Boxing: Strictly ballroom can topple the bogeyman
Lewis says Haye must hit and run to be Britain's next heavyweight champ
Like an army drill sergeant, though in rather more mellifluous tones, a tracksuited Lennox Lewis was instructing 35 City businessmen, all wannabe "white collar" boxers, how to jab and move in an establishment called the Real Fight Club close to London's Liverpool Street. At the same time, a couple of miles south of the river, in a Vauxhall gym under a railway arch, David Haye was putting the finishing touches to his own preparations before leaving for Germany, where he really does have a fight on his hands against boxing's bogeyman, the gargantuan Russian Nikolay Valuev.
You couldn't help feeling that Lewis – at 44 looking even trimmer than in his fighting days – might have been better off delivering his masterclass to Haye himself. But he revealed he had been in touch with Haye to offer tactical advice which can be summed up in three words: hit and run.
Britain's last world heavyweight champion believes the 29-year-old Haye can be the next when he challenges for the 7ft, 23-stone Valuev's World Boxing Association title in a packed ice hockey arena in Nuremberg next Saturday. It may be that Lewis's objectivity is tinged with patriotism, although he argues with the same conviction as the stylish punches that saw him reign as undisputed champion until he retired six years ago. What he has told Haye is as simple a message as that imparted to the punch-swapping financiers, lawyers and IT wizards, whose tuition fees were donated to a children's charity, as well as the underprivileged kids Lewis has been mentoring. "Keep moving, keep moving. You can't catch what you can't find."
Lewis's gameplan seems more suited to the ballroom than the boxing ring. "He must dance around him, using his speed, jump in and pick him off. It will be like a cat-and-mouse game, with Valuev trying to hunt him down, but David is too fast. There is 400 pounds of might behind Valuev's punch, so David must ensure that he doesn't stand still. He has to use raiding tactics, get in, cause some damage and get out. Run around the ring and then come back in again with his own arsenal. David's best weapon is his speed. He has a certain amount of power but he must use it in the opening rounds, which is the best time to hurt this guy. I am not saying he can knock him out, but he can dishearten and frustrate him.
"If he doesn't let Valuev hold and lean on him he has a great chance," Lewis added. "Valuev has been beaten before [by Ruslan Chagaev]. David must study how he did it. He will win by throwing fast combinations upwards, then scuttling out the way." In other words, hit and hop it.
Lewis has toppled a few giants himself in his time, though none as massive as Valuev. "The way Lennox told me he'd go about beating Valuev is similar to my own gameplan – speed and accuracy," said Haye. "I'm glad we are reading from the same page. What he says is exactly what I plan to do. But I am not going to go in there swinging punches for the sake of it. I'll hit Valuev on the arms, the shoulders, the neck, wherever is available. If the big man goes, he goes. I want to dishearten him rather than destroy him, to sicken him until he knows that there is no way he can win the fight."
He knows the Russian bear will paw, push and parry, and if he gets Haye in his clutches the immense size and weight disparity (nine inches and seven stone) will surely be decisive. Haye expects to weigh in at around 16 stone, and the differential will be the biggest in boxing history. The previous widest discrepancy was the 6st 2lb conceded by Tommy Loughran to a 19-stone Primo Carnera 78 years ago.
Despite his portrayal as the fight game's Frankenstein's monster, the "Beast from the East" is not the best heavyweight around. Though never wobbled, he rarely knocks opponents out. But he has had 51 fights, and this is former cruiserweight champion Haye's third as a heavyweight, though Lewis says: "Skill can shock experience." Yet worryingly, if it goes the distance, Haye faces ringside judgement in a country where, it has been said, you have to knock 'em out to get a draw.
He has labelled German-promoted Valuev a zombie and called him "smelly and ugly", doubtless all in the cause of selling tickets, but he risks Valuev adding injury to those insults. This is no longer about knocking cardboard blocks off. Haye is a great mover and bone-shaker, but his brittle chin is no irresistible force whereas Valuev has consistently demonstrated he is an immovable object.
For heavyweights size does matter, and my gut feeling is that at best Haye will lose a controversial points verdict over 12 rounds or at worst be stopped around halfway. I fear overcoming boxing's Goliath is beyond this David's reach. I'm happy to be wrong, though.
Haye v Valuev will be live in HD on Sky Box Office. Call 08442 410 888 to order
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