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Sunday, 17 October 2010

Haye vs Harrison: Battle of Britain or Phoney War?

By Henry Salmon

On the 13th of November, David Haye is defending his WBA crown against fellow Brit and former European champion Audley Harrison in Manchester. The hype in the British press over the fight has been immense with a vitriolic war of words between the two fighters contributing to a real sense of anticipation. The excitement, though, is entirely superficial: the fight will almost certainly be a decidedly one sided contest. Harrison has never developed into the boxer his Olympic crown in Sydney suggested he might be. His punching pedigree is insufficient to worry Haye and his ageing frame will struggle against the force and speed that the world champion possesses.

The fight is an obvious publicity stunt. For David Haye it represents a chance to make some easy money while gaining a little more time and experience at this weight-division before taking on the brothers Klitschko. For Harrison the fight represents a no loss situation. If he achieves the impossible in beating Haye, it will go down as one of the greatest upsets in the sports history; the prospect of merely being in the same ring as Haye has catapulted him from the depths of underachievement into the limelight. It is a smart move for both boxers in the short term.

The most daring boxing fans have made comparisons between this match-up and the Moorer vs. Foreman bout of 1994. Foreman was granted a rematch against Moorer having been destroyed in the first fight. He was 45 and hugely unfancied. However, he came through and regained the title – becoming the oldest man ever to do so, 20 years after first losing his crown to Muhammad Ali. The important difference between the two scenarios is that Foreman in his pomp was one of the greatest boxers of all time and a multiple world champion. Under no circumstances could Harrison, even at his best, be compared to the great George Foreman, rendering this comparison (and possibly this whole paragraph) obsolete. This really is a no-brainer.

While the fight is unquestionably boosting awareness of the sport in Britain, it is a clear display of the current weakness of international heavy-weight boxing: that this fight was even considered is a reflection of the veritable dearth in top class boxers in the division and exposes a worrying lack of personnel. Ruiz and Valuev are both former world champions but are not great boxers and provide little interest in the press room. The Klitschkos (particularly Wladimir) seem to possess star quality but haven't really been tested. They also lack the charisma to really captivate a world audience.
It is a far cry from the glory days of the 70s, late 80s and 90s which saw regular and competitive fights between such greats as Tyson, Holyfield, Lennox Lewis, Foreman, Berbick, Michael Spinks, Ali and Frazier to name but a few.

Boxers of the current era in general seem overly concerned with remaining undefeated and there are fewer rematches and big fights than there used to be. Haye is worried he might lose to the Klitschkos, denying the boxing public the fights they really want to see. Haye knows he will only get one or two fights against either brother, and will want to time them perfectly. Limiting the number of fights limits your chances of becoming a boxing great. Selfishness, ironically, is denying their ultimate goal. Even if Haye beat both Klitschkos once that would not be enough to consider him in the same bracket as someone like Mike Tyson who proved himself again and again. Boxers are remembered – before their fight records – for their persona outside the ring and the big showdowns inside the ring. Just ask an American where they rank Joe Calzaghe in their all time list of great boxers... If Haye or either Klitschko want to achieve true greatness, they will have to address this. They can fight all the Mickey-Mouse fighters in the world but they need to start fighting each other for their own sake and the sake of the sport.

I can't see this big change occurring without a drastic shake up. In my opinion, what heavyweight boxing really needs is an American heavyweight with the talent to take on the current big three and the personality to reawaken the US audience to what has historically been the most popular weight division in world boxing. As it stands, the top heavyweights are too comfortable and the calendar is becoming predictable. I will of course be tuning in on the 13th in the hope of a vaguely competitive bout, but realistically I will have to continue my diligent wait for heavyweight boxing worth shouting about.

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