Looking to recapture title (Tim Hales/Associated Press)
Ruiz just a steppingstone for WBA champion Haye
MANCHESTER, England — David Haye is already looking beyond tonight’s first defense of his World Boxing Association heavyweight title against former Chelsea resident John Ruiz to a unification bout.
Discussions have begun about staging a unification fight in the Gulf against either Vitali or Wladimir Klitschko, who between them hold the World Boxing Council, International Boxing Federation, and World Boxing Organization titles.
“It’s something we have talked about with Adam Booth,’’ Haye said, referring to his trainer and manager. “There has not been a big title fight in the Middle East. A heavyweight title fight is the biggest you can get. It would be huge for putting [a country like] Abu Dhabi on the map.
“Look what the ‘Rumble in the Jungle’ did for Zaire. No one ever heard of Zaire until then. After Muhammad Ali fought George Foreman for the title, no one forgets it.’’
A “Showdown in the Sand’’ would be the latest major sporting event to go to the Gulf region, following the FIFA Club World Cup and the season-ending WTA Tour Championships.
“What I want to achieve in boxing is worldwide,’’ Haye said. “I want to show I’m not just a British commodity . . . To do that you have to fight the best and fight all over the world.
“I believe I’m the best now. Some people out there don’t believe I am and would like to see me against one of the Klitschko brothers to show that. When that opportunity arises, I’ll take it with both hands and prove everyone wrong.’’
First, Haye must conquer Ruiz at the M.E.N. Arena. Haye is defending the title he captured from 7-foot-2-inch Nikolai Valuev by decision in Nuremberg in November.
Haye was 222 pounds at the weigh-in yesterday, 9 pounds lighter than Ruiz. “I’m fighting someone my own size, so that should be easier,’’ Haye said. “It will be completely different this time around . . . Ruiz will be tough, but the plan is still to render him unconscious.’’
Haye, 29, is counting down to the fight by spending this afternoon at Old Trafford watching Manchester United’s Premier League clash with Chelsea. Ruiz, who held and lost the WBA title twice, won’t be joining Haye at the soccer match. Instead, the American said he will be steeling himself for an early barrage of speedy punches.
“I’ll definitely have to be a brawler and chase the guy down,’’ said Ruiz, 38. “You have to make sure you throw a ton a punches — that’s what a brawler does: roughs things up. Sometimes you need a bit of that.’’
Taking the title from Haye would enable Ruiz to join Ali and Evander Holyfield as three-time world heavyweight champions, capping a 54-fight career that has produced 44 wins, eight defeats, one draw, and one no contest.
“Two years more and I’ll be over the hill,’’ Ruiz said. “I don’t want to go beyond 40.’’