By Shane Thomas
The build-up for the upcoming WBA Heavyweight title fight between David Haye and Audley Harrison is fast gathering pace. The fight is only available on pay-per-view and as Sky have subscriptions to sell, they have put a substantial amount of their advertising might into promoting the contest. If you have Sky or are interested in boxing, then there's no escaping knowledge of the bout. Added to this, as the fight is taking place in Manchester, U.K boxing fans won't have to burn the midnight oil to catch it live (unlike the contest between Manny Pacquiao & Antonio Margarito, which also takes place on Saturday). Haye versus Harrison is the first all-British heavyweight title affair since Lennox Lewis defeated Frank Bruno at Cardiff Arms Park back in 1993. And despite all this, my reaction remains the same from the moment the fight was announced. I simply don't care.
After winning the WBA belt from Nikolay Valuev & defending it successfully against John Ruiz - who was the mandatory challenger, Haye had done all that could have been asked of him. But I think he's made a major misstep by choosing to fight Harrison.
Quite simply, as far as heavyweight boxing goes, it is on life support. Indeed, it only seems to be being kept alive by the prestige of its name. Certain titles in sport have a resonance that can outstrip the individual achievement. Olympic 100 metre champion in track & field, World Cup winner in football, Wimbledon champion in tennis or the owner of a perfect game in baseball.
Well, being World Heavyweight champion in boxing has an arguably greater potency. It's like displaying a badge to the world that says, "Don't mess with me". It's Haye's arrival onto the heavyweight scene, along with the Klitschko brothers that has prevented heavyweight boxing from falling to its knees, and Haye had promised after dispatching John Ruiz, that he would go after the Klitschko's to unify the division and then retire as heavyweight boxing's saviour.
So why is Haye wasting his time with a spent force like Harrison? Well, his fans would say that the Klitschko's are running scared, making unreasonable financial demands as a deterrent to avoid getting in the ring with the 'Hayemaker'.
I can't pretend to be aware of the specifics of the disagreements that led to Haye avoiding either Klitschko. But what is beyond doubt is at the start of the year Vladimir, the elder of the two, publicly called Haye out, demanding he stop dancing round the table of money and get in the ring with him. And the merits of Vladimir as a fighter aside, he is right in so much as that if Haye is to earn the respect that he claims that he craves, then he has to fight both of the Klitschko brothers. And beat them.
Haye has little to gain from Saturday's contest. While Harrison has been a boxing punchline since turning professional, there is no doubt that the former Olympic champion has a new found focus. At 39, he is fully aware that if he is to fulfil his dream of becoming World Heavyweight champion, it's now or never. He must beat Haye or disappear from trace permanently.
Haye on the other hand, has become something of a celebrity since defeating Valuev. Making the odd television appearance, and revelling in the grandeur that comes with being in his position, does the hunger remain? While he's nowhere to being like Rocky Balboa at the start of Rocky III, I wonder if he's decided that it's easier picking off weak challengers, rather than testing himself against the best in the heavyweight division.
Haye can definitely make more money, and could probably retire without losing the belt by doing this. But if he wants to go down in British boxing as a significant champion, and be remembered long after he's hung up his gloves, then these 'nothing' fights have to stop. Fighting Harrison will generate sufficient hype and money, but no glory or respect. If he knocks Harrison out early, which is what I expect will happen, he's made no progression from his current position on the boxing ladder. Haye has said he will retire next year, so it's clear that he cannot afford for his career to stagnate.
And what if the worst happens? No sport brings about a greater and harder fall than boxing. Haye is an aggressive puncher and tends to keep his hands low, leaving his chin exposed. And if Harrison can connect with his left hand, then Haye may not just leave the MEN Arena with no respect, but also with no title.
I blogged back in March about Haye potentially rescuing heavyweight boxing from ignominy. Well he won't do it facing opponents such as Harrison. He has chosen money over legacy. Money runs out. It always does. Legacy lasts forever.
I just hope Haye realises this until it's too late.
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