By Nick Tylwalk
"Dr. Steelhammer" Wladimir Klitschko
Birthplace: Semipalatinsk, Kazakhstan
Resides: Kiev, Ukraine
Height: 6' 6 1/2"
Current World Titles Held: The Ring Magazine, IBF, WBO Heavyweight
Former World Titles Held: None
Professional Record: 55-3, 49 KOs
Record in World Title Fights: 16-2, 14 KOs
Record in Fights Going 12 Rounds: 3-0
Record at Heavyweight: 55-3, 49 KOs
Notable Wins: KO 10 Samuel Peter II, TKO7 Hasim Rahman, TKO7 Chris Byrd II
Notable Losses: Lamon Brewster I TKO5, Corrie Sanders TKO2, Ross Puritty TKO11
David "The Hayemaker" Haye
Birthplace: London, England
Resides: London, England
Height: 6' 3"
Current World Titles Held: WBA Heavyweight
Former World Titles Held: The Ring Magazine, WBA, WBC, WBO Cruiserweight (200 lbs.)
Professional Record: 25-1, 23 KOs
Record in World Title Fights: 4-0, 4 KOs
Record in Fights Going 12 Rounds: 2-0
Record at Heavyweight: 7-0, 6 KOs
Notable Wins: TKO9 John Ruiz, MD12 Nikolai Valuev, TKO7 Jean Marc Mormeck
Notable Loss: Carl Thompson TKO5
Though the heavyweight division has historically been the most popular and important one in the sport of boxing, it hasn't enjoyed nearly the same status for the last decade or so. Fans have been clamoring for a fight between big men that truly stirs the imagination, and at least outside the United States, it looks like one might finally arrive when Wladimir Klitschko and David Haye face off in Hamburg, Germany.
Klitschko and older brother Vitali have had a stranglehold on their weight class for some time, successfully defeating all challengers with few anxious moments. His Achilles heel is supposed to be a shaky chin, but its been seven years since Lamon Brewster was the last man able to exploit it. While Klitschko's fights usually end in knockouts, he still is seen as more workmanlike than thrilling, preferring to jab opponents into submission for multiple rounds before unleashing his powerful right hand.
He's also generally well-spoken and reserved, which is why it's worth noting that Haye appears to have gotten under his skin. The brash Brit is almost Klitschko's polar opposite thanks to his outspoken nature and a fighting style that throws caution to the wind much more often. A former cruiserweight champion, Haye will be one in a long line of Klitschko challengers to be giving up much in the way of height and reach. But he truly believes he can effectively get inside to utilize his explosive power, and his confidence is contagious.
Haye has been relentless in accusing Klitschko of ducking him, but it was actually Haye who backed out of this match-up the first time it appeared to be finalized (in 2009) due to a hand injury. A disgusted Klitschko turned to other fights, but Haye's continued success as a heavyweight and a dearth of other options finally brought this bout to fruition.
The vast majority of Haye's professional fights have taken place in his native U.K., but he did travel to Germany in late 2009 for one of his biggest wins, a decision victory over hulking Nikolai Valuev. British fans also travel well, but Klitschko should still have a healthy advantage in supporters among the live crowd in Hamburg, where he and his brother are extremely popular.
Klitschko's Winning Strategy: Don't Get Sucked Into Mind Games
One would think that with advanced college degrees and years of pro boxing success under his belt, Klitschko would be immune to any kind of verbal attacks. Yet Haye's constant badgering has succeeded in getting the big champ out of his comfort zone, with Klitschko resorting to online videos calling out the Brit at one point.
That could turn out to be a stroke of genius for Haye if it continues to work on fight night, but that can happen only if Klitschko allows it. Getting goaded into a brawl could end up with Wlad scoring a quick KO, but it could just as easily help give his opponent the opening he needs to pull off the upset.
Haye is probably the quickest, most dangerous man to challenge Klitschko in years. Physically, though, Klitschko still has all the tools he needs to keep him outside and frustrate him.
There's no reason to think that Klitschko's usual M.O. of hard jabbing and judicious holding on the inside can't work just as well on Haye as it has on others, buying time until the "Steelhammer" starts finding its range. Wlad simply has to put his genuine dislike for the other man aside and concentrate on business as usual.
Haye's Winning Strategy: Take Some Chances Early
Haye's punching power could give him a leg up on some other would-be Klitschko conquerors, but it's only a factor if it can be brought to bear. That's no easy task, as Samuel Peter, Hasim Rahman and others can certainly attest.
The Valuev fight at least proves that Haye can effectively take on bigger men and come out on top. The problem is that he was unusually cautious in that bout, at least compared to some other times when he has walked the razor's edge between triumph and disaster.
Fighting tentatively against Klitschko is a recipe for a certain loss. The champ gets more comfortable the longer he goes without getting hurt, and his accurate right hand gets thrown more often as the rounds pile up.
That means Haye needs to make Klitschko uncomfortable early. He has to stay in Wlad's face, getting inside during the first few rounds and making the bigger man taste his power if at all possible.
Haye has talked a good game. Now he needs to back it up. He's talked about retiring in a year or two regardless of the outcome, so he may as well lay it all on the line and swing for the fences right from the opening bell.
Get more great boxing news, recaps and analysis over at BoxingWatchers.com