Boxing: 'Mourinho of the ring' can turn battle of the corners
David Haye against Wladimir Klitschko: Saturday's heavyweight 'superfight' is as much about the trainers and their tactics as it is about the world's best fighters
Sunday 26 June 2011
As a kid, tuning into big fights on the radio, the phrase I heard repeated so often was: "A good big 'un will always beat a good little 'un." Usually that is true, though Manny Pacquiao has proved an exception. So, apparently, did David Haye against the seven-foot ogre Nicolay Valuev, though whether the lumbering Russian was ever that good a big 'un remains highly questionable.
It is a theory sniffily dismissed by Haye's trainer and strategist, Adam Booth, who could be the key figure when the lippy Londoner finally climbs into the ring against the erudite Ukrainian Wladimir Klitschko before a 50,000 crowd at Hamburg FC's Imtech Arena next Saturday.
The long-awaited "superfight" between Dr Steelhammer and the Hayemaker will not only settle deep-rooted differences at last but also see the partial unification of the fractured world heavyweight championship, the 35-year-old Klitschko pitting his WBO, IBF and IBO titles against Haye's WBA version – though the alphabetical pecking order still has Wladimir's big brother Vitali, who possesses the more highly regarded WBC heavyweight belt, as the division's senior champion.
Both are formidable punchers and suspect around the chops, but this is likely to be decided as much by wits as whacks, a battle fought not only in mid-ring and on the ropes, but in the respective corners, between two very different tactical geniuses who have never boxed professionally.
Haye's Svengali is Booth, 45, son of a Turkish-Cypriot father and English mother whose unorthodoxy has been derided by the game's traditionalists.
Mentoring Klitschko is Emanuel Steward, 66, one of the old school of American trainers who is bracketed with Muhammad Ali's man Angelo Dundee, Pacquiao's Freddie Roach and Joe Frazier's Eddie Futch as one of the fight game's legendary gurus.
Both men are some way from your archetypal bucket and sponge-carrying cornermen equipped with gumshields and a tub of Vaseline rather than a game plan.
It was Booth who worked out that the way Haye had to beat Valuev was by impudently dipping under his jab, flicking pot shots and skipping away smartish. It is a ploy that is unlikely to work against the cuter Klitschko.
As an amateur, Booth won 40 of his 48 fights and was about to turn pro when he broke a leg playing football. It was then that he discovered his calling as a trainer, moonlighting from his day job as a university lecturer in anatomy and physiology while schooling boxers at amateur club Fitzroy Lodge in South London. There he met Haye and for 14 years theirs has been one of the most intriguing partnerships in boxing.
Haye says of Booth: "When we first met, he impressed me because his knowledge was not limited to the gym. He opened up my mind and even now he's the only voice I listen to. He is the mastermind. I call him the 'Dark Lord'. To me, he's the Jose Mourinho of the fight game." Haye trains at night. "Perhaps it is because our camp is shrouded in so much darkness that nobody else can see the light." .
"I love everything about training," says Booth, a believer in the ethos of mind over matter. "I study how certain fighters do certain things, their movement, rhythm, timing and psychology. The very geometry of moving around a ring fascinates me, I am obsessed by it.
"But I know I have fucked so many people off in this business by doing things the way I think they should be done and not bowing to how other people want me to behave".
Booth gives little away about the tactics for this fight except: "We have been working for months now on a a specific strategy, including a six punch combination . The day is coming to use it. Only then will people believe in the power of mind control."
"Enjoy it, and embarrass him," was the final instruction issued by Booth to Haye's stablemate George Groves as the first bell sounded for the recent fight with James DeGale in which Groves implicitly followed Booth's back-foot strategy to upset the Olympic champion.
"The great thing about Adam is his calmness," says Groves. "He must be as nervous as we are but he helps you keep it together. His instructions are clear, crisp and concise. Knowing him, he'll have a brilliant plan."
Theirs is a team that has rubbed many in the sport up the wrong way, and should Haye come unstuck against Klitschko there will be much gleeful hand-rubbing. Between them, they have already made some £10 million, a figure that will be more than doubled when all the takings from the live gate and pay-per-view are divvied up.
Meanwhile Steward's Kronk gym in Detroit has been a veritable conveyer belt of world champions, Lennox Lewis, Tommy Hearns and Oscar de la Hoya among them. He also guided six Americans to gold medals at the 1984 Olympics.
Under Steward, Klitschko exercises caution, dominating behind his jab, and using his height and reach to stay out of range. It was Steward who resurrected Klitschko's career back in 2004 after three knock-out defeats by relative journeymen, Ross Puritty, Corrie Sanders and Lamon Brewster. Since then Klitschko's only contact with the canvas has been via a paintbrush, for no subsequent opponent has laid a glove on him. In all, 49 of his 58 opponents have been knocked out, most by the right after being set up with his phenomenal left jab.
Steward says of Haye: "David has got himself into a corner where he has nowhere else to go. He has to fight. He has talked himself into position, creating this fight by his stunts. But he is an exciting fighter and definitely the most dangerous one that Wladimir will have faced. I don't take him lightly. He'll move around like Sugar Ray Leonard but he can punch like Mike Tyson.
"However, he can't throw more than two or three at the same time because he has his legs so far apart. He has speed, and he has heart. But if he boxes as he did against Valuev it will be his undoing."
Haye is six years younger, but four inches shorter and three stones lighter. Can he win? Yes, if he catches and clobbers Klitschko inside three rounds. But for the first time he is likely to realise what it is like to face the power and punch of a credible heavyweight, one who relishes grinding his opponents down as the fight progresses.
At least this is an encounter between two athletic heavyweights with not a pinch of flab between them. Haye exudes confidence: "For the first time he's fighting someone who's healthy and hungry and believes in himself."
Yet my fear is that after all the hype and hoopla, this could be a stinker, jab and grab from Klitschko, pop and hop from Haye, a game of fistic chess with the Ukrainian winning a laborious points verdict in his adopted home town.
Though no doubt, thanks to Booth's blueprint, Haye will have something up his sleeve. Some may think him better off with a horseshoe in his glove.
Haye v Klitschko is exclusively live on Sky Sports Box Office HD & 3D next Saturday. Visit sky.com/orderboxoffice
Pitch battles: Famous fisticuffs in football stadiums
White Hart Lane July 1945: Bruce Woodcock v Jack London (British heavyweight title). July 1986: Frank Bruno v Joe Bugner
Old Trafford Oct 1992: Chris Eubank v Nigel Benn
Loftus Road June 1985: Eusebio Pedroza v Barry McGuigan (world featherweight title)
Highbury May 1966: Muhammad Ali v Henry Cooper
Wembley June 1963: Henry Cooper v Cassius Clay. July 1986: Frank Bruno v Tim Witherspoon (world heavyweight title). Sept 1995: Bruno v Oliver McCall (world heavyweight title)
Hampden Park June 2000: Mike Tyson v Lou Savarese
Waldstadion, Frankfurt Sept 1966: Muhammad Ali v Karl Mildenberger (world heavyweight title)
Veltins Arena, Gelsenkirchen June 2009: Wladimir Klitschko v Ruslan Chagaev (world heavyweight title)
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