Boxing: 'After Klitschko hit me I had a headache for days'
The tiny mountain village of Going, nestling high in the Austrian Alps is straight out of the Sound of Music. But yesterday the surrounding hills were alive with the sound of an ominous message for David Haye. It came from another British fighter, 31-year-old Ola Afolabi who is being paid to absorb pain as chief sparring partner to the fierce giant whose jarring jabs have earned him the sobriquet of "Wlad the Impaler".
Wladimir Klitschko, the WBO, IBF and IBO heavyweight champion and Haye, the WBA title holder finally collide before a 50,000 crowd in Hamburg on 2 July and Afolabi warns that his fellow Londoner will not know what's hit him. Emerging from a four-round session with "Dr Steelhammer", he said: "You can see his hands in front of you and think you can block the punches. No way. That jab is something else. It is going to destroy Haye. A couple of weeks ago, Wladimir hit me with a right hand – I had a headache for four days. I thought I was having a stroke. This guy is awesome. He'll have too much muscle for Haye."
Afolabi, a former WBO cruiserweight champion is no mean performer himself. He has knocked out Haye victim Enzo Maccarinelli in nine rounds and has been schooled in Freddie Roach's Wild Card gym in Los Angeles. He says of the 6ft 6in Klitschko: "Look at his height, look at his reach. People give Haye much more credit than he deserves. He's fought mainly as a cruiserweight against easy guys. This is going to be a reality check. Wladimir is a legitimate heavyweight.
"I give it to Haye in that he has talked his way into a multi-million dollar pay day, but for my money, Klitschko wins in seven."
Afolabi had the distinction yesterday of putting Klitschko on the floor in the specially converted gym of the luxury complex where he is preparing for a fight expected to gross £30m – but it was not with a punch. It was a wrestling-type fall in which both got up grinning. It was two years ago that we had stood in the same secluded spot close to the ski resort of Kitzbühel watching Klitschko work out for a fight with Haye that was scheduled to take place at Stamford Bridge that summer. Then the session was interrupted by the news that Haye had suffered a back strain and the contest was off – an injury that coincided with the collapse of TV backers Setanta.
Now Klitschko says: "I hope Haye is going to show up this time. I do not underrate him as he has fast hands and he'll probably be the toughest opponent I have ever fought but his cockiness pisses me off and he is going to be punished. Actually, I believe he is not such a bad guy, he's just lost his mind in what he says and does. I don't think he knows what he is doing. I know he wanted to fight me rather than Vitali because he thinks I'm the weaker brother but we'll see."
As the 35-year-old Klitschko, whose brother Vitali is the WBC champion spars and sweats, three ringside screens repeatedly shows videos of Haye's fights as a reminder that the "Hayemaker" can hit – but also be hit. The Klitschko camp is run on strict disciplinary lines. Spar-mates like Afolabi are fined $150 if they turn up even a minute late for sessions which begin at 7am. Klitschko looks in peak condition with no sign of the stomach injury which caused the abandonment of his proposed bout with British champion Dereck Chisora.
Haye v Klitschko exclusively live on Sky Sports Box Office HD and 3D – 2 July. www.sky.com/orderboxoffice
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