Wednesday April 20th, 2011

The voice on the other end of the line Wednesday afternoon was booming, the excitement growing with every word.

"It's going to happen," declared Wladimir Klitschko. "I'm finally going to fight David Haye."

Klitschko was calling to confirm the statement his promotional company, K2, had issued just minutes earlier: On July 2, Klitschko (55-3) will face Haye (25-1) at a soccer stadium in Hamburg, Germany. It will be boxing's first heavyweight title unification fight since 2008 -- and one years in the making. The two initially agreed to face each other in June 2009 but Haye pulled out with a back injury. Since then there has been plenty of rhetoric but little progress made in rescheduling.

So what changed?

"He got whatever he wants," Klitschko said. "I gave in and said 'whatever.' It's a 50-50 split with no options. There was no other way. Now, I have him in a corner. He can do nothing but show up and fight."

Klitschko-Haye is good for boxing. Correction, Klitschko-Haye is great for boxing. The heavyweight division has been devoid of many meaningful, competitive fights lately, as Klitschko and his brother, Vitali, have been mowing through a meek pack of wannabe 'contenders.'

Haye is different. He has a title (the WBA version), which is the only piece of the crown not held by Wladimir (the IBF/WBO champion) or Vitali (WBC). Haye may not be a great fighter -- he was a world champion at cruiserweight but since moving up in 2009 his heavyweight resume leaves a lot to be desired -- but he certainly talks like one. Haye has waged a relentless P.R. assault on the Klitschkos, with attacks ranging from insulting Wladimir's choice of opponents ("He has fought only wimps and cowards," Haye said in a statement) to his now famous T-shirt depicting Haye holding up the severed heads of both brothers.

"It was annoying." Wladimir said. "He talks about fighting and then the man doesn't follow through. It was pathetic."

The time for talking, it seems, is over. Klitschko says he is not concerned that reports of Haye having marital problems will jeopardize the fight -- "Who cares," Klitschko said. "He has no excuses."-- or that his health will interrupt his training. Klitschko says doctors have given him a clean bill of health following his recovery from an abdominal injury and that he is planning a full, eight-week training camp.

"I feel great," Klitschko said. "I'm healthy and ready to go."

Interestingly, the most difficult part of making this fight for Wladimir was that it denied Vitali the opportunity. After bailing on the fight with Wladimir, Haye was deep in negotiations for a fight with Vitali before again dropping out at the last minute.

"Vitali was very emotional about that," Wladimir said. "But it's so simple to talk to my brother. In the beginning, we flipped a coin over who was going to fight him. Now I said to him, 'Vitali, David Haye doesn't want to fight you. He says he wants to fight the little brother, the weak one. He's mine.'"

The eyes of the boxing world will be on Germany in July. Klitschko's manager, Bernd Boente, says HBO will likely broadcast the fight in the U.S. and upwards of 50,000 fans will pour into the stadium to see it live. Klitschko-Haye is the most meaningful heavyweight fight since Vitali Klitschko lost a technical decision to Lennox Lewis in 2003. One good fight won't catapult the division back to the glory days of Lewis, Mike Tyson and Evander Holyfield. But it's a start.

"It's an exciting fight for me, for the fans, for everyone," Klitschko said. "Haye has upset potential and another belt we don't have. For me he's exactly like any other opponent. He just talks louder than anyone else. I always respect my opponent. It doesn't matter who they are. I'll be prepared and very focused. My game plan hasn't changed in the last two years now. In the end I'll knock him out."

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