“BIG” news, as the pop culture addicts say – the date has been set for David Haye, Britain’s WBA “world” heavyweight boxing champion, to fight Wladimir Klitschko (2 July, in Hamburg).
Wladimir and Vitali have held the heavyweight division to ransom for years now, holding three of the four major belts and fighting handpicked opposition for the most part.
It is not entirely their fault, the sport’s glamour division has been poor for a while. This fight represents the best opportunity for all four belts to be associated with one fighter since Lennox Lewis in 1999.
It cannot be stressed enough how big a deal it should be in sporting terms. It is a fight which should be a showpiece for boxing and hopefully a source of national pride in David Haye, should he win.
The thing is, in Joe Public’s opinion, the fight is barely news right now. It will be when Sky throw bucks behind talking the public into parting with £15.99 for the kind of coverage which recently has barely featured the undercard and (probably to Sky’s apprehension and hopefully shame given they were as much at fault for the letdown as anyone else) last featured the much derided Haye versus Harrison “execution”. The reason for this ignorance of a fight of such huge importance is a combination of the sport’s criminal treatment by the mainstream media and boxing’s habit of self harm. The fight is big: big men, three World titles and years of bragging (Haye), counter shots (Klitschko) and failed fight arrangements (anyone’s guess as to the culprit of the recent failings but the Klitschkos aren’t used to not having things entirely their own way).
Kevin Mitchell in the Guardian has called it “the biggest heavyweight title fight for at least a decade”, but the fact that the article was headlined “Why David Haye v Wladimir Klitschko matters” speaks volumes as to the sport’s problems with publicity. The media just does not cover boxing as it should.
Unlike football, where even the casual fans can tell you who won the last World cup, if they could keep their eyes open through it, ask people if we have a world heavyweight boxing champion currently and most likely they’ll shrug. The BBC do not show any professional boxing, though Steve Bunce’s radio show is a welcome step forward. ITV got burned by Harrison (sadly a bit of a theme) by giving him a million pound contract and have now cut boxing completely too. Carl Froch, Nottingham’s warrior WBC super middleweight champion is rarely even broadcast live in this country, even on obscure satellite channels and despite him being one of the most enthralling battlers operating.
Where boxing does itself no favours though is threefold. The lack of clarity (there are four main heavyweight “world titles”), the on again, off again nature of negotiations and fights and ridiculous shows like Haye vs Harrison or Vitali’s one round victory over a tubby and presumably pre-injured Odlanier Solis makes casual fans wonder why they should bother. Less than 3 rounds, or minutes, seems a waste of money. The problem with Haye’s win was it was always going to happen – Haye, brash as he may want to be seen, is leagues above Harrison. But it was a nice payday for both fighters, and Sky Box Office, who were never going to have to sell it much.
Putting all this aside, the fight between Haye and Wladimir Klitschko is one which should see the sport back in the limelight, and all going well David will win a great fight and TV money men and the public may start paying attention again. He would then probably fight Vitali and one of them would unify the division – meaning a crystal clear, undisputed World heavyweight champion, just as Haye was at Cruiserweight. The fight is a hard one to call, Haye has never been tested like this but similarly has never shied away from a challenge. Klitschko is a great boxer, a clever fight engineer and will not be afraid – but his recent opponents will not have had as little respect for his authority as Haye will in the summer, walking into the ring. Haye is smaller, but quicker and had the power to make seven foot two inch freakshow Nikolai Valuev rock like a tramp drunk on metholated spirit while taking his title from him at his home venue.
Come on David, do it for Britain. But more importantly, do it for boxing.