The final press conference to hype Saturday's clash between Wladimir Klitschko and David Haye today in Hamburg yesterday, and I admit I didn't think we'd get to this point.
I thought by this point in the promotion, Haye would've slipped in the tub and pulled out his back, or sustained a "rib injury" during sparring. To his credit, that hasn't happened. Unless there is a shocker of a situation, and there is an 11th hour "injury," fight fans will get what they've been wanting for two years. Check that, one of the fights they've been wanting to see; the big one, Manny-Mayweather, hasn't come to fruition yet. And while I've been underwhelmed by the wattage of the buzz here in the Stats for this tangle, that doesn't mean I won't wake up Saturday morning with that pre-big-fight-buzz.
You could sense the genuine animosity in the air as Wladimir got his turn at the mike in Hamburg. He promised to make Haye eat the infamous "severed heads" t-shirt he wore two-plus years ago after the Saturday clash. He called Haye "princess" while chiding him for being a half hour late for the presser.
"I believe David Haye is not such a bad guy...the way he acts, the way he talks, the way he does certain thing..I believe since you became champion, since you beat Mormeck in France...you got a certain attitude which is not so good for your life, not only in the ring but also outside of the ring...I believe it's gonna be a good lesson for you on July second in the ring. I know you're in good shape, I know you're prepared, I do respect you as a fighter, not as a person," he said.
He said he'd give Haye "reality rehab" treatment, and would knock him out, which would teach him a lesson in humility. He referenced Haye's refusal to shake his hand. Presidents did, Muhammad Ali, Max Schmeling, Mike Tyson, Dalai Lama, all these folks shook his hand, Wlad said. For his disrespect, he will be KO victim number 50.
Wlad toyed with Haye, tortured him with a psychological assessment, saying he refused to shake his hands, and wore sunglasses in his presence, to mask his fear.
Haye then took the mike. He admitted he knows many thought he'd pull out with an "injury," and then said come fight night, he'll show a new strategy and tactics than he's shown before. He's taken to calling Wlad a "big robot," and said he's totally healthy ahead of the gig. "I'm so happy the fight's happening now and not a couple years ago because I'm so much of a better fighter now," Haye said. "I cannot wait to get in there and do what I'm gonna go. Myself and trainer Adam Booth have constructed what I believe to be the perfect gameplan to beat Wladimir. He's stuck in his rigid ways..he gets stuck in his way, he can't flow, can't change, can't adapt like I can." He then plugged his iPhone game, skillfully, and said we'll see in the game what we'll see in the fight, before promising a knockout defeat.
Wlad's trainer Manny Steward called this bout the second biggest deal of his career, after his guy Lennox Lewis met Mike Tyson in 2002. He said Wlad has been charged in the leadup to the event but "cool." Manny said he does respect Haye as a fighter and won't assume that the Brit has an iffy chin. I think that chin will seem iffy around round five, when he eats a right he doesn't see after being blinded by a Wlad jab.
The two fighters took questions from the press after they talked. The most interesting portion came after they talked, when Vitali asked Haye to show up at the press conference after the fight. Haye answered, "I hope you show out, and don't go with the ambulance." Wlad didn't care for that attitude. Haye busted on Wlad, warning him not to take in any "poisoned water," which was a reference to the allegation after Klitschko-Brewster I in 2004 that Wlad had been given tainted water, which doped him up. Haye made the card, if you were scoring the presser, that much closer with that crack.
They did a two minute staredown, and whispered nasty nothings at each other, before parting ways.
My take: Haye wasn't alltogether convincing. His words sound hollow, flat, robotic. Now, it would be the best thing for boxing if he beat Wlad. The Klitschko stranglehold on the division has sapped all drama from the supersized weight class. A Haye win would inject life into it. Of course, I will find it hard, when watching as a fan, to root for the guy who makes flippant jokes about gang rape, and fought like a rabbit, alternately fiesty and scared, when he won his title, via majority decision, from Nicolay Valuev in November 2009.
I see Haye using similar tactics against Wlad, and see Wlad not departing much from his winning ways. His trainer Steward thinks that the big Ukrainian may be fighting with a bee in his bonnet on Saturday, but the Klitschkos are where they are because they are two of the most mentally disciplined guys in the sport today. Wlad, especially, rebuilding himself after being outed as chinless and stamina-free wonder by Corrie Sanders and Lamon Brewster...that is a stunning achievement. Watch Wlad Saturday and you will see him setting the tone with the jab, sizing Haye up for several rounds, before mixing in some "twos" after the "ones."
My prediction: Wlad by TKO in round six.
SPEEDBAG: I asked my older daughter Annabelle, age four, who would win, Wladimir or Haye? I pointed at the image attached to this story. She pointed to Wlad, and said he'd win. Why? "Cause he has those," she said, pointing to his three title belts. Makes sense to me...
Who will win #HOPKINSKOVALEV