Boxing: Haye making his name
Sunday 25 June 2006
There was a time when the name of the British heavyweight champion was as familiar to the fan in the street as Wayne Rooney's is now. But hands up those who know who now holds the title. Scott Gammer, that's who. So who is he?
Step forward a 29-year-old Welshman - the seventh to become the British champion but the first for 22 years - who is unbeaten in 17 fights. Last week he stopped the English champion, Mark Krence, in nine rounds.
Logically he should now meet the winner of the bout in Cardiff on 8 July between two rather more familiar heavyweight figures, Danny Williams and Matt Skelton, who contest a return for the Commonwealth title.
But logic is rarely laced on with the gloves these days. According to the promoter Frank Warren, Williams or Skelton will have bigger fish to fight, for a version of the world heavyweight title. It may be that Audley Harrison, after his "comeback" victory, will be enticed to meet Gammer.
In the meantime, here is another pugilistic poser. Who is the world heavyweight champion? The winner of Williams-Skelton could perm any one from four. Three are from Eastern Europe, an indication of how power has shifted in boxing. Indeed, the entire quartet soon could be chips off the old Soviet bloc.
Hasim Rahman, 33, the only US incumbent (he is the WBC champ), defends against a 39-year-old Russian, Oleg Maskaev, in Las Vegas on 8 August. Should Maskaev win he will join Wladimir Klitschko, 30, from Ukraine (IBF), Sergei Liakhovich, 29, from Belarus (WBO) and Nicolay Valuev, 32, from Russia (WBA). And remember that Rahman is only a champion by virtue of the retirement of Klitschko the elder, Vitali, 35, who had held both the WBC and WBA titles.
It was Lennox Lewis's former manager, Frank Maloney, who first spotted that the new sons of boxing were rising in the East after a visit to Russia following the fall of the Iron Curtain. "America has not been producing hungry fighters for some time," he says. "The hunger is now coming from what used to be the Soviet Union."
Maloney twice brought the giant Valuev to box in London in 1996, but despite his size hardly anyone took notice. Now this big, bald "Beast from the East", five inches taller and twice as heavy as Peter Crouch, plans to further his career in the US, where he has already been labelled Don King's Kong.
At least Valuev has a certain novelty value, and even that is something at a time when heavyweight boxing is suffering a charisma defic-iency. This could be rectified at home when Maloney's growing lad David Haye moves up among the big boys. Haye makes the second defence of his European cruiserweight title against Belgium's Ismail Abdoul at London's York Hall on Friday, but the 25-year-old is keen to move onwards and upwards. So here's hoping the heavy-waiting game may soon be over.
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