Boxing: From Hayemaker to blockbuster: the new Vinnie Jones
Next Saturday sees only the second all-British world heavyweight title fight but one of the boxers wants to top a different bill
Sunday 07 November 2010
Boxers, like jockeys, are reputed to be notoriously bad judges of form. Perhaps this is why David Haye remains unfazed that several of his peers and contemporaries are pitching for Audley Harrison to stand him, and the bookies, on their heads in Manchester next Saturday night.
Carve your way through the surfeit of raging bullshine that has come out of both camps since Haye's second defence of his WBA world heavyweight title was announced and you will still find, on paper, a match-up that is the most embarrassingly lop-sided since Buster Douglas stepped into the ring against Mike Tyson as a 42-1 no-hoper in Tokyo 20 years ago... and won.
No verbal punches have been pulled, no insults left untraded in the shameless attempt to convince us that this is not one of the grossest mismatches in heavyweight history. Judging by the sold-out signs at the 22,000-capacity MEN Arena and a brisk trade in Sky Box Office packages, the hype industry has surmounted any economic downturn.
Yet surprisingly, a good fistful of champions give the underachieving Olympic hero once dubbed "Fraudley" more than a puncher's chance of upsetting the 7-1 odds against him, among them Joe Calzaghe, Roy Jones Jnr, Frank Bruno and Naseem Hamed, now back in business as a manager. "On paper it's Haye by a KO," says Naz. "But I'm not so sure. "If it goes beyond eight rounds there's only one winner and that's Audley. Haye has a stamina problem." And this from another Olympic champion, James DeGale: "There's something in Audley's eyes that tells me he's hungry, that this is his moment."
If they are right, and Harrison does get lucky, then the stars Haye will be seeing won't be those he anticipates he will be mingling with in Hollywood this time next year. His avowed intention of making it in the movie industry rests on his ability to see off Harrison and then, he hopes, both of the Brothers Klitschko in the next 11 months. After that it's Hollywood here he comes.
Putting on an act is no big deal for the Hayemaker; the line between show business and blow business is now tantalisingly thin. So it should be no surprise that someone with his chutzpah and charisma sees himself transferring smoothly from Sky Box Office to cinema box office.
While Harrison was himself winging his way from Hollywood last week – he lives in Los Angeles and has prepared at the boxing boot camp of Big Bear in the Californian mountains – Haye sat studiously unravelling thick layers of black bandages from his hands after working out in a sweltering gym beneath a railway arch in Vauxhall, south London. Some way from Tinseltown.
"I've always said I'm going to retire after my 31st birthday, which is in 11 months' time," he said. "After that it will be Hollywood. I want to be a movie star. The next year will be huge for me. Apart from anything else, I want a unification fight, but I'm not going to bend over for the Klitschkos because it's me who brings the money to the table. But if it doesn't happen, so be it.
"I want to do what Vinnie Jones has done, to go from being a sports star to film star. Then there's Dwayne Johnson [aka The Rock] who went from WWE to being a great actor. If I can go along them lines I'll be happy. After all, performing in the ring and in films is entertainment. You've still got the theatre of it all. I love the theatrical side of boxing as much as I love the fighting because I'm a showman. I couldn't bear not to be in front of a camera – that's my life."
What would he miss from boxing? "Just beating the shit out of someone. When you go out there and you are beating someone up, someone who's trained for weeks to fight you, then there's no better feeling, especially when you've taken a bit of punishment in the process. There's no substitute for boxing. I know that because I've done it for 20 years."
He knows he will be at home in luvvie-land. "It can't be any worse than the boxing industry. I've managed to navigate my way through this dirty business, diverting all the sharks and snakes. Me and Adam [manager and trainer Booth], we've achieved all our goals and hopefully I'll be able to do the same in the movie business."
There are many sceptics who still harbour doubts about Haye, disliking his arrogance, emphasising his weak chin, scorning the cerebral approach of Booth, once a university lecturer in anatomy and physiology, who mapped out the hit-and-run tactics that confounded Nikolai Valuev when Haye won his title a year ago.
Haye, whose daily diet includes kangaroo meat and flying fish from the Caribbean, is significantly leaner than he was against the massive Russian and then the ancient warrior John Ruiz, a sign that he is taking Harrison more seriously than some believed he would. He is probably the most athletic heavyweight in the business and has been rehearsing slipping under the jab of a tall southpaw sparring partner. "If you look at Audley's arm length, it's ridiculous. They are freakishly long so I can't stand on the outside and hope to land long shots. I am going to have to cut the range down, get inside his punches, set up a barrage of my own and get out. He's used to keeping people at arm's length, I can't allow him to do that to me.
