Haye's win over Valuev doesn't end doubts

BY foxsports • December 15, 2009

The heavyweight division. History has always held this at the pinnacle of boxing excellence, whether the best fighters in the game were plying their trade as heavyweights or not, holding a piece of this title is always something special. As a boxing fan, it is always interesting to note how far the pendulum has swung since Mike Tyson's career ebbed away and Lennox Lewis hung up his gloves. No longer are the biggest fights fought by the biggest men. The general public have of late has been captivated by dynamos that tear through weight categories and reign in mythical pound-for-pound debates.

It has often been said that the heavyweight division is in the doldrums, that the Klitschko brothers are the best of a bad bunch, and the division needs to be rejuvenated or reinvented if it is to survive. Cue March 8, 2008 and David Haye dispatches fellow cruiserweight champion Enzo Maccarinelli in two rounds to unify three of the major belts at the 200-pound limit. After the fight he issues a statement of intent, a run at the heavyweight division that he claimed he could unify and rule with an iron fist. And then it went quiet.

Rather than rush into bulking up and risk losing his best asset — his speed — Haye went deep into training, surfacing in November 2008 to crush Monte Barrett in five rounds. And then it went quiet; again. Conspiracy theories abound as to why fights with the Klitschko brothers didn't come off over the summer. The bottom line is, they didn't. A fight with Nikolai Valuev seemed to come from nowhere, yet it would fit in far better with Haye's rhetoric.

Haye wasn't shy in declaring his discontent about the shape of the division, or more accurately — the shape of the heavyweights themselves. Fights with the Klitschkos didn't really make sense six months ago. Valid arguments could be made that, cruiserweight domination aside, Haye hadn't done enough to deserve a shot at the two best fighters in class. Valuev is a different proposition altogether. He doesn't come in shredded like the Klitschko brothers. He is too big and cumbersome to be athletic, and he represents everything that Haye believes is wrong with the division.

It also helped that he has had his share of debatable decisions in the past; including Evander Holyfield's crack at heavyweight glory at age 46. Nothing needs to be put here about the build up to the fight. Haye talked a good game and made some interesting predictions. How much was self promotion and how much he actually believed we'll never know. What we did know was the size of the task in front of him. All 316 pounds of it.

Coming into the ring, Haye looked anything but the brash upstart who promised a spectacular knockout, and perhaps it was the sense of occasion or the realization of his life's dream, but he sure looked nervous to me. As the bell sounded both men made their way to the center of the ring. Valuev by sheer size closed the gap very quickly. A double jab from the champion allowed him to get the measure of Haye, who stayed quick on his feet and threw the occasional jab into Valuev's midriff. Haye has promised all out attack, but gave a cautious, measured performance in the early rounds.

When opportunities presented themselves he sent stinging straight lefts and right hooks though Valuev's guard and managed to land a few good shots to the Russian's temple, all of which had little to no effect.

Valuev never pretended to reinvent the wheel with his tactics in this fight. He played to his strengths by utilizing his underrated jab and cut off the ring all whilst trying to expend as little energy as possible.

In the fourth round Valuev closed the distance and trapped Haye in the corner; it was to Haye's credit that he didn't let Valuev test his chin. The challenger ducked way down and leaned as far over as possible on occasion to ensure he stayed out of harm's way.

Yet Haye never appeared to be as quick as he thinks and says he is, he ate his fair share of jabs as the rounds wore on and by the midrounds, the end swell became a common fixture in the British corner. To say Haye isn't quick is unfair, he is. And when Valuev throws a punch there is a lot of leather to get out the way of — he just never seemed stellar.

Valuev's stamina has never been in question, he has gone the distance almost as often as he has gone home early. The general feeling prefight was that Haye could well be in trouble come the championship rounds, having been 12 rounds just once before. He would need to manage his output carefully to ensure he wouldn't run out of gas.

