James Corrigan: Haye goes 'gaga' after hitting pay-per-gawp heights

View From The Sofa: Haye v Valuev, Sky Box Office
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The Independent Online

Queen Victoria would have been amused. As would her gloating subjects. For the vast majority who paid out the obligatory £14.63, Saturday night's world heavyweight championship bout had about as much to do with the current popularity of boxing as those Bearded Lady stands had to do with the widespread thirst in Victorian England to study hormonal imbalance. Essentially this was pay-per-gawp.

And crikey did we gawp. Murdoch Towers is already crowing of the extraordinary take-up on Sky Box Office, claiming they had to hire more staff to deal with the interest. Congratulations must be passed on to David Haye, even though there were times during those interminable 12 rounds when he looked less like a fighter and more like a painted horse going around and around on the carousel. The huge pole in the middle was, of course, Nikolai Valuev – the most scorned "freak" in Britain since Joseph Merrick from Leicester first caught Simon Cowell's eye on Britain's Got Talent.

There is a strange moral code in our media when it comes to criticising an individual's looks. If you're a 9st British female swimming champion and someone dares to crack the old "reflection in a spoon" gag, the switchboard is inundated with thousands of complaints, the TV channel issues an immediate apology and the miscreant is thrown off the airwaves until he agrees to say sorry.

If you're a 7ft 2in Russian male boxing champion and someone dares to call you "the ugliest human being on Earth" who "makes the Elephant Man look like Pamela Anderson", the country cries out for more and everyone agrees you should have your block knocked off. Not a complaint in earshot, nothing even resembling an apology. Just more taunts about your "stench" and your "matted chest hair".

Sure, Haye commented in the ring straight afterwards, "I now have full respect for Valuev – he will win back the title some day". But what else was he going to say after prevailing on a split, and apparently contentious, decision? "Nope, I was right all along about Valuev – his fighting stinks as much as his armpits." What exactly would that have indicated about Haye's own performance?

Instead the Londoner did the usual trick of saying the display had established him as prime-time and to this end Valuev's validity as a boxer and not as a freak was suddenly the means. At ringside for Sky, Jim Watt went along with the hype, despite declaring at the final bell, the big fella to be his winner. "David beat Goliath all those thousands of years ago and here it's happened all over again," he screamed. Oh really? David left the Valley of Elah holding up the loser's head in his right hand. The only thing split about that particular decision was Goliath's neckbone.

But don't let the facts get in the way of a good analogy; an analogy which predictably figured in the billing of the bout and which may, just may have been the handiwork of the despicable Don King whose super-smug image repeatedly put us off our crispy duck. It was Haye's right to talk about " a dream come true" and even then he chose to extend the metaphor. "Since I was a little baby I've said I would be world heavyweight champion." Which must have been quite a shock to Mummy Haye and Daddy Haye. Most babies leave it at "gaga".

That was more than we heard from Valuev. He was dignified in the build-up, dignified in the aftermath, but still the insults rained. "A freak", "a monster", "a beast"... call him what you will. David Haye did. I just wonder how many will subscribe when the other fighter happens to be a human being.