By Peter Owen Nelson
Wednesday, in the south of Hamburg, Germany, David Haye (25-1) entered a makeshift ring inside a Mercedes Benz dealership for his final public workout before his heavyweight unification showdown this Saturday against Wladimir Klitschko in the 50,000-seat Imtech-Arena.
The Ukrainian Klitschko (55-3), his older brother Vitali (also a current heavyweight champion), and trainer Emanuel Steward watched in anticipation for 45 minutes as the underdog Haye wrapped his hands and warmed up, while his trainer Adam Booth donned specially constructed platform boots (to simulate Klitschko’s 6’6 1/2” height) and grabbed a boxing mitt as well as a glove taped to a foam stick (to simulate Klitschko’s 81” reach).
The entire scene was plenty bizarre, but at this point, it got plain weird: Haye, who is right-handed, began to shadowbox from a southpaw stance. After gloving up, Haye, 30, maintained the lefty stance, circling his trainer. After one single punch landed on the mitt, Booth feigned being knocked out and Haye bowed to the assembled audience, and exited the ring. Of the spectacle, Klitschko sparring partner Ola Afolabi said, “I’m not a southpaw. Neither is Haye. He’s read the Art of War. He’s just trying to mess with Wladimir. But Haye’s getting knocked out in under seven rounds — unless he runs the whole fight.” Vitali Klitschko summed it up, “Haye makes a show, but he’s not a good actor.”
After his own workout, Klitschko, 35, commented, “I wonder if David Haye sits in his hotel room, thinking, ‘What else can I do to piss Wladimir off?’”
Trash-talk, a t-shirt depicting Klitschko and his brother decapitated, and signing fights with both Klitschkos only to back out due to claims of injury are only a few of the annoyances that Haye has inflicted on his nemesis.
While Wladimir and Vitali Klitschko have promised their mother that they will never go toe-to-toe in the ring, according to Vitali, “We both wanted to teach David Haye a lesson so badly, that it got heated between us. Fighting over which one of us would get to fight David Haye became the closest we will ever come to fighting each other.”
Hall of fame trainer Steward was also unamused with Haye’s antics, explaining, “David made this fight with hype and theatrics.” When a British reporter, overcome with his own patriotism, compared Haye’s ascent to Muhammad Ali’s, Steward snapped, “Please, don’t insult Ali like that. Just don’t. Haye’s a talented fighter, however, and Wladimir needs to win. This will be a career-defining win. Wladimir’s whole prior career no longer matters if he loses this fight.”
Steward’s candor underscores the weight of this fight on Klitschko’s legacy in a languishing heavyweight division. Klitschko, a former Olympic gold medalist, has not lost in his past 13 fights, including 10 title defenses, but none of those wins has been a signature victory that a domination of Haye would provide.
Should Haye pull off the upset, he would look to fight the winner of the September 10 bout between contender Tomasz Adamek and WBC champion Vitali Klitschko. The unification of all four major heavyweight titles would be an unprecedented feat, but beating both Klitschko brothers would be one far more impressive.
As Haye began walking out of the dealership, Klitschko implored the Brit (whom Klitschko has nicknamed “50” from the belief that Haye will be Klitschko’s 50th knock out): “Fifty! Please, stay! Watch my work out now.” The invitation perhaps rang insincere to Haye as he departed, while members of his own team began taking photos of Klitschko’s workout.