Monday November 9th, 2009

In an interview with SI.com a few days before his heavyweight title fight with Nikolai Valuev, David Haye had many words for his opponent. With a rapid-fire delivery and a thick British accent, Haye spoke of sending "shockwaves around the world" when he would send the 7-foot Valuev "sprawling on the floor." He claimed that he was "as freakishly fast as Valuev is freakishly big" and promised that the punishment he'd deliver to Valuev in the ring would be "more one-sided than the Rodney King beating."

Haye didn't deliver on those promises. Last Saturday night in Germany, Haye did what most expected him to do: he moved around the ring, stuck his jab in Valuev's massive midsection and impressed the judges with the occasional flurry to Valuev's skull. He even brought the crowd to their feet when a flush left hook wobbled Valuev in the 12th round, nearly putting down the Russian champion for the first time in his career.

What Haye did, however, was more than enough. With Valuev landing only a handful of combinations and spending most of the 12 rounds frustratingly watching the challenger dance circles around him, Haye (23-1), the former cruiserweight champion, won an easy decision. And in doing so, he created a lot of intrigue in the heavyweight division.

After being vilified for pulling out of a scheduled match with Wladimir Klitschko and abruptly cutting off negotiations with Vitali Klitschko to sign the deal with Valuev, Haye now finds himself in the enviable position of being able to dictate his future. Both Klitschkos want Haye's piece of the heavyweight crown. Wladimir is the IBF, WBO and Ring Magazine champ who is considered the division's best hope for a unified champion. Vitali, who holds the WBC title, is trying to collect as many belts as he can before the end of his career.

Haye understands this. While a fight with either Klitschko would have generated much more money in the short term, Haye is now in a position where he will be able to cash in on one title defense (a mandatory against John Ruiz, a 37-year-old former champion who has masterfully manipulated the WBA rankings over the last few years to maintain his place as the sanctioning body's No. 1 contender) before hand-picking which Klitschko he'll step in the ring with.

That opponent will more than likely be Wladimir. While the WBA has ordered Haye to face Ruiz before next May, Klitschko will be busy defending his titles against WBO No. 1 contender Eddie Chambers sometime next spring. Though Klitschko is also facing a mandatory defense against IBF No. 1 contender Alexander Povetkin, it is likely a Haye-Klitschko fight could be made before the end of 2010.

A unification showdown against the brash talking Haye and the dominant Klitschko could provide a spark in America's flickering interest in the heavyweight division.

"I think [Haye] is interesting," said HBO vice president Kery Davis. "There are two things that he brings which are very sellable: One, he's an outgoing, charismatic personality; Two, he has explosive power. He's a very attractive TV fighter. He adds some energy to the division, and we would be interested in a number of matchups with him."

After years of being protected by his promoters, Valuev (50-2) is now faced with the prospect of climbing back to the top. It's possible Valuev will wait and hope that Haye can't negotiate a deal with either Klitschko and agrees to a rematch sometime next year.

But at 36, Valuev may not be inclined to take that chance -- not when a potential mega-fight with Vitali Klitschko looms as a possibility. Vitali, who is scheduled to face American Kevin Johnson in December, has long talked about his desire to face the 7-foot giant, and his U.S. manager, Shelly Finkel, and Valuev's promoter, Don King, have spoken about the possibility in the past. With Valuev no longer clinging to the WBA belt, a lucrative fight between the two could be possible.

Whatever happens in the future, the results of Saturday night is a huge win for the division. Had Valuev won, he likely would have done anything in his power to keep the title, including ducking a dangerous match with a Klitschko. Had Haye lost, his box-office appeal would have vanished and he probably would have dropped back down to cruiserweight.

Instead, boxing's most maligned division now has a much brighter future.

AP: Haye upsets Valuev for WBA heavyweight crown

SI Apps
We've Got Apps Too
Get expert analysis, unrivaled access, and the award-winning storytelling only SI can provide - from Peter King, Tom Verducci, Lee Jenkins, Seth Davis, and more - delivered straight to you, along with up-to-the-minute news and live scores.