Sunday, 8 November 2009

Haye Rises To The Top

I managed to persuade Pam to part with £15 last night and we watched the World Heavyweight fight between brash cocky David Haye, and freakish ubermensch Nikolay Valuev.

The trade off was that I had to cook dinner – an immaculate stuffed mushroom in white wine sauce, thanks for asking – but the pressure was still on for Sky to deliver value for money on the arrangement.

As the show started, it seemed that most of the subscription money had gone into putting the crew into a series of ill-fitting dinner jackets. Uniformly dressed and adorned with ubiquitous poppies, the only hint of rebellion was commentator Ian Darke’s rakish red bow-tie, although the effect was somewhat spoiled by the fact his chin was hanging preciptously across it.

After a bit of perfunctory hype, we went to the undercard.

First up was George Groves – a young man with the sort of old-fashioned name you'd expect to see on a cenotaph. This was clearly recorded earlier in the evening and both fans enjoyed watching the angry little ginger man knock a gormless Slav around the ring for eight rounds. He looked really fast, and could be an interesting one for the future.

We reverted to more pre-fight hype, and listened to Haye’s increasingly shrill protestations of superiority. He and his team all appearing on camera in Sky Box Office t-shirts and hats. Haye loves the game and is a promoter’s dream.

The voice of Valuev, although his words came through a translator, sounds like Slavic whalesong.
The pundits were split towards the big Russian. Nicky Piper, whose head is perfectly shperical – like a bewigged football – was convinced that Haye wouldn’t be able to get near Valuev. Glenn McCrory, whose Sunderland slur might be the result of a twenty year boxing career, or, you know, being from Sunderland, was equally sure that it would be a points voctory for the champion.

Only Johnny Nelson put his money on Haye. Nelson is surely the most earnest man in sport. He could read out his shopping list and you'd get your wallet out.

There is a pre-fight weight difference of seven stones between the two fighters – can that have ever happened before? The Nicaraguan World Minimumweight Champion, Roman Gonzalez only weighs seven and a half!

Next on the undercard was German Edmund Gerber vs New Yorker Shaun McClean. The commentary team struggled as they started. "They're both wearing black shorts. McClean has red trim and Gerber has silver." It would of course been a lot easier to say that the American was black, but apparently the shorts are the way to go.

When the main event was ready to go, they revealed the king of the ringmasters, Michael Buffer. Only the best for this show – if you don’t know boxing, you might not recognise Buffer’s name. But you would recognise his voice, particularly as he labours towards his catchphrase, “Let’s get ready to rumbaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaal!” I must admit this is getting a bit old now, but you can’t fight tradition.

Haye, with his freshly done corn rolls looking tight enough to slice baco, came out to, "Ain't no Stopping Us Now" and a cacophony of boos.

Next up was Valuev and, despite the fact I was expecting him to come out Darth Vader's theme, he actually had a live German metal band seranading him to the ring. With a normal human baseball cap perched on his gargantuan noggin, he led his oompa-lumpa trainer into the ring with some poor flunky holding up his belt, desparately trying to make himself seen.

Next were the respective National Anthems, and, although German fans wouldn't be so rude as to boo our anthem, our drunken fans managed to pay it ill respect by shouting it at the top of their voices. The Russian anthem seemed to bemuse everyone.

As we were watching this live, I had to suffer literally dozens of adverts. Since the advent of Sky Plus – a day we refer to in our house as “the arrival,” I don't normally watch adverts. In fact, this is probably the first thing I've watched live for three years.

The adverts were an object lesson into the demographic group into which I seemed to have been placed: poker websites, Carling, a ridiculous computer game that looked like a cross between Die Hard and Heartbreak Ridge with a hip hop soundtrack, and cars, and cars, and cars.

As they waited for the flunkeys to leave the ring, Haye pranced around the ring looking fabulous. Unusually for a Heavyweight, he looked cut with a scalpel – al muscle definition and casual physicality.

In contrast, Valuev stood motionless like a mountain of flesh. As the action started, I made notes at the end of each round and tried to call the round winner…

1. At the end of the first round, the oompa lumpa was eye to eye with Valuev on the stool. Very cagey. Too close to call.

2. This is not rivetting but Haye is being very disciplined. That's what's needed. Got gloves on the big man. Haye.

3. Chess in the ring. Caught him a couple of time. Haye.

4. Valuev is backing him into corners and cutitng him off. Haye's standoffish attitude won't impress the judges. Valuev.

5. Round to Valuev on account of a late combination that hurt Haye. Haye also landed a couple. He's done a lot more running around than Valuev. Valuev.

6. Haye caught him a canny left hook. It did nothing. Struggling to see how Haye can win this fight. KO seems unlikely and he's not done enough to win these rounds. Too close to call.

7. Valuev shook his head. Good sign. Can't see Haye winning this on pts. Needs a knockout. Rattled him for first time. Valuev.

8. Valuev is blowing and missing. Haye got a spring in his stride. Haye.

9. First clinch. Ref finally earned his money. Haye landed a couple. Valuev's face has marks. Haye's becoming more aggressive. Stamina's holding up. Haye.

10. More open. Haye dragging Valuev around. But as the fight opens up, Haye is opening himself up and getting caught. Valuev.

11. Coming together more but no-one is landing a good punch. Too close to call.

12. It all came alive in the last minute. Haye actually wobbled the big man. Why didn't he do that earlier? Haye.

I had Haye 5-4 with three rounds in the balance. I was not convinced he'd done enough, and Jim Watt in commentary was even more pessimistic. Haye, however, leapt onto the ropes, arms aloft and claiming the fight.

What the hell do we know, the judges gave a close majority verdict to Haye, with one judge calling it even, and the others scoring it 8-4 to Haye.

So he’s the World Heavyweight Champion and, in a world of massive Eastern Bloc stars, and no crdible American alternatives, he is going to be a massive star. The Americans will be all over him. He’s got the mouth and the personality to transform Heavyweight boxing and be the biggest name since Tyson. Until tonight there was still doubt over whether he had the talent to match the hype, but a disciplined performance showed he has more than one string to his bow.