Disappointing doesn’t come close to describing Saturday night’s fight. Heart-breaking is more apt, at least for this fight fan.
Over the last few years I have found myself gravitating more and more towards the world of mixed martial arts, or the UFC as most would recognise it. I know I’m not alone in this migration and the reasons for it are simple. There are too few big fights between the top boxers in each division. It took three years before we finally saw David Haye in the ring with one of the Klitschkos and it’s not as though there were more legitimate challengers ahead of them. In fact after the Haye debacle there aren’t any immediate challengers left in the heavyweight division for the Ukraine-based brothers. That points to the equally serious issue of talent in the sport’s flagship division but for the most part it’s the politics and the power of the individual which has been most detrimental to the sport as a whole. In the UFC there’s an official match-maker who decides the fights, pitting the most logically positioned fighters against one another. You don’t see a belt holder getting in the octagon with some bum who hasn’t earned a shot at the title. It is invariably one of the top two or three contenders who gets a shot, depending on injuries and such. The fighters don’t get to decide who they fight and as a consequence you get far more evenly contested, exciting and relevant bouts. There can be no guarantees in any combat sport but at the least in MMA they do all they can to make the fights as entertaining as possible. Should boxing look to move back under one governing body? In an ideal world yes but when we’ve just witnessed two men fighting for four separate titles, with several more in circulation, we’re so far from the ideal that it seems a near impossible task.
For now we can only lament David Haye’s depressingly poor effort to shake up the heavyweight division. He talked a lot, made promises of a certain and spectacular victory, abused his opponent at every turn but when it came to the fight his performance was wetter than the 12,000 strong contingent who had made the trip to Hamburg only to stand in the rain as Haye spent twelve rounds trying to avoid getting hit and throwing the odd haymaker.
“I’m gutted I wasn’t able to do what I wanted to do,” rued Haye after the fight. You’re not the only one. Perhaps even worse than the actual fight was the excuse he gave afterwards. A broken toe. And the little toe at that. As the picture below shows there is some damage there and perhaps it was enough to take the necessary edge of his performance but after all the pre-fight talk, it just sounds pathetic. Ali won a fight despite having a shattered jaw. Evander Holyfield was prepared to fight on despite having part of his ear bitten off. I could go on with a list of fighters who fought with injuries far more severe and debilitating than a sore toe.
What really undermines this excuse is not that Haye lost but how he lost. If he’d had a real go, taken the risks he promised he was going to take, offered more than a half-hearted twelfth round rally when only a knockout was going to save him, then there could be no recriminations. He’d have tried and failed but god damn it he would have tried.
Injury, his size, a lack of experience against this level of competition (he fought in only two world title fights at cruiserweight before moving up), fear, a poor game-plan or simply not being good enough. There are multiple reasons for why he failed but there are none for why he didn’t give it a real go.
I was hoping David Haye would be the beginning of a revitalising process for boxing. For the sport to gain mainstream popularity the big boys have to provide some entertainment. The Klitschkos are rarely troubled in their fights and rarer still do they provide an enjoying spectacle. Haye promised to be the one to come in and shake things up and I allowed my optimistic side to buy into it. I went along on the Haye ride and have been left even more disillusioned with boxing for it. I’m sure I’ll watch another heavyweight title fight again but not anytime soon, the pain is still to raw, the disappointment too absolute.