Monday, June 27, 2011

Klitschko may be Goliath but is Haye David?

By JE Grant

Saturday’s bout in Germany is billed - maybe hoped is the right word - to be Wladimir Klitschko’s first real challenge in a long-time as he faces a verbally combative David Haye.

Haye, once the undisputed cruiserweight champion, feasted on opponents of assorted talent levels early in his career, losing only to Carl Thompson.

Displaying above average speed and power, he toppled the talented Jean Marc Mormeck and Enzo Maccarenilli to garner all the available belts at cruiserweight.  Seeing no discernible big-money challenge he did what top cruiserweights tend to do – he moved to the promised land of boxing, the heavyweight division.

His first heavyweight venture had mixed results. Facing a shopworn, one-time fringe contender, 37-year-old Monte Barrett, Haye punched furiously knocking down his opponent multiple times. However, Barrett, despite being hurt, also dropped the free-swinging Haye, though it was erroneously ruled a slip, before he emphatically ended the fight with a knockout.

That single win in the division propelled him to a date with Nikolay Valuev, the lumbering 7-foot tall, 316-pound 36 year-old Russian who held a dubious claim to one of the many belts in boxing.

Haye turned in a solid effort, jumping in with quick punches and just as quickly moving out of range of the ultra-slow and not-so-nimble big man. Haye also clearly hurt Valuev in a way no one else had, enroute to a convincing decision (despite one judge laughingly scoring the bout even).

He followed with a defense against the depleted former belt-holder, 38-year-old John Ruiz who entered the ring 3-3 and 1 NC (in his loss-turned-to-gold bout against James Toney) in his previous 7 bouts.

Haye battered Ruiz from beginning to end before stopping him in the 9th round.

And finally, he pounded a hapless 39-year-old one-time prospect Audley Harrison for 3 rounds with almost no return fire.

It is this record that now leads to a fight in which Klitschko is thought to be at risk for the first time in a long time.

Four heavyweight bouts against modestly talented opponents, still results in a big money payoff – and Klitschko, despite his good looks, eloquent multi-lingual speech, and clear intelligence is not the cause. Haye is. 

Haye has promoted his career and this bout with vulgar, taunting language, odd visuals (recall the t-shirt with decapitated Klitschko brothers) and bizarre pullouts from previously contracted bouts. His mouth runneth over - but in a good way for promotions.

The belt he holds is meaningless – a fact he knows to be true. The real prize is Klitschko.

Make no mistake, Haye thinks he can win – maybe his KNOWS he can win.  In Klitschko he sees the path to the real heavyweight championship and greatness. He's right.

For his part, Klitschko has never wavered from the path.  No sideshows, no skipping over legitimate foes (ok except for his brother), and, in his wins, no controversy. The former Olympic gold-medalist has fulfilled his promise (no matter what result comes Saturday).

It is old information by now about his losses to Ross Purrity, Corrie Sanders, and Lamon Brewster (later avenged). However, it is those losses that fuel some glimmer of hope for Haye. He feels if he can get to Klitschko’s chin with explosive, quick punches he can turn the bout in his favor in a hurry.

Klitschko’s 16 wins in some form of a heavyweight title bout have been one-sided. To be sure, his title-bout losses to Sanders and Brewster were equally as clear as the younger Klitschko fell apart in each bout.

Since that loss to Brewster in 2004, Klitschko has proven dominant, rarely losing a round much less engaging in close contests. And, despite his reputation as a “boring” fighter, his 49 knockouts in 55 wins speaks to a level of power that Haye has certainly never seen.

The obvious physical differences also matter. Klitschko is a 6’6”, 240-pound power-hitter who makes the most of his gifts. Haye, who in generations past would be considered a solid heavyweight at 6’3” and just over 210-pounds, is not just giving away size but he’s giving it to a man who is skilled at using it.

One physical reality is also age – Klitschko’s. At 35, he is almost certainly on the decline. Changes in speed and reflex can come on suddenly especially for a 58-fight veteran who had many amateur fights at a high level. Haye is speedier than most, and maybe all, of Klitschko’s previous opponents.

