Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Beheadings and Bleeding? No it's Not About Stamkos' Negotiation, It's Boxing!

There was a heavyweight boxing match last Saturday. You probably missed it. That’s ok, there were a lot of things going on this weekend. And, after all, it didn’t feature any Americans and it was on at 5 o’clock in the afternoon, not exactly prime viewing time. If you did watch it (probably forgetting to change the channel after HBO’s 432nd viewing of Inception) you saw a debacle, basically a representation of all that is wrong with this generation’s heavyweight division.

A rain fell for most of the day at the outdoor venue where the fight was held at in Germany. It’s hard to be a menacing fighter when you have to wear little, blue booties over your boxing shoes to keep them dry on the walk to the ring. Elaborate entrances were delayed by both fighters. There was something to do with great heavyweight champions that didn’t really make sense, but ended up with Lennox Lewis looking like a chauffeur and a gaunt George Forman having a door slammed in his face.

The fight itself went the distance yet there was little sustained action. One of the contenders dove so much that the ref got fed up and gave him a standing eight count. It was so boring that announcer Larry Merchant started to make sense, and I’m pretty sure they had to wake Harold Letterman up to give his after nine rounds, unofficial scorecard. In short like most heavyweight fights in the last decade it sucked.

There was hope that this fight would be different. There was actually some animosity between the combatants. Most of the pre-fight fodder was brought about by undersized challenger David Haye. The British champion showed up at a press conference sporting a t-shirt that depicted him holding the severed heads of his opponent (Wladimir Klitschko) and Wlad’s brother Vitali. Haye also promised that it would be the “most brutal execution of a boxer that you’ve seen in many, many years”.

For good measure the talkative Englishman blamed the Klitschko’s for destroying the heavyweight division by being boring champions (Haye held the only title not controlled by Wladimir or Vitali). Haye, an aggressive fighter that depends on landing big shots seemed like a young up and comer that had the power and the quickness to beat Wladimir. Most importantly he had the will to stand toe-to-toe with someone who hadn’t lost a match in 7 years.

Unfortunately, like so may matches over the last few years it was a let down. The only way it could have been more disappointing is if people had paid to watch it on PPV. Klitschko beat his smaller opponent, but proved Haye’s point in doing so. The Ukrainian stalked Haye throughout twelve full rounds, landing multiple jabs and occasional big right hands. His most effective punch of the contest, a lead left hook that surprised Haye every time he saw it, showed up about as often as I pay for the check when I’m having dinner with my parents.

Watching Klitschko fight it’s not hard to imagine what boxing will be like when the bleeding hearts win and humans aren’t allowed to hit each other any more for sport. In this future world, lab-bred robotic clones will fight each other for our entertainment. And they will all be descended from a Klitschko.

His size lends him a certain awkwardness in the ring that masks his athletic ability. At 6’6, 245lbs it’s hard to be graceful at anything, much less moving around in the ring. His doesn’t rely on moving his head or body from side to side for defense. Instead, he lurches back and flails his left arm out hoping his 80” reach keeps his opponent far enough away to avoid damage.

As ungainly as it is, it works. Haye had to lunge and pray that his looping right hooks would catch the big man off guard (they didn’t) allowing him time to find his balance to throw a follow up shot (he couldn’t). Post-fight, Haye would blame a broken toe on for sapping his ability to land his desperate shots at the champion. He wanted us to believe him so bad that he took off his boot and pleaded for us to look at it. Fact is, even if he had ten healthy little piggies he would have still lost, and lost just as bad.

On offense, Dr. Steelhammer (his brother Vitali definitely won the nickname battle with Dr. Ironfist) fights with a cautiousness unbecoming of his size. Having been accused of a weak jaw early in his career, it’s as if the Ukrainian fears opening himself up to a big shot from the fighter in the ring with him. So he moves forward behind his left jab, his thunderous right hand cocked and loaded, but rarely fired. Not quite the charming peek-a-boo style of a young Iron Mike Tyson.

Watching Klitschko early in the fight you can almost see him running through distance and speed calculations in his head. He is gathering data about his opponent. The punches he throws have little conviction, almost as if they are just being put out there in trial and error. Rounds one through five are a study in cause and effect. If I throw Punch A he reacts like this, punch B and his head moves like this.

Later in the fight he puts the data to use. His jab is crisper and lands with more ferocity. Haye’s head starts to snap back when it collides with Klitschko’s big left paw. Wladimir’s shoulders relax, his legs aren’t as stiff and he moves with confidence. The power shots start to flow and connect, it’s at this point that Haye realizes he can’t win. All the while Klitschko’s expression never changes. He never shows frustration when Haye falls to the ground with the slightest pressure on his shoulder. Nor does he show satisfaction when the Brit repeatedly uses his face to stop Klitschko’s punches.

After it’s over and the unkillable Michael Buffer has announced victory, the Ukrainian champion’s veneer finally cracks and you get a sense of one emotion - disappointment. He is upset that he wasn’t able to knock out the 220lb pest that spent months insulting him and his family. That despite the dominant victory, he is as disappointed as the fans that watched the flight. It is a fleeting emotion, soon he is back to assuring the fighting fans that he isn’t retiring anytime soon.

Yet I wonder, is that a good thing? I’ve always liked the Klitschkos and think they don’t get enough credit among the all time great heavyweights. But, at 35, what worlds does Wladimir have left to conquer? The only man that would give him a challenge is his brother and they have sworn that they will never fight each other (reportedly at the behest of their mother, which is kind of sweet). So short of Wladimir having an affair with Vitali’s wife and having to settle it in the ring, who is he going to spend the next 10 years fighting?

According to Ring Magazine in February these are the top heavyweights fighting:

1. Wladimir Klitschko
2. Vitali Klitschko
3. David Haye - soon to be falling down the list
4. Alexander Povetkin - A Russian with only 19 fights on his record
5. Tomasz Adamek - intriguing at 41-1. He will fight Vitali in September.
332. Blog favorite - Tyson Fury!

Not exactly a hall-of-fame lineup awaiting him. Adamek is probably the great American (by way of Poland) hope for a heavyweight champ, but he faces an uphill battle in having to face and beat both Klitschko brothers. Something, that I believe no one has ever done. “Fast” Eddie Chambers, the highest ranked born and bred American challenger, had his shot at Wladimir in 2008 and got knocked out in the 12th round.

While we wait for the Klitschko’s to retire fight fans will have to content themselves with the Pacquio/Mayweather “will they or won’t they” drama in the meantime. The better boxer won the fight on Saturday, but the heavyweight division continues to lose the war.


Captain Canuck said...

wasn't Klitchko the one who, um.... destroyed, Hayden Panettiere too?

Uh... that might have been done differently though.....

Anonymous said...

David Tua was disappointed with Haye's effort.