Boxing: Harrison v Haye – why it should happen

Despite David Haye’s protestations to the contrary the prospect of this unlikely heavyweight prizefight remains the talking point of the day in the dungeons of the internet’s boxing forums. Audley Harrison has, afterall, already sacrificed the European title in the belief that he will secure the all-British world heavyweight title fight he and television network Sky Sports appear to crave. Debuting his guest column, John Cascells reflects on the fight; why it may prove to be more challenging than the cynics presume and why he is sure it will make for must-see television.

Harrison v Haye – why it should happen

By John Cascells

The more I look at this fight the more I like it. Originally, the chances of it happening seemed as likely as England winning the World Cup. But as the whispers and speculation keep circulating, the all-domestic showdown for Haye’s WBA trophy may yet come to pass. For me the fight commands tremendous curiosity value. Theoretically,  it has ‘mis-match’ written all over it and as world heavyweight title fights go this is not a marquee shoot-out. However, look into a few of the facts and scratch below the surface and the reasons the fight would do excellent box-office numbers in this country and why it wouldn’t be the presumed one-sided affair it is reported to be become clear. And why, like me, most of you will be coughing up your hard-earned cash to watch it.

Haye’s rise to fame is well documented. His cruiserweight crusade saw him top the pile at 200 pounds and gave him the notoriety required to gatecrash the heavyweight ‘elite’. If ever there was a time to make it big in the premier division it’s now. The Klitschko’s apart, anybody with an ounce of talent could make a dent in the ratings. Haye’s gallant ‘David versus Goliath’ title challenge against mediocre Nicolay Valuev captured the public’s imagination, not just the boxing crowd but the ordinary sports fan, the proverbial ‘man on the street’. It took him from the back pages of the tabloids to glossy magazine front covers and then to mainstream TV chat shows. His stock soared as he became a ‘boxing celebrity’. His plan for worldwide domination (almost) complete, his brand established.

I’d make this fight in a heartbeat, box office is box office”

 Frank Warren this week

Harrison’s career on the other hand has done the polar opposite. From the glory days of his gold medal winning performance at the Olympics and the million-pound TV deal to the gory days of back-to-back defeats and appearances deep on American under cards, Harrison’s fall has been as dramatic as the younger Haye’s rise. The public who celebrated his Sydney triumph swiftly turned against him as the media lampooned his performances and seeming delusion and never seemed ‘in sync’ with Harrison, their unflattering brand labels such as ‘A-Farce’ and ‘Fraudley’ turned him from serious contender to pantomime pretender.

Curiously, it is these things that I like about this fight. Could it be Harrison’s final redemption? Could he prove all the snipers wrong and force the cynics to eat humble pie? Harrison has always believed in himself and prophesied about becoming world champion when everyone else just got bored of the talk and yet here he is, one step from his goal.

I’ve never been an Audley fan but I’ve always suspected there is a HUGE fight within him given the right circumstances. How many times have we heard the well-rehearsed catch phrase about being ‘mentally, physically and spiritually’ right? How many times have we heard the media-spin and sound bytes about galvanising his career and imploring us to stay on the Audley ‘Express Train’?

He has never once wavered from his belief he could win the heavyweight crown despite the numerous setbacks and disappointing performances.

A fight against Haye gives him all the pieces of the jigsaw. How could it not? The financial rewards, the massive media profile, the recognition, the chance to finally silence the doubters but most importantly the chance to win the biggest prize in sport and finally fulfil his promise. The ingredients are there. The motivation is there and if you cannot get ‘mentally, physically and spiritually’ right for this one then it really is time to exit stage left. Perhaps a fight of this magnitude is what Harrison needed all along?. It would be his opportunity to show the world exactly what HE has always told us he could do.

And here’s another reason I like this fight. Harrison could win. Yes, win. People forget Harrison is technically a very gifted fighter. Winning Olympic hardware isn’t done by luck. He’s a well-schooled boxer and has the size and frame to beat Haye. He has the jab to trouble Haye and although he’s no Earnie Shavers when it comes to punch power, he can bang with venom and could capitalise on Haye’s suspect chin and put the champion to sleep. Harrison is very good at dictating the pace in a fight. He can control opponents with his size, strength and jab. Although he’s been rightly criticised for being too negative in the past, against Haye he wouldn’t be negative. Sure, he wouldn’t fight with tactical abandon but the difference in this fight is the knowledge he can badly hurt the champion and knock him out if he can craft one opportunity. He would take chances because this is the fight to do it in. This is the jackpot chance. No turning back, no more excuses.

