owner of fighters’ resource site Fightingconnection.com and, more relevantly, the last man to beat Klitschko in 2004. “He needs to come in low. A lot of people make the mistake of trying to stand up to Klitschko.
“If you look at the mongoose when it fights the cobra, it gets in as low as possible so that the cobra can’t judge the distance of its strike. A tall fighter can’t judge the distance to a shorter fighter who keeps popping up like a Jack-in the-box. He needs to get low and inside Klitschko’s jab.”
That’s easier said than done when Klitschko’s jab, which is actually more a ‘half-jab’ in the Lennox Lewis mould, is one of the best in the business, teeing up victims for his pneumatic right cross. Yet Brewster’s view is backed up by trainer and former world champ Colin McMillan (Colin-mcmillan.com).
“The longer the fight goes on,” says McMillan, “the longer it favours Klitschko. It’s crucial that Haye uses his feet to counter the jab and then come in afterwards, and that he does this right from the start. Then he needs to use his big punch when he gets an opportunity. Haye can knock big men over.”
With any good set of defences, it’s never as simple as just crossing the moat; you’ve still got boiling oil and flaming goats to come. With Klitschko, after the jab comes that monster right hand and, if you get too close, death by hug.
“I hope Haye doesn’t get into a wrestling match,” says Brewster, “because, as the taller fighter, Klitschko will lean on him. He did that with me. Every time he got close, he’d grab me and lay his body on me, so my legs had to work harder. Klitschko has what you call panic attacks. If you get past his punches, he’ll melt down mentally. He’s uncomfortable with you getting close — but if you get too close, he’ll grab you.”
This grabbing and holding, apart from being as much fun to watch as hair-growth, is frowned upon by boxing purists. However, don’t expect too much ‘British fair play’ from Haye. When needs must, the Devil drives — or, in this case, wears big shiny shorts.
“I’d be surprised if Haye doesn’t rough Klitschko up,” says Kevin Mitchell, boxing correspondent for The Guardian and The Observer. “We might see the odd low blow, or a few shots to the back of the head, just to get him angry, to get him fighting the fight he doesn’t want. Haye beat Valuev by confusing him with almost ‘non boxing’. Klitschko is a programmed fighter. He’s not capable of changing from his fight plan, whereas he won’t know what to expect from Haye, whose instincts flow better in the ring.”
The element of surprise is a valuable weapon in war, as is what we now refer to as psychological warfare, or simply ‘putting the willies up your opponent’. Historical methods such as bagpipes and big scary masks aren’t allowed under Queensbury Rules, but Haye’s efforts to induce panic will start outside the ring.
“The pressure is all on Klitschko,” says Mitchell. “He’s expected to win. I think the talk that Haye started two years ago has got to him. Klitschko will be waiting for the unexpected in the ring, but Haye might do something in the build-up, too. Maybe a stunt, like when Muhammad Ali went crazy at the pre-fight physical before he fought Sonny Liston. He acted like a madman, and it got to Liston.”
So, the ingredients for Haye to succeed this weekend: get beyond the jab, but not too close; get stuck in to him early; and do something unusual to induce a panic attack from the robotic Klitschko.
And there is one more point that each of our experts agrees is the most important: “The key is his speed,” says McMillan. “Haye’s too fast for a lot of big guys. He can use that to apply pressure. If he can do it early, he can win.” Brewster agrees. “To beat Klitschko he needs speed of hands, of feet, of eye,” he says. “I really hope Haye wins. He’s got the greatest chance of beating him since me and, you know, I think he will.”
“I WANT TO BE LIKE ARNIE”
ShortList talks exclusively to David Haye
On a percentage scale, how confident are you of winning?
One hundred per cent. There’s no doubt in my mind that I’m going to win. Mentally and physically, I have what it takes.
What are the biggest dangers facing you?
Falling into his jab-and-grab default. He likes to grab hold and wrestle and sap his opponent’s strength. I can’t give away tactics, but I’ve got something up my sleeve that he won’t be best pleased with it…
Is this the biggest fight of your life?
By far. It’s the biggest fight in boxing for many, many years. The only fight that can compete with it in the last 10 or 15 years is probably Manny Pacquiao and Floyd Mayweather Jr. They reckon half a billion people will be watching this fight. Sport events rarely get that worldwide coverage.
Will you retire after this fight?
Yeah. I think there’s a strong possibility. If Vitali [the older Klitschko brother] fights Tomasz Adamek, it doesn’t really make it possible for us to get it on.
Even if the big bucks and Vitali are put on the table?
Definitely. I’m sticking to the date [Haye turns 31 on 13 October] and that’s it. It’s not like I’ve picked it out of thin air. I’ve been saying it for years.
What are your plans for the rest of your life?
I want to get into acting and have the same success in the acting field as I’ve had in the sporting arena.
What kind of actor would you like to be?
Sylvester Stallone, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Dolph Lundgren — the action stars. I’m a big guy, so I think that sort of stuff would be suited to me. I’ve always been a fan of shoot-’em-ups.
Do you have a dream action film remake you’d like to star in?
I don’t know about a remake, but I’d love to be in The Expendables 2. Just about all my heroes were in the first one, apart from Steven Seagal and Jean-Claude Van Damme.
Haye vs Klitschko will be on Sky Box Office on 2 July from 8pm
(Images: Rex Features)