David Haye facing Wladimir Klitschko is the biggest fight in the heavyweight division. But it can't save a still sorry lot. (Photo by Alex Livesey/Getty Images)
We try not to get ahead of ourselves -- especially on this particular subject -- but it all looks good.
Last week, Wladimir Klitschko pulled out of an April 30 fight with Dereck Chisora, a massive underdog currently standing as British heavyweight champion. It marked the second time in just a few months that Klitschko had bailed on fighting Chisora, whom he signed to face when another Brit, David Haye, wouldn't sign to fight.
Klitschko-Haye has for nearly two years now been the only heavyweight fight that matters. Yes, it matters every time either Klitschko brother fights, or whenever Haye fights, but when's the last time an end result was truly in doubt? In order to psyche themselves into the slight belief that the fights will be competitive, boxing fans are left desperately clinging to outdated ideas about Wladimir's chin, Vitali's back, and Haye's unreadiness as a "real" heavyweight. That chin hasn't been dinged in about six years. That back looks more limber almost every time the big guy fights. And the cocky Londoner has flat-out whooped every heavyweight put in front of him.
We've endured aborted plans before. Klitschko and Haye signed to fight in 2009, and then Haye pulled out claiming a training injury. It was cover-up for the fact that his home network in the UK, Setanta Sports, had gone belly-up, which would have left him without a lot of the money he was expecting for such a massive gamble in the ring against such a massive foe. Shortly after that, Haye made plans to fight Vitali, before suddenly bailing and signing to fight lumbering Russian novelty giant Nikolai Valuev instead.
By now, the Klitschkos and their management teams must have washed their hands of Haye somewhere around a dozen times. They've said he's too foolish to bother with. Wladimir said he wasn't a serious fighter, so he wasn't going to trouble himself any longer.
But this is boxing, and even the saintly among us lie for money. Wladimir and Vitali are no different, nor are their managers and partners. To this point in time, we've largely accepted with a sigh the fact that there are no challenges for the Klitschkos in the division. Time after time, we've seen them mow through the shoddy opposition, heartily feasting upon American pretenders in particular, proving a clear superiority and lordship over the realm of heavyweight boxing. Just last year, Wladimir dominated and knocked out Eddie Chambers and Samuel Peter both. He barely broke a sweat doing with those two challengers as he pleased. Vitali easily marched through game but overmatched foes Albert Sosnowski and Shannon Briggs.
Now, though, they have a peer -- or at least the makings of one. Haye, a 6'3", ripped former cruiserweight champion, blasted veteran John Ruiz early in 2010, and closed out his year with a pathetic farce of a fight against laughable non-contender Audley Harrison in November. When it was just the brothers Klitschko, we mourned the lack of challengers. Once Haye kept talking, kept winning, and showed some of his class (whether some will admit it or not, he's a tremendous fighter), there was new blood. Legitimate new blood.
Sure, Haye could be dominated the same way Tony Thompson and Cristobal Arreola were, but on paper, he's different. He's in shape. He's in the prime of his career. He's got incredible hand speed for a heavyweight, and with it comes some blistering power shots. He knows how to move around the ring, something neither Klitschko has seen in a long time. And he's much smarter than he often gets credit for, too.
Heavyweight boxing needs this fight. In terms of importance to a single division, Klitschko-Haye may be the single most important fight in boxing, with only Pacquiao-Mayweather even having an argument, but that's more of a serious sports mega-event than of particular importance for a division. That's era defining. This is just a fight to save the day for what used to be boxing's glory division.
The sad truth is, it can't save the division. Because if they do fight, what then?
In reality, the build-up could surpass the fight. A rematch would be big, too, if the fight were a good one. Or Haye, should he upset Wladimir, could fight Vitali in a revenge matchup. If Haye beat them both, and then fought Wladimir again, lost, and then fought Wladimir in a rubber match, that's probably the dream scenario.
Because that means there would be another two years where the heavyweight division had anything going for it.
But if Wladimir blasts Haye, as many expect he would or will, there is nothing left. Tomasz Adamek is not a serious threat to anyone. That's why he's fighting Kevin McBride and Michael Grant. Alexander Povetkin fights suspended, shot fighters in secret unsanctioned shows. Odlanier Solis is fat. And everyone else has already been dispatched by the Klitschkos.
If you think the heavyweight division has seemed uncompetitive, bland, predictable and dull for the last several years, you haven't seen anything until you've seen the Klitschko brothers truly run out of options. Through all the mismatches of the last two years, there has been that glimmer of hope that Klitschko and Haye would get it on. One for the old times. A true big-time event, even if on German or UK soil instead of the hallowed ground of Madison Square Garden or the glitz of the Vegas strip.
If Haye chokes, it's over. The heavyweight division will have truly crashed. You'll be asking yourself how many more Klitschko clinics you can stomach, as there will be no potential light at the end of the tunnel. The best prospects in the division are Cubans Odlanier Solis and Mike Perez. Solis faces Vitali Klitschko on March 19 and most expect him to be too undisciplined to hang with the world-class man. Perez is a long way off, and by the time he's truly ready, both Klitschkos are likely to be well out of the sport entirely.
Are you ready for a world where the best heavyweight is an Alexander Povetkin who isn't any better than the one we've seen to date, simply because everyone else is gone? We haven't seen the heavyweight division hit rock bottom yet, scarily enough. Throughout some lean years, we've had dominant top dogs like the Klitschkos and Lennox Lewis, and to go back a ways, Larry Holmes. Imagine those same divisions without them ruling the roost.
It is for this reason that I want this fight to come off, and why I will be rooting for David Haye to shock the world. If Haye is dispatched with the same ease that Wladimir experienced against the guys who came in with no hope, then it's over for the heavyweight division, at least for now. There will be nothing compelling left to see.
But this fight can't save the heavyweight division no matter what happens. There will still be an alarming lack of depth in the division, a dearth of true challenges for either Klitschko or Haye, and a future being built on castoff projects from other sports and guys who seem to refuse to show up in peak form. With the need to see Klitschko-Haye comes the possibility of seeing the heavyweight division's death warrant signed.