Boxing: After all the big talk, it's time for Haye to step up
Londoner must summon up his courage tonight as Valuev aims to 'shut him up'
David Haye wants everybody to believe that size doesn't matter, that power is the real factor in heavyweight title fights and that at about midnight tonight he will be the new World Boxing Association champion.
There is no doubting Haye's sincerity and there is no disputing that during the last 11 months he has prepared for the task, the mammoth task, which he will face when he walks out to fight Nikolai Valuev in Nuremberg.
"It's time now to shut up, get in the ring and get this over," claimed a slightly tetchy Haye after yesterday's weigh-in. "It's not just the last week, or the last few months – it's been years and years of getting ready for this fight, for a fight like this. This is why you walk into a boxing gym: I just want to fight now."
He will get his wish because Valuev, a strangely placid giant, has become increasingly irritated, which is the right word, at Haye's often vulgar attempts to insult him. Haye, it should be pointed out, is also disliked in Germany because of his two false starts against national idols the Klitschko boys, Vladimir and Vitali.
"Some people have asked why Haye is getting this chance to win the title," said the show's promoter, Kalle Sauerland. "He's getting the chance because he is exciting, but also he is well known in Germany after the controversial Klitschko fight fell through. He has a high profile."
In June, with 60,000 tickets sold, Haye pulled out of a fight with Vladimir, and two months later agreed favourable terms to meet Valuev on the same day that his fight with Vitali was due to be officially announced. The simple truth is that the small print for tonight's fight, which includes three options, is so much better than the deal on the table for a Klitschko fight. "I don't like the word option, I prefer to say that we have a partnership agreement," Kalle added.
On the scales yesterday the boxers were separated by the bulky fists of Don King, who has a piece of Valuev, when the veteran promoter raised both their arms for one final photo opportunity on the safe side of the first bell. Haye was 15st 8lb, his heaviest ever by a pound, and Valuev 22st 7lb, which is one of his lighter fighting weights, and to be honest neither weight is significant. Haye said three months ago he would be under 16 stone and Valuev's people promised a faster, slimmer champion. Tonight there will nothing keeping them apart and that is when this fight will become truly fascinating on several levels. Can Haye really overcome the weight difference and disadvantages of nine inches in height and seven inches in reach?
Valuev also has the advantage of having fought 52 men who are shorter than him and he certainly knows how to not waste punches swinging lamely at the heads of his opponents. Haye, meanwhile, has been sparring with men wearing boxing boots with Spice Girl-style platform soles attached, and throwing a looping counter over a boxing glove held upwards on a broomstick. "I never said it was going to be easy beating this giant," Haye said. "It will take tremendous concentration and a beautifully executed plan."
The problem is that Haye is not Lennox Lewis, a fighter who could control his head and his heart and perform often enough with a safety-first approach, which was in direct contrast to his desire to knock everybody out. Haye is a hothead, a dynamic puncher whose fists have only once in 22 wins failed to end a fight early.
There is only one version of Valuev, but that version is a lot better than people think. Thankfully Haye, a student of the sport, has not been conned by the "one-dimensional, slow freak" descriptions that people who should know better have been throwing around in the last few days. There is a chance that the man who will be most shocked tonight by his opponent's ability will be Valuev; it is obvious that Haye has not impressed the Russian's people.
"He talks all the time but he will not be able to talk in the ring and it will be nice to shut him up," Valuev said. "He has never been in the ring with a man of my size and also he has never met a man of my experience."
It is just possible that Valuev has never met a boxer like Haye, a boxer determined to grab the initiative and take the fight to the towering champion from the opening bell. Valuev has lost and come close to losing in fights where his opponents ran or moved close enough to hit him, without being blasted to the canvas. Haye has no chance of doing either for 12 rounds and that is the brutal truth and the main reason why this heavyweight fight, unlike so many since Lewis rode off into his own Caribbean sunset in 2003, has found a way into the hearts and minds of boxing's most cynical fans. Haye has an old-fashioned banger's chance and that is all that any boxing fan wants in a heavyweight fight. He might try and move, he might try to duck and dive, switch to southpaw, hit Valuev low, but at some point Haye will have to simply stand and deliver.
"David is not a complex fighter," said Mick Carney, who trained him for nearly a decade at the Fitzroy Lodge club in Lambeth. "Getting in the ring against Valuev, in Germany, as the underdog is what gives him a buzz – it's all that he has ever wanted." Carney is right and Haye is clearly relishing his moment tonight in the spotlight in a fight that takes him to the brink of the heavyweight millions.
Valuev should be able to walk all over Haye once the lights are dimmed, he should be able to end it at any time, but tonight he will finally have to get involved in a real fight against a man who is as fearless as Valuev is huge.
Previous biggest ever champions
Current WBC champ stands at 6ft 7in.
n HENRY AKINWANDE 6ft 7in. WBO heavyweight champion 1996-97.
*Vladimir Klitschko Current IBF, IBO and WBO champion. 6ft 6in.
*jess willard Heavyweight champion 1915-19. 6ft 6in.
David Haye has only fought (professionally) outside the United Kingdom on three previous occasions – beating Roger Bowden in Miami in 2003, Vance Winn in Beverly Hills, also in 2003, and Jean-Marc Mormeck in Paris in 2007.
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