David Haye’s brash predictions of destruction went undelivered as Wladimir Klitschko opted for a softly spoken American amateur to prep him for his most satisfying masterclass.
Years after a humbling points loss at Klitschko’s precise hands, Haye’s pace quickened as he strode through the gathering crowds at an Anthony Joshua fight, eager to avoid any jovial or stinging remarks.
“‘Hey, hey, hey. Can I get a picture?”
An American voice broke out from the moving mass of people. S**t, he had been recognised.
Haye swiftly responded. He’d have to be quick to avoid a lengthening queue.
“Yeah, come on, really fast.”
The powerfully built figure posed for a selfie with Haye, the former two-weight world champion, and then prompted a moment of recognition.
“You might have heard of me? My name is Michael Hunter.”
“Oh yeah, I know you.”
Hunter like Haye, has stepped up from cruiserweight in search of the lucrative spoils of victory in battles with the sport’s biggest frames and names. He’s currently leading the revival of the US heavyweight scene, having racked up six victories and a disputable draw to Alexander Povetkin.
But unbeknown to the Brit, Hunter had been hand-picked as the man to help Klitschko adjust to the searing speed and evasive footwork of the ‘Hayemaker’ ahead of their much-hyped showdown.
Hunter had been a member of a stellar amateur team of Americans that included unified welterweight king, Errol Spence Jr and three-weight world champion Claressa Shields.
Under the head guard of his latest, and most intimidating adversary was a steely glare. Klitschko, the ruthless champion with a trail of wrecked contenders behind him, was being primed for an ugly fight by renowned trainer Emanuel Steward, a rare friendly American face in the remote Stanglwirt training camp.
Haye had infamously worn a t-shirt depicting himself holding the severed heads of Wladimir and older brother Vitali. A crude publicity stunt which had worked, angering the usually composed Ukrainian, and creating a photo opportunity that acted as a gaudy billboard for the fight.
Klitschko’s sparring partners were paying a heavy price for Haye’s antics.
“I knew when I sparred,” Hunter replied, when asked whether he had expected Klitschko’s dominance against Haye on a stormy night in Hamburg in July 2011.
“He was obviously a veteran and could go 12 rounds, I was an amateur when I was sparring with him.
“But the one thing – I was sparring this man with 20 ounce gloves on and the power…
“When he was with Emanuel, and he had him right where he needed to be, he was a very, very hard person to deal with. And just getting hit. You couldn’t even get hit on the body with his punches to a certain extent. I just knew once they put on those 10 ounce gloves, that David Haye had no other choice but to kind of run around.”
Hunter absorbed Klitschko’s piston-like punches for round upon round, helping him fine tune a game plan that had Haye on the back foot from the opening bell, hesitant to unload anything other than a hopeful swing or flurry.
Haye’s swaggering arrival in Germany had suggested he would easily chop down his towering foe. He had already conquered the gigantic Nikolay Valuev, even sending shockwaves through the Russian’s legs in the closing stages of a points victory. David had already beaten Goliath and got the t-shirt. He would only need one decisive swing to fell Klitschko, according to the Londoner’s ever confident trainer Adam Booth.
The laughing duo had delivered a final mocking rehearsal at the media workout as Booth imitated Klitschko’s cautious jab, before Haye delivered one thudding reply on a pad. Applause and triumphant cheers greeted this solitary shot, the soundtrack to an expected victory.
Hunter had seen though the showmanship.
“He warmed up, and wrapped his hands, and had music going for 20 to 30 minutes.
“Then he got moving, acting like he was about to do some work, and hit the pad one time. And he got out and left.
“I knew right then and there that all of this stuff is façade. It’s was like, he didn’t really have a game-plan. He was faking for something.”
Haye had lured Valuev onto his heavy armoury with a wily display of back-foot boxing, but Klitschko swiftly dismissed any lazy descriptions of himself as a lumbering robot. Just minutes into the opening round, Haye was tossed to the canvas, a sign of Klitschko’s extra two stone in size and strength. There was speed too as a pumping jab was followed by a rapier right hand. Haye hit the floor again, repeatedly manhandled by Klitschko, although an 11th round knockdown was eventually scored by referee Genaro Rodriguez, who appeared frustrated at yet another ungainly tangle.
As Klitschko savoured his unanimous points win, handshakes and pained smiles were offered by Haye and his team. It wasn’t only the beaten man who winced as excuses were uttered about his broken little toe.
Hunter insists it could have been different.
“I felt like David Haye had all the abilities and all the tools to beat Wladimir, if he only knew certain things, and only knew how to punch it.
“He had the ability, the strength, the courage. He had every aspect to beat Klitschko.”
It’s Hunter’s turn to try and fell the giants in a division, which is ruled by Anthony Joshua and Tyson Fury, two champions who will look down at him from over six-and-a-half feet tall.
He’s taken notes from the Haye heavyweight textbook, highlighting the key chapters, and concludes that behind the flawless corn rows and chiselled frame was an unwavering work ethic.
“I think we’re very similar. One thing I do respect is his physical shape. He’s always in peak shape. I’m just such a natural-born fighter, that you know, I never really thought about my physique.
“I just thought about if I was in shape enough to do 12 rounds, or not. But I take my hat off to David Haye, an excellent fighter.”
Hunter’s time for a title shot could be edging closer and he would be disappointed if the defending champion did not enlist the services of a young amateur prospect to plot his downfall.