Seldom have a fighter’s pre-fight boasts been so thoroughly ridiculed than they were on Saturday night, both by Haye’s inept tactical performance and his pitiful attempts to minimise the damage which followed.
Throughout history, fighters have been defined by the context of the pedestals upon which they prop themselves. Muhammad Ali declared himself ’The Greatest’, then went to Zaire and Manila and proved it.
In contrast, had Audley Harrison been more modest in his professional intentions when the glow of his Olympic win still lingered, perhaps boxing fans would have been more sympathetic to his subsequent failures.
Indeed, it was Haye who led the mocking of Harrison which preceded their awful, cynical non-fight last November. Now Haye has to come to terms with the fact that the boot is on the other (injured) foot.
Haye’s pre-fight hype was, in a certain respect, nothing short of brilliant. He persuaded fight fans he was the saviour of the heavyweight division and by way of thanks they happily contributed to making him more than €15million richer.
He dragged up more dirt than the Reeperbahn, from the sad severed heads tee-shirt which would come back to haunt him, to tireless deriding of Klitschko’s talents and a few Twitter jokes tossed in for good measure.
They were his only tactics that worked: lewd and crude enough to persuade a slew of ‘No Surrender’ monkeys to clod-hop across the continent in the hope of adding another verse to their collection of ditties about World Wars and World Cups.
More alarmingly, they also convinced a number of more intelligent individuals that Haye somehow carried the spirit of heavyweight champions past into a contest with a man whose admirable intellect did not qualify him to rightly claim such a crown.
There are those, it seems, who refuse to acknowledge a true heavyweight champion unless he has mixed with the mob or unleashed his ogre-ish ways and garbage-mouthed intentions upon society. Sorry to disappoint, but boxing has always been about much more than blood and bluster. Fans of the ultra-conservative Lennox Lewis — as presumably most of Haye’s fans would claim to be — surely ought to recognise that.
So Klitschko does not possess the raging attacking instinct of Mike Tyson, the movement of Muhammad Ali or Joe Louis, the popular charm of Rocky Marciano, even the unfailingly accurate jab of Larry Holmes?
If we are to judge fighters purely on the raw excitement of their contests, then we must in one swoop whitewash the legacies of some of the all-time greats. Suddenly, even Ali’s rope-a-dope tactics in Zaire might be in danger of looking tedious.
Klitschko is a brilliant champion because he has devised a way of using his attributes to devastating effect.
Too bad his best attribute is not a concussive right hook, but it is what it is.
Countless challengers before Haye have bought into the belief that Klitschko is nothing more than a one-dimensional robot ripe for short-circuiting just as soon as they have lured him out of his considerable comfort zone.
Klitschko came out of that comfort zone on Saturday night, all right. He did exactly what the weeks of tiresome Haye bluster had been designed to provoke him to do: march forward and seek the centre of the ring.
He sought it, and took it. He could have planted a flag in it and sat down for a picnic and still ended the night as unified heavyweight champion. Klitschko answered the call, only to discover Haye had limped for the hills.
AND then came the excuse: no embarrassed aside to a group of favoured media men, but a stand-up-on-a-table-and-show-you proclamation that a damaged toe was to blame for his failure to cut down a 6ft 7ins big man.
The lame excuse came along with a tactical blueprint which was ill-judged to the point of being unfathomable.
Saturday exposed Haye as a fighter for whom wins over the past-it Monte Barrett and John Ruiz, and the success in solving the freakish puzzle of Nikolai Valuev, did not justify the ‘Second Coming’ proclamations that paved his way to Hamburg.
What Saturday night did do — though it is as much a reflection on the dismal state of the heavyweight division as it is a nod to Haye’s talents — was confirm his status as a fighter who could learn and come again.
Lasting 12 rounds against Klitschko is no mean feat. The last man to manage it was Sultan Ibragimov three years ago. Haye remains, along with the equally injury-prone Odlanier Solis, the best of the rest.
That said, any talk of a rematch is crazily premature. Saturday night proved Haye is so far removed from Klitschko’s class that even his ‘lucky punch’ factor is diminished to the point of being almost irrelevant.
If Haye has the heart to extract himself from the hype and continue fighting, he should seek a legitimising match-up with Solis, who beat him as an amateur, and whose own challenge to Vitali Klitschko ended in a one round injury retirement.
Then, perhaps, one of the Klitschkos might be restless enough to let him come again.
If Haye had any sense, he would enter such a rematch without the gaudy tee-shirts and the lame excuses. Then, and only then, he might find people more inclined to afford him the benefit of the doubt.