After a luckluster June which saw the top 25 of the SportsRatings Top 100 Heavyweights change negligibly, the biggest fight of the year happens tomorrow, June 2, when #1 Wladimir Klitschko faces #4 David Haye in a bout that's been anticipated for years.
First, lets get this out of the way: The fight time. When events happen in Europe there's a lot of confusion in the U.S. as to when the bell will ring. In short, the fight—held in Hamburg, Germany— should start at or around 5:15 eastern time, with HBO beginning coverage at 4:30. Other times/dates around the world of interest to those watching the combatants:
California (Pacific time): 2:15 PM
Denver, CO (Mountain): 3:15 PM
Chicago (Central): 4:15 PM
New York (Eastern): 5:15 PM
United Kingdom 10:15 PM
Germany: 11:15 PM
Ukraine: 12:15 AM June 3
Moscow: 1:15 AM June 3
Novosibirsk: 4:15 AM June 3
Vladivostok: 8:15 AM June 3
Japan: 6:15 am June 3
Australia (Sydney): 7:15 AM June 3
New Zealand: 9:15 AM June 3
Gives a good idea of Russia's size, doesn't it? Remember these times are for the approximate start of Round One. If you want to catch the staredown, referees' directions, and national anthems, start watching on the hour (15 minutes earlier). And if the walk-ins are important to you, tune in 15 minutes before the hour.
Tale of the Tape
Now, the fight. Klitschko of course has a huge size advantage, and he weighed in at 243 to Haye's 213. He's also about 4 inches taller and has a 3 inch reach advantage. Haye is 5 years younger at 30.
Most people expect Klitschko to follow the pattern that has led him to dominate for the last five years: jabbing his opponent to death while avoiding getting hit. Of his last several foes, only 6' 6" Tony Thompson was able to get in any decent shots, while even the likes of Sultan Ibragimov, Ruslan Chagaev, and Eddie Chambers were all pretty much shut out offensively. To avoid getting hit, Klitschko keeps a distance with his reach, uses backward movement when the opponent closes, and clinches if he managed to get inside. Lately, the jab has almost been enough on its own.
Can Haye break the spell and deliver any punishment? His reach and height disadvantage aren't as great as the others who fared poorly (Ibragimov, Chagaev, and Chambers all stand around 6' 1"), and he's probably the fastest fighter Wladimir has ever faced.
Some have suggested that Haye will fight Klitschko the way he fought Nicolay Valuev—staying at a distance, then closing quickly to deliver shots and backing out just as fast. This would be much harder to pull off against Klitschko than Valuev, it goes without saying. But standing at Wladimir's jab distance is suicide.
Though it might just be a mental tactic, Haye claims he intends to end the fight quickly by knockout, and in reality putting everything he's got into a few make-or-break rounds might not be a bad idea given Wladimir's complete dominance of later rounds against worn-down opponents. Klitschko has reiterated his long-held stance that he will batter Haye for "12 rounds of pizza face" before knocking him out.
Haye and the Hype
This is probably the most anticipated heavyweight title fight since Lennox Lewis vs. Mike Tyson in 2002. While Lewis' fight with Vitali Klitschko is the most-remembered heavyweight title fight of this century, it wasn't preceded with a lot of hype as Vitali was a late replacement and wasn't expected to be a big challenge to Lewis. Since then, all the "real" title fights have involved a Klitschko (and have drawn less U.S. interest) or have been various alphabet belts that most observers consider secondary. Haye holds the WBA belt, meaning that the WBA, IBF, and WBO will be united after the fight, with Vitali Klitschko holding the WBC.
The hype of this fight can be attributed mostly to David Haye's mouth, and secondarily to his ring performance. Haye was a Cruiserweight champion known for his speed and his demolition of Enzo Macinarelli, which at the time was a rare occurrence. Since moving up to heavyweight he's dispatched Monte Barrett (TKO 5) in a short, fairly entertaining fight; Valuev (MD 12) in a very uneventful bout; John Ruiz (TKO 9) in perhaps Haye's best effort; and most recently, Audley Harrison (TKO 3) in a completely 1-sided joke.
Haye promised to "clean up" the heavyweight division, confronted Wladimir on an escalator to make the fight two years ago, wore t-shirts depicting both Klitschkos decapitated...then pulled out of the scheduled bout claiming a hand injury.
When Haye pulled out of the first fight, many assumed the injury was an excuse for either a) losing the tv sponsorship that would have made the fight lucrative for him, b) wanting better terms, ones that didn't include a rematch-clause involving Vitali, or c) he was scared and wanted out. The fact that he eventually made the fight suggests that he wasn't scared. He did get better terms for this fight, with no rematch clauses, probably due to the leverage from his WBA belt.
However, even though he broke off the first fight, the only reason it happened was due to his constant haranguing of the Klitschkos. At that time his heavyweight resume was weak. Now, despite few fights at this level, it's as strong as most of those the Klitschkos have been facing recently as they steamroll the division. And like him or not, he did "clean up" the division in the manner he promised: since losing to Haye, long-time boxing fan nemeses Valuev and Ruiz have yet to fight again, and Audley Harrison is at least a big step closer to retirement.
Will the fight live up to the hype? Will it be the most exciting heavyweight title fight since Lewis-Klitschko? Or will it be another uneventful, one-sided affair, with Haye unable to make any ground on the champion?
We think Haye has injected some much-needed energy into the heavyweight scene, and he does have good speed and unorthodox delivery, giving him a chance to be Wladimir most successful title challenger. But that doesn't say a lot, as no one has come close to beating Wlad in several years. We see Haye having some success a la Tony Thompson, but Wlad's jab and technique are still at their peak. If Haye plays it conservatively he will lose a wide decision. If he goes for broke, it will be an interesting first 6 rounds but Klitschko more than likely wins this scenario, too, by mid-to-late TKO.
Here's hoping Haye lays it all on the line, which gives him his only chance to actually win. Boxing needs an exciting heavyweight title fight, and more people will be watching this one than in a long time.