"Mentally he's weak. I think he's a little big crazy. Look into his eyes and you will see a man who's petrified. It's easy to be big and clever when you've got your entourage around you. But when they get out of the ring, he's left on his own with just a pair of 10oz boxing gloves and me looking at him like a caged animal, and a referee who knows how to count to 10.
"I'm looking to inflict some pain, as much damage as the referee will allow. If the same old Ordinary Harrison turns up, he'll be blasted out in a matter of seconds."
In the decade since he won the Olympic super-heavyweight title, Harrison has been written off many times. His floundering career has been relaunched by winning Prizefighter, and a last-gasp punch when, albeit carrying a shoulder injury, he was being outclassed in a European title fight by Michael Sprott – one of four men to have beaten him but the only one to floor him. Now he is one punch away from the world title.
These days Harrison professes to be at ease with his inner self and says he carries love into the ring. "There is no 14 November for me. I am not looking past Saturday night, the 13th. I never went into boxing to be the best thing since sliced bread. My goal has been to be a world champion and that will be mission complete. To stay in boxing I'd have to set new goals."
He has always been able to talk the talk; converting it to aggression has been his problem. As amateurs he and Haye were buddies but the enmity, resurrected for the box office, stems from Haye refusing to put Harrison on a show he was promoting in Liver-pool last year. "Why should I put on someone who'd just been booed out of the ring?" says Haye. "It would have killed the show. He seems to have taken that to heart, but that's his problem."
Harrison retorts that Haye's ego is "out of control". "He thinks he's invincible. He talks about going to Hollywood, he's delusional. Mr David Haye wants to be a Hollywood actor? I don't think he'd be able to read his lines properly, would he? I tell you, he ain't gonna break my spirit or my heart."
There could be a three-stone weight difference, and three inches in height, when they contest only the second world heavyweight championship between two Brits, after Lewis versus Bruno in 1993. But Haye showed against Valuev that size doesn't matter. What does is a nine-year age gap (Harrison was 39 last week) and the lack of credibility as a world-title challenger of a man who, in 10 years, has not fought a world-class opponent.
My hunch is that Haye will jump on Harrison and try to effect as brutally brief a demolition as he did as a cruiserweight against Enzo Maccarinelli two years ago, knowing that Harrison panics under pressure. If that doesn't work he is likely to revert to Booth's duck-and-dive strategy, nicking his way to a points victory in an encounter that could turn out to be mind-numbingly negative. Either way, it must be the Hayemaker's night.
"Anyone who knows boxing knows how vulnerable David Haye is," claims Harrison. True, Haye has shown his susceptibility to a left hook, and his only defeat came when he was felled by Carl Thompson six years ago. But as with Amir Khan, who has learned how to protect his chin since being poleaxed by Breidis Prescott, it seems a case of once smitten, twice shy.
"Boxing takes a lifetime," says Haye. "It's taken me since the age of 10 to get where I am today and it's going to take more than one lucky punch from Audley Harrison to end my dream."
Haye v Harrison Best Of Enemies is live on Sky Box Office HD and also in 3D. Call 08442 410888 to order
Mike Tyson v James 'Buster' Douglas 10 February 1990 (Tokyo)
After flooring Douglas, a 42-1 underdog, seconds from the end of the eighth round, an out-of-condition Tyson, having fired long-time trainer Kevin Rooney, was stunned by a five-punch combination in the 10th and counted out as he groped on the canvas for his gumshield. It was the modern heavyweight championship's biggest-ever shock and one promoter – Don King – unsuccessfully tried to have it declared void, claiming that Douglas had been given a long count.
Sonny Liston v Cassius Clay 25 February 1964 (Miami Beach)
Clay, the brash 22-year-old Olympic light-heavyweight champion, truly "shook up the world" when the ogre who had smashed his way to the world title quit on his stool at the end of the sixth round. Some cried "fix" but Liston seemed to age 10 years as he was cut and bemused by the hand speed of the dancing Louisville Lip, who then announced that he was now Muhammad Ali.
Muhammad Ali v Leon Spinks 15 February 1978 (Las Vegas)
Gap-toothed Spinks, aka "Neon Leon", who like Ali had won an Olympic light-heavyweight gold medal, made the fastest-ever ascent to the heavyweight title, defeating an oddly lacklustre, undertrained Ali on a 15-round split decision in his eighth professional fight. Ali unanimously outpointed him in their New Orleans return eight months later.
Max Baer v James J Braddock 13 July 1935 (New York)
Braddock, the original Cinderella Man, became the Rocky of his day when, supposedly washed up at 30, he skilfully outpointed the flamboyant champion Max Baer, a 10-1 on favourite, in one of Madison Square Garden's most memorable turn-ups.
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