A Travelling Brit's Perspective from Hamburg: Part II
Leaving the hotel in a less aesthetically pleasing part of Hamburg, it was clear the journey to the venue would take longer than planned.
The heavens had opened and the walk to Hamburg Hauptbahnhof and a train to Stellingen was replaced with a taxi all the way to the arena.
Hamburg had earlier hosted the Schlager-Move parade, which appeared to attract what can only be described as up to half the entire population of Germany dressed in 70's funk shirts and flares, drinking and dancing in the rain. A very different type of crowd was making its way to a suburb to the north west of the city for the fight. After a lesson in Hamburg history and culture (apparently only Moscow now has more millionaires in Europe), a couple of illegal turns to avoid the tailbacks, 25 minutes and €25 later the Imtech Arena was reached accompanied by a tingling of anticipation. That feeling was soon to subside, and then some.
The arena was a typical European football stadium with tiered stands backed by wide open concourses selling beer, hot dogs and merchandise. The fight T-Shirts were selling well, but possibly more for the chance of a dry shirt on the way home than as a style statement.
€450 buys a V.I.P lounge ticket and a floor seat for Europe's biggest fight of the year. The V.I.P lounge was smart, stylish and filling up fast. Food and drink was complimentary, which tested a pre-match promise to stay sober and take in the full undercard. The weather was the final nail in that coffin as all floor seats with the exception of those inner-ringside were not covered by the ring canopy. The undercard was instead watched on TV screens in the warm glow of the bar. Not the strongest of cards, the highlight was undoubtedly the Ola Afolabi 17-2-3 (8) right which temporarily removed Terry Dunstan 24-4 (14) from his senses in their Cruiserweight match-up. The V.I.P's enjoyed that one.
The Hayemaker lounge to the left of the main area was off-limits, as was the area to the right which although not branded the Klitschko lounge, clearly was, protected by less than friendly looking K2 security. The absence of any A-list faces, or even B-list boxing people in the main lounge suggested another area was being used to entertain the stars. That would be the V.V.I.P lounge downstairs then.
The Sky Sports cameras were on duty, hoping to catch a glimpse of someone worthwhile although on speaking with the cameraman he was in no doubt that he hadn't got the best gig of the night - after all he was talking to me while the real party was getting started beneath us.
After chatting to a couple of Malaysian fans who had travelled from Kuala Lumpar for the fight, and paid €200 more than me to sit just two rows further forward, the build-up was over and it was time to take your seat and witness the ringwalks which the Sky cameraman had told me were spectacular, having earlier witnessed the practice run.
The seats were predictably soggy, having been in the rain for hours. The decision to decline a free plastic poncho in the lounge (very un-British to don such a thing at a sporting event) was now looking like a bad one. The MC was trying to warm up the crowd, and the giant screens were showing video montages of the combatants.
The seat was maybe 80 feet from the ring, much further than hoped. Everyone was standing, waiting for the main event. After Michael Buffer had entered the ring and given his intro, it was time. First up, David Haye 25-2 (23). A video showing London icons was played. Lennox Lewis jumped out of a London taxi and waited for Haye to appear from the changing room. The atmosphere was by now electric, the Brit's belting out 'walking in a Haye wonderland'. The familiar sound to UK fight fans of McFadden & Whitehead's 'Ain't no stopping us now' started to play. And play. And play. Lennox waited. No Haye. Another stunt? A final mind game to get under Wladimir's skin? The MC and Michael Buffer made small talk trying to fill the newly found gap in the scheduling while we all waited in the rain.
Finally Haye appeared, wearing the new England football shirt in a show of patriotism. Or consumerism. The ringwalk was chaotic - with UK fans jumping in front of the camera to scream support. A scrum of people pushed and jostled The Hayemaker all the way to the ring. At one point Haye appeared to winced as someone stood on his foot - it would later transpire that his toe was already broken.
'Can't Stop' began playing while Haye stalked the ring in a silver foil wrap to keep him warm and Wladimir Klitschko 56-3 (49) made his way into the arena after George Foreman and brother Vitali had summoned him. Dr Steelhammer took a different route to the ring, no pushing or shoving for the home fighter.
The anthems played and after Michael Buffer gave his obligatory 'Let's get ready to rumble' the ring cleared and we were finally ready. More than three years after Haye confronted Klitschko on an escalator in London, the biggest fight in the Heavyweight division was upon us. Only problem was, I couldn't see it.
Everyone sat in between me and the ring, with the probable exception of only those in the inner-ringside section was standing. And not on the floor, but on their seats. On tiptoe. The fight started and the rain came again. The rounds came and went, and still they stood. The fight was watched mainly on the giant screens at either end of the stadium - save for some snatched moments when heads moved left or right and the upper bodies of both boxers became momentarily visible. If you want a fight report you'll need to read Dan Rafael - rain soaked glasses and the most uncomfortable viewing position at a boxing match ever preclude me from giving any kind of fight night insight other than to warn anyone thinking of investing in a floor seat at a stadium fight of this magnitude in the future to think twice.
The fight itself was a huge disappointment to the travelling Brits and many others in the arena. It played out like most boxing people outside the UK thought it would. I believe the toe injury undoubtedly affected Haye's ability to jump in and out with big rights, but if Haye gets another crack at Wladimir when he is healthy, I suspect the outcome will be the same. Too big, too strong, too good at what he does.
The after-party in the lounge was subdued, so subdued it could have been tasered. Some of those from the V.V.I.P party came through to the main lounge. A quick chat with Ashley Sexton 11-0-1 (5) revealed a disconsolate mindset - a likely third fight with Mike Robinson (4-2-3) was mooted as almost inevitable following the draw earlier that evening. A self introduction to Paulie 'Magic Man' Malignaggi 29-4 (6) was possibly the highlight of the evening. Paulie had interrupted his holiday in Italy to attend the fight. He spoke about his hopes of securing a fight with Devon Alexander 22-1 (13) in the near future and is hoping for Las Vegas to host.
The evening finished with a 90 minute wait for a taxi back into central Hamburg. And another soaking in the rain. The taxi driver thought the rain was worst he had seen in July for 20 years. But for me, (not) seeing yet another British sporting dream die in foreign field was the real wash-out.