At the start of the eighth round both men engaged briefly and against the flow of the tempo that had been set up to that point. Haye was able to land a quick fire double, then turned Valuev on the ropes and went to work again. It just seemed to be too little too seldom. Very rarely has Haye had to go on the back foot in his career. During this fight he spent the majority of his time going backward and pot shotting Valuev when little openings presented themselves. Valuev meanwhile constantly stalked his man and looked to engage Haye at any opportunity.

Haye never showed signs that he was tiring while on his feet. Though breathing deeply when he sat in his corner, his energy level never dipped throughout the fight. Going into the champion's backyard and taking a decision almost always requires domination or at the very least enough effective aggression to steal rounds. Haye showed neither and would likely lament leaving anything in the tank should he not get the nod.

In fact as the fight entered the championship rounds it was Valuev who looked to excel as he upped the pace and hunted Haye with renewed vigor. A straight right landed flush for the champion in the 11th as he closed the distance and started to load up his punches. A nice flurry at the end of the round for Valuev culminated with a left hook, he looked to be gaining momentum in time for the final stanza.

Both men came forward for the last time hoping to take the decision out of the judges' hands. Valuev had the first attempt with a wild hook, his most vicious of the evening. It sailed just wide of the mark. Then Haye struck gold when first a right hand caught the champion flush on the chin, and then a one two combination landed flush and a follow up hook seemed to have Valuev in trouble for the first time in his career.

Sensing weakness like a predatory animal, Haye immediately jumped on his man, only to have the referee separate them both for overzealous punching behind the head. Haye again closed in and engaged, only this time Valuev had regained his composure and went back to his solid fundamentals. Haye circled round in the closing seconds, seemingly happy to run out the clock; it was a recurring theme of the evening. Haye looked to do just enough work to steal a round, then stay out of trouble.

If history tells us anything, it is that to get a decision away from home, especially in Germany, Haye needed to do more than get on his bike and wait for Valuev to make mistakes, he needed to create his own opportunities, which he only managed once — in the last round.

In the end his confidence in the judges wasn't misplaced, as scores of 114-114, 116-112 and 116-112 gave Haye the championship by majority decision. Without doubt it is a historic win; he follows in the footsteps of Evander Holyfield who stepped up from cruiserweight to become a heavyweight champion. It is also a great win for British boxing, becoming the first Briton to claim a piece of the heavyweight title since Lennox Lewis.

Question marks will be raised about his method of victory this time out. Valuev certainly didn't look like a beaten man, ironically he had won some dubious decisions off the back of bad performances in Germany. This time out and with one of his better performances, he has been on the wrong end of a very close and debatable call.

For what it is worth, I had Valuev one up on my card. I didn't think Haye did enough to dethrone the champion in his backyard. Scoring Haye four up implies that he won some rounds by landing just two or three scoring shots. Certainly not enough of a workrate in my eyes to get the nod over Valuev who had been relentless in his pursuit of Haye and was certainly the most aggressive man for large stretches of the fight. Perhaps a draw would have been the fairest outcome.

With the win Haye has realized a dream and takes a step closer to unifying the division he set out to conquer. He will need to be far better than he was Saturday to make the next step. The Klitschkos are faster, more mobile and have a better defense than Valuev. Both have fearsome knockout percentages and neither allow mistakes to go unpunished. In truth it is the only logical move for Haye to make, the only choice that has to be made is which one first. Older brother Vitali has a defense against Kevin Johnson scheduled for mid-December. Wladimir meanwhile is currently on the injured list and isn't slated to make a defense soon.

Even as a newly crowned heavyweight champ, questions are still being raised about Haye. Whilst he may have answered some tonight, many more have now been asked of him. Most pertinently; is he ready for either of the top dogs in the division? But the question that should be on most people's lips is when will either Klitschko versus Haye be made? Only by fighting these two men will the questions truly be answered. Until then, Haye remains somewhat of an enigma.

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