Wladimr Klitschko, left, and David Haye pose for photographers following a media conference at Imtech Arena. (Alexander Hassenstein/Getty Images)
The biggest heavyweight boxing match in at least eight years will take place in front of over 50,000 fans this weekend and it will be a defining moment for David Haye.
The Brash Briton Haye, with just a handful of heavyweight bouts to his name since leaving his cruiserweight title status, has goaded Wladimir Klitschko and Vitali Klitschko at every opportunity for the past few years. Haye (25-1, 23 knockouts) didn't even miss a beat after it was he who pulled out of fights with each brother a few years back.
There were those who made a mountain out of Haye's withdrawals in 2009, but those bouts were nowhere near ripe. In fact, you could argue that his fight with Wladimir this Saturday afternoon in Hamburg, Germany - HBO Canada is broadcasting at 4:30 p.m. ET - still could use about another year to marinate and reach the kind of mass appeal where it gets talked about incessantly on ESPN and on Internet sports podcasts.
But as most know, the division is fairly barren and nothing much can be gained by watching Klitschko (55-3, 49 KOs) beat up on a couple more underqualified challengers.
Make no mistake, though, this is a defining moment for Klitschko as well.
Even with his limited resume, the 30-year-old Haye is clearly a more talented fighter than either Lamon Brewster or Corrie Sanders. Both of those men sent Klitschko sprawling on the canvas to an early stoppage defeat.
You can convincingly make the case that Klitschko is a much more well-rounded, mature fighter under Emmanuel Steward since his last defeat to Brewster seven years ago.
Much of that good work in recent years will go for naught with a defeat on Saturday, especially if by knockout. Klitschko will just be seen as a good fighter who was a caretaker of the division through weak times, winning a slew of bouts in large part due to considerable size advantages and not inherent skill.
Haye has been such an antagonizing force that some "journalists" have taken to openly rooting for his defeat (cough*Dan Rafael of ESPN*cough). You can almost see the headlines now, even if Haye puts forth a decent showing in defeat.
Sure, you can say Haye engendered that kind of adverse reaction himself, but at least give the guy some credit for injecting some interest in the heavyweight division. And it's clear he can fight more than a little bit.
Others have said that Haye's plan to retire sooner rather than later is a reason to cheer against him because, if he wins, it "won't be good for boxing."
That's nonsensical. Boxing isn't good for boxing. I think most people just want to see good fights and compelling storylines.
We're stepping into the unknown with this one. It's not accurate to call it an even fight but, on the other hand, the 35-year-old Klitschko really hasn't faced this combination of speed and power in a long time - maybe since Sanders in 2003.
Because of the other power both men pack and the hatred they've built up, it could be over early. Or they could each be wary of the other and waltz to a 12-round decision. They've got 72 stoppages in 80 combined wins after all.
Klitschko will have about a 30-pound advantage and is three inches taller, but the modest three-inch reach advantage could be negated by Haye's speed and movement. If Haye is to win, think "Michael Spinks-Larry Holmes I" stylistically, and how big the ring ultimately is could have an effect.
Whatever happens, it's unlikely I'll be piling on with any extreme opinions. I'll still think these are two pretty good fighters, regardless of the result.
Hopefully, this bout will spark interest in the top heavyweight boxers among the American sports media, but it's neither going to "save" the division nor send it lower than it currently it is.
There were two fights last weekend that easily exceeded expectations. Some would argue that the decisions in each went to the wrong fighter and that's the way my scorecards read. But they weren't on the scale of robbery. They were hard-fought encounters in which all four men gave it their all.
I thought Matthew Macklin beat middleweight belt holder Felix Strum by a 7-5 count and, if forced to change one of my rounds, I would have gone in the 8-4 direction rather than 6-6. I just thought Macklin clearly won most of his rounds, while Sturm barely won a couple of his. Macklin was basically "in" every round.
(Disclaimer: I watched and scored the bout a couple days later after knowing the result, though I try my best not to care about what prevailing opinions are. The good news is that they're already talking rematch, so Macklin will get another chance to wrest the belt.)
I thought Argentine Lucas Matthyse beat Devin Alexander by three points in their junior welterweight, but I was actually more engaged by the St. Louis fighter in this apparently "losing" effort than in his other high profile bouts. In a weird way, I think he might have found a style in the second half of the fight that could work for him - using angles in the middle of the ring and turning his opponent while mixing up his punches. Because when he fights on the outside and flicks his jab and grunts - call him the Maria Sharapova of boxing - he is hardly effective.
Many in the boxing world questioned HBO's decision to air Bermane Stiverne-Ray Austin over Cornelius Bundrage-Sechew Powell. It was a longshot that ultimately didn't work. It was pretty clear HBO was hoping the relatively untested but powerful Stiverne would score a sensational KO and give the network a marker to create some excitement in the heavyweight division going forward.
Stiverne, who represented Canada as an amateur, did score a sensational knockout in the 10th, but was hardly impressive otherwise. Austin confounded him with nothing more than basic boxing technique aided by a substantial height advantage (there's no way Stiverne is 6-foot-2).
It would be easy to Stiverne on ESPN, but I'm not sure HBO would come calling again unless they had him in with an opponent who doesn't move excessively, like Cris Arreola or Tomasz Adamek.
It was two weeks ago, but I have to weigh in on undefeated Saul Alvarez, who's getting the full HBO shine. It's hard to knock a guy who's accomplished so much just shy of his 20th birthday, but I'm having a hard time seeing why I should be lulled into thinking this is one of boxing's next great stars, given his recent efforts. Ryan Rhodes put forth a pathetic effort and it was clear by about the fifth round that there was nothing he could offer that should dissaude Alvarez from attacking. But the stoppage win for Alvarez took seven rounds later. Why?
In talking about the red-haired Mexican they call El Cinnamon, some have talked about previous bodypunching specialists Miguel Cotto and Julio Cesar Chavez as far as his star potential.
At this point, Alvarez reminds me of a young Yory Boy Campas, with less power. (A bit of a gatekeeper the past decade, people forget that Campas was a beltholder who troubled Felix Trinidad a bit).
Unsurprisingly, wire service obits of sports broadcaster Nick Charles focused on his long body of work with CNN. But to boxing fans, he was much more than a great foil for Fred Hickman. Around midnight or 1 a.m., after a big heavyweight or middleweight fight in the 1980s and much of the 1990s, you could reliably tune in to the network for post-fight coverage with Charles leading the charge.
At a time when most mainstream sports journalists were turning their backs on the sport other than to offer tired punch lines, Charles realized that boxers offer some of the most compelling stories in all of sport. He then joined Showtime and, for years, played the seasoned pro perfectly as a blow-by-blow man, setting up longtime fight writer but TV neophyte Steve Farhood expertly.
He will be missed.
Lucian Bute of Montreal fights in his native land of Romania against Jean-Paul Mendy on July 9.
And the one all hardcore boxing fans are waiting for on July 16: Brandon Rios and Urbano Antillon. Each guy believes they are Mexican warriors and never give an each - and they hate each other.
There will be blood.
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