Haye must fight a Klitschko to secure his legacy

If you believe his words, David Haye has almost reached the end of his boxing journey.

The ‘Hayemaker’ insists he intends to stick to his plan of retirement towards the end of 2011. He’s had enough years of being punched in the face, he rather humorously argued. But less humorous for the British fighter will be the likely reception that greets his retirement should he fail to fight a Klitschko brother and really make his mark on the heavyweight division.

David Haye

WBA champion David Haye

If retirement can be classed as a boxer’s judgement day, then one fears the boxing Gods (and fans) will not view David Haye entirely favourably. He would be better served to postpone his hasty plans for retirement and consider his legacy in the sport. And perhaps also the careers of a few of his fellow Brits.

Ricky Hatton is admired in Britain and worldwide not only for his all-action style and the excitement he created in his fights, but because he took the biggest ones out there and always took the fight to his opponents. Hatton was eventually outclassed by Floyd Mayweather Jr. and destroyed in two rounds by Manny Pacquiao in the two biggest fights of his career,  but he earned the respect of boxing fans everywhere for taking on undoubtedly two of the greatest fighters of the modern era.

Carl Froch has also earned the admiration of the boxing world for his frightening run of top quality bouts, taking on Jean Pascal, Jermain Taylor, Andre Dirrell, Mikkel Kessler and Arthur Abraham in succession. Meanwhile, Amir Khan has shown marked improvement since teaming up with esteemed trainer Freddie Roach, stepping up to face the hard-hitting Argentine Marcos Maidana and somehow surviving a brutal 10th round for a decision win that raises his stock significantly.

Left behind

With his countrymen and close friends stepping up to the plate regularly, Haye is in danger of being left behind. Once one of the leading lights of British boxing, he is fast becoming a widely mocked figure, particularly outside of the UK. His last ‘fight’ with Audley Harrison was the subject of much scorn and derision across the world, and ESPN’s popular weekly boxing chat with Dan Rafael regularly sees the Hayemaker derided as ‘The ducker’ as the predominantly American audience suggest future bouts with such has-beens as Riddick Bowe and never-beens like Butterbean.

It’s a shame, but with a rematch with the veteran former cruiserweight champion Jean-Marc Mormeck a possible option for Haye at this stage of his career, perhaps the American readers really aren’t that far off the mark with their joke match-ups. The considerably less talented American heavyweights Eddie Chambers and Cris Arreola have both stepped up to face one of the Klitschko brothers, with Haye mocking their fitness and pedigree (perhaps not without foundation). But until he signs up to fight them himself, he should reserve his judgement.

Haye would arguably be better off retiring with a loss to either Vitali or Wladimir on his record than taking on another undeserving opponent like Harrison. If he were to lose, perhaps his outrageous trash-talking and belligerent attitude towards the brothers would embarrass him for a while upon retirement, but in the long run he would have earned more respect from fight fans for at least taking them on in an attempt to unify the division. After all, the Ukrainians are great champions, and losing to them is no disgrace. Avoiding them as the number one challenger after verbally trashing them for the last two years most certainly is. Who will ever forget the tasteless t-shirt Haye wore with the decapitated heads of the brothers?

But it is by no means certain that either of the Klitschko’s would emerge victorious should a fight with Haye be made. Make no mistake, David Haye is a great fighter. He has enviable speed and movement for a heavyweight, along with fearsome punching power. He dominated and unified the cruiserweight division. He rocked the giant Nikolai Valuev like no fighter had done before. He showed great boxing smarts to outmanoeuvre the admittedly static but powerful Russian with a significant height, reach and weight advantage. And bar his sole defeat to Carl Thompson and a joke of a fight with Audley Harrison (which did not fool even the British public), he has achieved a great deal in just 26 fights. One of the all-time greats at heavyweight, Lennox Lewis, believes he can win, so it’s up to him to get it on. Personally, I give him a decent chance in a fight against Wladimir, but less so in match-up with his more imposing older brother Vitali.

Protracted negotiations

Though he is likely not entirely to blame for the Klitschko fight not being made (and it’s hard to know exactly what’s gone on during the protracted negotiations) the Bermondsey born fighter and his team must make it happen. If, as reported, the brothers have offered a 50-50 split purse, then that is an extremely generous offer from two fighters who have been heavyweight world title holders for a lot longer than the Briton. Haye needs the Klitschko’s much more than they need him, and he must realise that – and fast.

Haye cannot retire without fighting a Klitschko in 2011 and expect to be remembered fondly by boxing fans, even British ones. Many will feel he has done the sport a real disservice by not giving them what they want and passing up the chance to bring some real excitement back to the flagging heavyweight division. All his talk about legacy will fall on deaf ears, with his impressive cruiserweight reign becoming a forgotten footnote in his career. 

Put simply, Haye will be defined by what he chooses to do in 2011: to fight a Klitschko or to bow out of boxing with the ‘ducker’ taunt ringing in his ears. As a fellow Englishman, I pray that he chooses the former.

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