Tuesday January 11th, 2011

It seems simple, really. Fighter A is the best in his weight class. Fighter B is right behind him. To settle the debate over who is No. 1, Fighter A and B square off. Good fights lead to rematches and, in some cases, trilogies.

It rarely happens that way, of course. Promoters, managers, networks, even some fighters have crippled boxing with their greediness and juvenile inability to compromise. The most toxic example of that is the failed negotiations between Floyd Mayweather and Manny Pacquiao, a fight everyone wants to see and one that may never happen.

But it's not just Pacquiao and Mayweather, either. Last week negotiations fell apart for a long anticipated fight between unified heavyweight champion Wladimir Klitschko and WBA titleholder David Haye. Boxing hasn't seen a relevant heavyweight fight since Lennox Lewis closed his career with a win over Vitali Klitschko. Since then fans have been subjected to watching "contenders" like Samuel Peter, Monte Barrett, Tony Thompson and Ray Austin waste their time -- along with HBO and Showtime's money -- in ugly, one-sided beatings at the hands of the Klitschko brothers.

Klitschko-Haye, however, was supposed to be different. This one had a buzz. Haye is a flashy ex-cruiserweight champion with a high knockout percentage (88.5 percent) and a brash personality. Over the last two years, the British champion has succeeded in irritating the Klitschkos by hurling insults at them and parading around in a T-shirt depicting Haye holding the Klitschkos' severed heads.

Casual fans were interested. Networks were interested. Everyone was interested.

And then it all fell apart.

There has been a lot of finger pointing from both camps over the last few days. Haye says he was ready to sign on to fight Wladimir Klitschko in July but only if Klitschko didn't take an interim fight with Dereck Chisora in April. Klitschko, who was forced to withdraw from a fight with Chisora in December after suffering an abdominal injury, wasn't interested in waiting that long, citing the possibility of Haye pulling out of a July fight as the primary reason.

Objectively, it's hard to take Haye's side on this one. Haye has argued that Klitschko won't be ready to fight nine weeks after facing Chisora. He points to, among other things, the fact that Klitschko fought just once in 2009. What Haye fails to mention is that a big reason Klitschko fought once that year was because Haye backed out of a fight with Klitschko, claiming a back injury few in the industry believed was real.

"This guy is a liar," Klitschko said in a telephone interview. "I don't want to make the same mistake I made last time and end up without a fight. This is my time. I can't count on this loser."

Staying active is paramount to Klitschko. At 34, the world's top heavyweight knows he doesn't have many years left. He signed on to face Chisora just weeks after beating Peter in September and says his goal is to fight as many times as his body will allow him. It's why Klitschko has already entered into negotiations with Tomasz Adamek for a September matchup that would do big business in Adamek's home country of Poland (where a new 62,000-seat soccer stadium would be the venue), Germany or even the U.S., where Adamek has developed a large following fighting out of New Jersey.

"Everything is going smoothly," Klitschko said of the negotiations with Adamek. "There has never been issues with my opponents or with contracts. Just with Haye. It's ridiculous."

Klitschko says he is not concerned by Haye's oft-repeated claims that he will retire when he turns 31 in October, mostly because he doesn't believe him.

"I told you, he lies," Klitschko said. "He lies about everything. People should stop believing his bulls---. He's going to retire because he says he has a great legacy? What legacy? Who has he beaten? I can't trust this guy."

Maybe Klitschko is right. Maybe Haye has no interest in facing him; maybe he's content to collect checks in fights with fringe fighters like John Ruiz and Audley Harrison. Maybe they will both move on and Haye-Klitschko will become another what-if fight that we will only see on PlayStation.

They both will survive. Klitschko will still go into the Hall of Fame as the most dominant heavyweight of his era. And Haye will enjoy a life of luxury bankrolled by his cherry-picking of opponents. They won't starve. They won't suffer.

But boxing will. It's become too easy to take shots at the sport but every one of those shots are justified. Boxing doesn't need the rise of MMA to marginalize it in the mainstream. By failing to make fights like Klitschko-Haye, it's doing a pretty good job of that itself.

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