PREDICTION: Wladimir Klitschko will one day meet the man who can figure out his mammoth jab and absorb his crunching right hand. But, that day will not come against David Haye. Do not expect Haye to attempt to resurrect his Valuev strategy. He cannot run from Klitshcko and win. While he’s quick and powerful, his fundamental boxing skills are lacking. He gets away with fantastic looping shots because he is so fast. One thing is clear, fans should not underestimate Haye’s desire. He will come to win and win big, not simply survive.  That desire will also result in his demise. As he tries early to get to the bigger Klitschko, he will see that he cannot surmount the jab with simple technique. He will try to jump in to land a big shot and feel the right hand of Klitschko for his trouble. He will get hurt early and often and still try to win before being beaten down for a full count.  Haye is a warrior and in this fight he will prove it by going out on his shield.  He does have a chance to win, and that big early punch possibility is it. He cannot outbox the more skilled and patient Klitschko.  On this Saturday night none of it will work.

Klitschko wins by KO in 4.

Saturday, June 04, 2011

Froch and Johnson clash in Super 6 semis – Froch’s title on the line

By JE Grant

The great outcome of the Super Six tournament is that top-level fighters are facing each other repeatedly and with some unexpected results.

Carl Froch is the top beneficiary of the tournament’s design.   Before the tournament, some critics, saw his awkward style as indicative of limited ability.

The fact that he possessed one of the many title belts did not bolster his case. Such is the state of boxing today that even a title belt often indicates very little.

Of course he did have a significant come-from-behind knockout of former middleweight champion Jermain Taylor; and what later was seen as a big win over Jean Pascal who would himself go on to win a belt at 175.

Nonetheless, few picked him to show up in the finals.

In Super 6 Froch won a clear, if ugly, decision over the very talented Andre Dirrell. He lost a close, but equally clear, decision to Mikkel Kessler. He dominated the once-mighty Arthur Abraham.

Before this tournament Abraham was seen as one of the favorites with his brute power and granite chin. Dirrell was viewed as a slick technician – many thought he would box circles around Froch.

What we have learned about Froch is that his will, conditioning, and, yes, skill are much more important factors than many believed.  Without Super 6, it may have taken years – if ever – to flesh-out the division and allow us to discern Froch’s relative abilities. 

Super 6 allowed him to prove it all in the ring, as it should be.

In Glen Johnson, Froch meets a fighter with a similar awkwardness. Johnson, however, has had mixed results. 

Although he won a title at 175, his record is sprinkled with close decision losses: including a shot at then-168 pound titlist Sven Ottke. In his only stoppage loss, Johnson suffered an 11th round TKO at hands of then-middleweight champion Bernard Hopkins (astoundingly almost 14 years ago).

In his most recent crack at some kind of “world” title, Tavoris Cloud handily won a decision in defense of his 175-pound belt. 

The Cloud bout should have also meant the end for a 40-something ex-champ.

Then came the unexpected.  With drop outs from the Super 6 tournament came an odd offer – drop back to 168 and enter with a chance to become not only the tournament winner but ultimately a multi-belt titlist.

A successful drop in weight for a 40+-year old fighter, more than 10 years removed from the division, seemed an unlikely venture.

In his first tournament bout, Johnson astounding many by not only making weight, but by knocking out Allen Green in stunning fashion.

Johnson, now 42, constantly forces the action whether in winning or losing effort. Not considered a huge puncher, he still has accumulated 35 knockouts in 51 wins. His chin and willingness to mix have long made him a highly regarded opponent by his peers.

PREDICTION: Carl Froch presses as hard at Johnson, and is constantly on the hunt. His power and speed are sufficient to take advantage of mistakes. Much like Johnson, he throws punches at unusual angles – but he does it at a much higher volume. Look for both fighters to crack hard early in close quarters. The difference, and it will be slight in the earlier rounds, will come to light at the fight progresses; Froch will only edge out Johnson early but dominate the second half of the fight. Johnson’s chin and determination will ensure he remains to the final bell, but this fight will not end in a controversial decision. Froch has too much speed, too much skill, and too much of everything else.

FROCH by clear 12 round decision.
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