Boxing has arguably put its glory days behind it. It seems a faint and distant memory when world-class, pound-for-pound fighters sought out to fight the very best. Those were the golden years of boxing, when one supreme athlete would rise above all other challengers as an honourable victor. Each weight divisions had a supreme king; a man who’d bested every other boxer at that weight class. A ring icon, a legend. Historically, the Heavyweight division has been the greatest source of interest for avid fans and intrigued spectators alike. There was something about huge muscle-bound blokes, possessing the power to render a man unconscious with a single punch, that carried a sense of expectation, every hook and every uppercut was an edge-of-your-seat moment. Every brutal knockout, every act of brilliance was simply bigger. Who cannot forget a prime Mike Tyson in the late eighties destroying the best of the division to solidify his claim to greatness? The raw power, the formidable will to win and the balls to fight the “big” fights.
The highlight in the Heavyweight timeline came less than two decades earlier. A man some of you may be familiar with defied his age and ring-rust to best two future hall-of-famers to reclaim his “World Champion” status. His opponents were both younger and had far more to prove; one a resilient defensive maestro, the other a brutal power puncher. But in two of boxing’s greatest ever contests he bested them both with a combination of sublime technique and sheer willpower. To this day he stands head and shoulders above the rest as “The Greatest”, few would argue.
His name was Ali, Muhammad Ali.
But these great fights and great fighters are few and far between. The last internationally recognised “superfight” was between a dogged Mike Tyson and the rampant Brit Lennox Lewis; Lewis ultimately outclassing and disposing of “Iron Mike” in the eighth round. But this was a huge show, not because both fighters were at the top of their game, but mainly on the fame factor. The fight grossed US106.9 million in pay-per-view buys, more than any other heavyweight match-up to date. You may even have to look further back to 1999 and the Holyfield/Lewis match-up to find the last Heavyweight matchup between the two best of the era. So why the nine-year wait for a show of equal or greater significance?
Since 2004, the retirement of Lennox Lewis has left the “sea” of Heavyweight talent with paddling pool-esque shallowness. Two dominant fighters, the brothers Klitschko, have been ruthlessly and robotically disposing of fat, limited and talentless heavyweights for the past six years. They’re huge, strong and extremely gifted, but a bore. Wladimir with his conservative defence and piston-like straight punching and Vitali with his granite chin and dynamite right-hand have not had the competition you’d expect from a champion. Neither has had a true test against a fighter with comparable skill in a long time. It’s been documented that they’re money-orientated, that they pick and choose their fights (the organisations behind the belts they hold should be pitting them against the best Heavyweights around) and in their old age (Wladimir is 34 and Vitali 39) has left them with little hunger or desire to beat the very best. A worthy adversary has to step up, a man reminiscent of the champions of old. Talented? Yes. Arrogant? Yes. Confident? Yes. Complacent? Maybe. But I think the world of pugilism has found their man, a man to breathe new life into boxing’s under-performing division. A man to test the Soviet behemoths.
Britain’s David Haye has finally been giving such a chance. And he already holds a world title. On the 6th of March a contract was signed making the matchup between Haye and the younger Klitschko, Wladimir, set for late July. The fight has been eagerly waited and anticipated for the best part of two years; the contract negotiations have been a constant rollercoaster and the trash talk rife. Should Haye win then he’ll fulfil his childhood dream, as well as emulate his hero Lennox Lewis by holding three of the possible four world titles. Not only is he Britain’s hope of a heavyweight champion, but he’s a hope to all those who like change, who like excitement and who like their champions fearless. Should “The Hayemaker’s” trademark bombs land flush on the Ukrainian giant’s chin we may be treated to one of the sport’s most significant and era-defining wins of the past decade. It’ll take a while for Haye to cement a legacy, but beating the younger Klitschko would be a start. I for one will be soaking up all this hype and following this match-up until its ultimate conclusion.