He’s got an Olympic gold medal, you don’t get them in sweet shops”

    Frank Bruno speaking in Audley’s early career

Winning Prizefighter is not a world title barometer but he looked a ‘million dollars’ compared to the others in the Matchroom Sports tournament. As the sporting cliché demands; ‘he beat who was put in front of him’ and looked good doing it. He struggled against Michael Sprott in his European challenge before landing the detonator late in the final round. But he was badly injured early that night. When compatriot Danny Williams fought with one arm and KO’ed Mark Potter it was seen as a minor miracle, Williams was subsequently hailed a hero of Superman proportions. I didn’t hear the same accolades being poured on Harrison for his brave effort against Sprott. It was a tough and torrid 12 rounds and he showed heart and courage to carry on and find the winning punch. Harrison pulled out a performance of equivalent quality to Williams but the gumption demonstrated wasn’t similarly acknowledged.  He showed he can dig deep. A depth of character cynics always maintained he didn’t possess.

So onto the next reason I like this fight. Haye won the WBA title and the achievement deserves respect. But I doubt historians will be shunting the 30-year-old into their all-time top tens. The performance was good but as a sporting spectacle will go down in boxing folklore as one of the worst in heavyweight history.

Valuev was, and remains, a boxer of limited skill; one of the poorest champions of recent times. Throwing a handful of punches for 12 rounds secured Haye the title but was it a convincing win? We know Haye has power and speed but we also know he lacks stamina and punch resistance. Were those ever-present caveats addressed?

He hit the mat against Lolenga Mock, a blown up super middleweight. And his sole defeat to veteran Carl Thompson was founded in poor stamina.

The win against Mormeck was fantastic. The Maccarinelli display dynamite. Victories which earned him the crown at cruiserweight and unified it respectively. Credit is due for both performances. But before the tepid Valuev affair he beat only a washed-up Monte Barrett on his heavyweight debut [the Tomasz Bonin fight not withstanding]. After Valuev came the now retired John Ruiz. Are these the accomplishments of a modern great or historically significant champion?

Haye has successfully monopolised interest in the heavyweight division and his name is now so stubbornly tied to the Klitschko’s that fans have grown to assume he’s at their level despite his limited heavyweight resume. Hooking up with promotional powerhouse ‘Golden Boy’ helped, and their influence on the American audience is immense. But the Klitschko fight appears nothing more than a distant possibility as negotiations become as protracted and tedious as the Haye v Valuev contest which brought the Hayemaker to this point and further reflects the shift of power from the America market to Europe. It is reported Vitali Klitschko earned in the region of $20million for his last pedestrian defence.

So while the various parties try to tip-toe through that minefield why not let Harrison into the mix? It was only a couple of fights ago that obscure American pretender JD Chapman was being mooted as a Haye opponent. And a glance at some of the names who recently fought for the title; Kevin Johnson, Ray Austin, Tony Thompson and Hasim Rahman, demonstrate that the qualifying criteria for a shot isn’t particularly high. These were some of the worst challenges in modern-day boxing. Pathetic, farcical and completely predictable yet they got their chance. They turned up for the payday not to fight. Even little-known Albert Sosnowski got a shot after winning the Euro belt.

Harrison would be head and shoulders above any of those guys, and if he were to step into the ring with Haye he would be turning up for the right reason. To win.

The atmosphere this fight would generate will be the antidote to all those lacklustre defeats Harrison suffered and the soporific though victorious performances of the cautious Klitschko siblings. He could feed off the fan’s energy just as Haye did in Levallois and Nuremberg. It’s a fight tailor-made for him.

And one final reason I like this fight. The build up and media hype alone would be something to savour. These two trading insults at the press conferences and through media. The newspapers would be engaged and boxing, at least temporarily, would return to the foreground in their sports coverage. The tension would be immense. Get both in the same room and wait for the verbal fireworks to start. Boxing can be as much a mental challenge as a physical one and the ‘mind games’, the psychological manoeuvring would be entertaining and play a huge part in deciding the victor too. Haye proved masterful with his infamous t-shirt stunt at the Klitschko presser and his cutting and occasionally unsavoury comments in the Valuev stare downs. He couldn’t do this with Harrison though. Audley can hold court with anybody and will out think Haye at every turn. He can get under David’s skin and ruffle enough of his braided hair to unsettle the champ whenever they come face to face.

For me, every fighter has a defining fight, and I believe this is Harrison’s.

Audley would be the massive underdog with the media diluting his chances to practically nothing. I doubt he will lose much sleep over that. The pressure is all on Haye. Haye has everything to lose. If Wlad and Vitali fights don’t materialise soon he has to fight someone. I don’t want to see Haye bang out some ageing or ill-equipped American import when there is a ‘live’, pay per view opponent waiting on his doorstep.

Haye-Harrison would be a great domestic battle with some good old-fashioned British rivalry. A great night of boxing intrigue. The celebrity circus would be ringside for this one and wherever it was staged, the tickets would sell in their thousands.

Don’t discount this fight and don’t discount Harrison. It’s a lot closer than you think.



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