• ESPN Sports Personality of the Year

David Haye - Klitschkos loom large over champ's head

Josh Williams December 14, 2010

At nine in our list for ESPN Sports Personality of the Year is the man who made two successful defences of his WBA heavyweight championship in 2010...

Two comprehensive WBA title defences for David Haye in 2010 - and yet a huge question mark hangs over his quality as a heavyweight. No definitive conclusions will be reached about his stature until he steps into the ring against one, or both, of the fearsome Klitschko brothers.

Those fights so nearly happened this year. After Haye dismantled John Ruiz in April, all roads seemed to lead to a title-unification battle against Wladimir or Vitali. Both sides appeared to want the clash to happen, but it never materialised after talks became bogged down in the financial details.

Instead, on November 13, Haye faced off against former sparring partner Audley Harrison in a bout that captured the nation's attention due to the apparently genuine rancour between the combatants. Nonetheless, there were fears that Harrison - an Olympic champion who had achieved little of note in the pro game - would be embarrassingly out of his depth.

And, unfortunately for a beleaguered heavyweight division desperate for a stellar fight, it turned out to be one of the most one-sided bouts in recent memory. The difference between the the way Harrison talked - confident, threatening - and the way he fought - reluctant, timid - was staggering.

After six minutes in which nothing happened - almost literally; the referee had to implore them to start fighting at one point - Haye pinned his opponent in the corner before unleashing a ferocious barrage of punches that necessitated a third-round stoppage. Harrison, who crumbled when presented with his one shot to snatch glory, left the ring on the brink of tears after the vociferous crowd aimed a volley of abuse in his direction.

Ruiz walked into a few of David Haye's punches © Getty Images

Contrast Harrison's exit to that of Ruiz, who was repulsed by the thought of surrendering. In what was Haye's first defence of the belt he won from Nikolai Valuev in November 2009, Ruiz - himself a two-time world title holder - vowed to pounce on any early nerves the champion may have. He threw down the gauntlet in the early stages by striding towards his opponent with menacing intent, but the American soon found himself victim to Haye's explosive power, going down twice in the first.

Ruiz knew that the bout represented the end of the road for him, and he was in no mood to go out with a whimper. He clambered back to his feet before going on to gather some momentum - he may have snuck the fourth and fifth rounds - but Haye always looked too quick for him. By the time of the referee's stoppage, it seemed like the first thing Ruiz knew about the punches was when they were making a mess of his face.

Now Haye is about to embark upon what he insists will be the final year of his career, having promised that he will bring the curtain down at the age of 31. He will be forever feted as a heavyweight champion, but he will miss out on the "legend" tag if he does not fight the Klitschkos.

© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.
Josh Williams Close
Josh Williams is an assistant editor of ESPN.co.uk