It was meant to be different. That was the tag-line. The sedentary waters of the heavyweight division were to be purified. David Haye wanted to fight the best heavyweights straight away, he didn’t want to procrastinate, to manoeuvre. He just wanted to know if he was the best, prove it or fail. Money was secondary. Challenge was everything. Boxing’s downtrodden masses craved the Utopia Haye was selling. He evangelised about bypassing promoters, side-stepping sanctioning bodies and the established order. Boxing is about the fighters not men in suits he might have said. He founded this alternate reality. Hayemaker. Fighters flocked to his rallying cry. Pretty girls flushed, forums hummed, fans cheered. Now, with a portion of the establishment in his possession – the WBA belt – and an unexpected level of renown that now enables him to accumulate £1-3 million pay-days for the type of rudimentary defence he once denounced, the urge to corner a Klitschko in a ring, or even at the top of an elevator has evidently subsided.
The addenda he added to the founding commandments of Hayeism to justify or explain his withdrawal from previously arranged fights with the Klitschko brothers; the background noise of injuries, bankrupt television networks, unfair options on his future that pacified supporters temporarily are all increasingly being used by detractors keen to point out the opportunities Haye has now had to fight his premier targets.
If Haye opts to fight Audley Harrison as is widely mooted rather than agree to the 50-50 split contract on the table from the Klitschko’s (though the detail of which is not in the public domain), then fans can only assume he’s sticking his nose in the trough in the manner of all those that preceded him did. On the one hand you can’t begrudge him the opportunity to earn well from his achievements, but as one of the few willing to suggest he was fortunate to get the nod over the lumbering Russian giant – a fighter awarded the belt when Ruslan Chagaev withdrew with hepatitis – he surely still has much to do to fulfil his stated ambition of unifying the division and illuminating boxing in to the bargain. Much though I like John Ruiz and applauded Haye’s gumption in tackling Nicolay Valuev it is only in beating the Ukrainian brothers that he can find the long-lasting acclaim we once believed he desired.
True the Harrison fight has a curiosity value. In part because Harrison would be such a huge under-dog and would therefore evoke the support us Brits love to dispense on our plucky losers and in part because of their shared nationality and brand recognition. Harrison may have had little but bad press over this past decade but he is proof if proof were needed that there is no such thing as bad publicity. Despite a series of humbling defeats and inactivity Harrison has remained in the public consciousness through first, his own attempt to blaze an alternative trail of self-management and self promotion a decade ago to more recent times as just another heavyweight under the guidance of Frank Warren, and most recently Barry Hearn. Incredibly, despite those setbacks and Haye’s apparent multitude of advantages of power, speed, youth and form it would still be a major event fight in the United Kingdom and SKY Sports appear eager to encourage Haye to take this fight rather than the Klitschko test to the annoyance of everyone, including trainer Adam Booth. As Orwell lamented money and power have a way of corrupting even the most well-intentioned.
In all likelihood no one fighter will ever rescue boxing, heavyweight or otherwise, in the manner Haye said he would. It is a task beyond the wit or will of any individual. Yes, a fighter can galvanise interest, Haye’s predecessors Tyson, Ali, Marciano, Louis, Dempsey, Johnson – it pains me to mention his name among them but please forgive the blasphemy for a moment – all served to lift boxing from a slumber or on to a new plane of economic brevity and physical excellence but all failed to eradicate the intangible stranglehold money and its servants have over the purest sport of all.
Perhaps only when those who buy tickets and watch shows rebel against the sub-standard product presented as world-class boxing will the powers at work within the sport ever truly endeavour to pitch the best fighters against the best fighters more often. Like Boxer, the huge shire-horse in George Orwell’s Animal Farm, boxing fans have the greatest strength and most unstinting loyalty to the cause, and yet remain frustratingly ignorant to the power for change they possess.
However, I must confess to an urge to see the fight if it is made. Not because I believe it will be an enthralling prize-fight but because I will be cheering for a by then venerable Audley Harrison to shock David Haye and lay claim to whatever negligible fraction of the world-title the WBA profess to control. About one sixteenth by my clumsy calculation.