Boxing's Wladimir should make ‘Haye’ against Chagaev

Jun 16, 2009 5:06 PM
Pulling No Punches by Michael Katz |

The sad devolution of heavyweight boxing has gone beyond the inability of these bums. Not only can’t they fight figuratively, they can’t fight literally.

I mean, they have trouble making it to the ring to display their woeful wares.

HBO was scheduled this Saturday to show an intriguing matchup for this floundering flagship division between Wladimir Klitschko, presumed by many to be the No. 1 heavyweight in the world, and brash upstart David Haye of England.

But Haye had a boo-boo, so another fight went down the drain, just three weeks after the long-delayed (you can’t possibly think of it as long-awaited) rematch between the WBA champion in recess, Ruslan Chagaev, and the current WBA joke, Nikolai Valuev, was called off. It seems Finnish authorities (and Finland should rule the division) did not like Chagaev’s blood.

Hepatitis B was the rumored culprit. Chagaev, who had to have doctors’ notes to escape two previous attempts at giving Valuev a chance at avenging his lone loss, denies Hep.

In any case, when Haye loused up Dr. Steelhammer’s plans to shut the Englishman’s mouth, Klitschko looked for a sub. Big Stiff, which is what Valuev will henceforth be referred to here, turned down the task. Who can blame him? According to most observers, outside of the judges, he couldn’t beat Evander Holyfield, a man half his size and twice his age.

Chagaev jumped at the chance to replace Haye. Hey, he’s presumably in shape after training for the Valuev rematch. And professional fighters have to fight to earn a living. Chagaev has been able to make it to the ring twice since winning a majority decision against Big Stiff – and neither victim was in anyone’s top million.

First was Matt Skelton of England and then there was Carl Davis Drumond, the heavyweight champion of all of Costa Rica. Hell, outside of Valuev, the biggest feather in Chagaev’s yarmulke is John Ruiz – whom he beat by split decision in 2006.

Chagaev, despite 17 knockouts on a 25-0-1 record is not much of a puncher. That draw was a technical one caused by a butt against journeyman Rob Calloway in 2002, which the man from Uzbekistan corrected with a second-round stoppage four years later.

Of course, against Wladimir, that may not matter much.

The youngest of the two champions from the Ukraine does not have big brother’s chin. He has been stopped by Ross Purritty, Corrie Sanders and Lamon Brewster. One of Emanuel Steward’s best training jobs has been to build up Wladimir’s confidence. He has little faith in his ultimate defense. A puncher like Haye might have chased him from the ring.

Chagaev doesn’t stand a chance of doing that. He’s only 6-foot-1, giving away 5 ½ inches to Dr. Steelhammer, and seven inches of reach. So outboxing the skilled Klitschko will be difficult. Wlad can box.

It would seem all the chips are stacked against Chagaev. But there is one little thing in his favor. He is handled by Klaus-Peter Kohl, the German impresario who signed both Klitschko brothers when they turned pro. Kohl always believed that Vitali was the better of the two (so did their Soviet trainers when they were amateurs). If anyone might know how best to attack Wladimir, it could be Kohl.

Still, anything short of laying 5-1 or so on Klitschko strikes me as judicial. Chagaev reminds me of another somewhat inept southpaw of little style, Sultan Ibragimov, who lasted 12 ugly rounds against Wlad last year.

Only Wlad’s natural reticence allows such drivel to stick around. He didn’t rid himself of Tony Thompson, another wary foe last year, until the 11th. It even took him until the seventh to put away an ill-trained, fat and over-the-hill Hasim Rahman.

There might be some attraction to longshot players to Chagaev based on his left-handedness, especially if they recall how quickly the South African southpaw Sanders blasted Dr. Steelhammer. But Wlad has been beating left-handers regularly, including two beatings of the ultimate southpaw, Chris Byrd, and Ibragimov.

HBO, which was going to buy the rights to Klitschko-Haye, passed on this. ESPN Classic will show it. The WBAsses, now that Chagaev is not Valuev’s mandatory, have ruled John Ruiz will be. You need more reasons to skip heavyweights?

Question? Comment? E-mail me at: Michael Katz