Let there be no doubt that David Haye earned his shot at the heavyweight championship. Haye will meet Nikolai Valuev on Saturday in Nuremberg, Germany, for Valuev's World Boxing Association belt in a bout that has many screaming that Haye is an undeserving challenger.
Haye, though, landed this shot on his own merit.
He got it despite no win over a notable heavyweight, unless you consider the middling and shopworn Monte Barrett anything close to notable.
Because of that, many believe Haye didn't properly qualify for the opportunity.
He landed the bout despite competing only four times as a heavyweight in his 23-fight professional career.
Because of that, there's widespread belief that Haye is getting an opportunity he shouldn't have gotten.
Haye did earn his title shot, however. He just didn't earn it with his fists.
He took the professional wrestling approach to getting a crack at the heavyweight belt. He couldn't have done it better if he had hired Bobby "The Brain" Heenan.
Haye talked and joked his way into an opportunity at a prize that was once considered the most prestigious honor in sports.
Boxing's heavyweight championship is no longer that, not considering the long list of sorry boxers who have held it – and disgraced it – over the past few decades.
Haye, though, is anything but a sorry boxer. Though he has no credentials at heavyweight, he's an accomplished fighter in his prime. That alone should be enough to get him past the lumbering Valuev.
It just would have been nice to see Haye beat at least one top-ranked heavyweight after abdicating the WBA, World Boxing Council and World Boxing Organization cruiserweight titles that he won when he knocked out Enzo Maccarinelli in the second round on March 8, 2008.
Instead, he had ghastly T-shirts made with a caricature of brothers Wladimir Klitschko and Vitali Klitschko having been decapitated. He's taunted them at every turn. Ultimately, he angered Wladimir Klitschko so much with his torrent of trash talk that Klitschko agreed to fight him in June, though the fight failed to happen when Haye pulled out with what he claimed was a back injury.
Haye was going to get much of his purse from that fight from a British television network that was in financial difficulty and that, more than a balky back, may be what prompted him to pull out of the fight.
In either event, it's hard to blame him. One wants to be guaranteed a paycheck for fighting either Klitschko, which is a decidedly bad idea in the best of circumstances, let alone with an aching back.
Haye continued his chatter as Wladimir Klitschko dismantled Ruslan Chagaev in his stead and soon seemed on the verge of a bout against Vitali Klitschko. Haye kept chirping even as his manager/trainer, Adam Booth, turned away from talks with Vitali Klitschko to finalize a deal for Haye against Valuev.
Since landing the bout, Haye has been as disrespectful of Valuev as humanly possible. He's repeatedly mocked Valuev and last month punched the head off of a cardboard cutout of the 7-foot, 325-pound champion at a news conference.
The strange thing in all of this, though, is that Haye will probably win Saturday's bout on his merits. He's a far better overall boxer, with harder, sharper punches, better movement, far more quickness and a more complete understanding of the game.
If he loses, it will only be because he won't be able to cope with Valuev's incredible size. Haye will give up 9 inches, around 100 pounds and probably 7 or 8 inches of reach on Saturday.
The fight, which is only available on pay-per-view in the U.S., figures to be only as difficult as Haye makes it and the referee allows it. If Valuev is permitted to hold and mug Haye on the inside, the bout could quickly get tedious. Otherwise, this should be an exhibition of Haye's considerable talents.
Yet, Haye has had a hard time putting the taunts and the jokes to rest. He says he's trying to stand out from the crowd and appeal to a wider fan base, but he also concedes part of it is a psychological ploy.
"Getting riled up and angry is never good for any fighter," Haye said. "It doesn't allow you to think straight or follow a game plan. You start to fight emotionally rather than tactfully. If I have gotten under Valuev's skin, it will only affect his performance in a negative way. He'll fight angry, throw wild punches and become reckless. The more angry punches he throws, the more chances there will be for me to counter punch him and find holes in his defense."
There are plenty of holes in Valuev's defense, and while it's no fun to be on the end of Valuev's telephone pole of a jab, it's not as if the Russian is actually a heavy hitter.
He struggled badly with 46-year-old Evander Holyfield last year, and many who saw the fight believe Holyfield deserved the victory.
At this stage of his career, Haye is far better than Holyfield in every category and should be able to do at least as well. Given his speed, Haye should be able to offset Valuev's enormous size advantage and win the WBA belt.
"I'm as freakishly fast as Valuev is freakishly big," Haye said. "That's the key to this fight. I'm never going to be bigger or stronger than a guy like Valuev, no matter how hard I train or now many weights I lift. My main advantage going into this fight is raw speed, agility and explosiveness. I'll be able to hit him multiple times for every one punch he attempts to land on me."
The circus will finally end on Saturday when Haye pulls on a pair of gloves and makes the long walk up the steps and into the ring.
And while it would have been nice if he had beaten a quality opponent in order to earn his chance at the title, he'll earn it in the ring on Saturday.
Afterward, as he brings the belt back home to England, it's probably a safe bet that Haye will be yakking the entire way.
- David Haye
- Nikolai Valuev
- Wladimir Klitschko
- Vitali Klitschko