David Haye talked the talk and he said he would walk the fight but on a rain-swept night in Hamburg he found the imperious Wladimir Klitschko too big a mountain to climb in the Ukrainian's adopted back yard. This was no harvest time for the Hayemaker, who failed to wrest Klitschko's world heavyweight titles and instead surrendered his own WBA belt, losing a unanimous points decision. All three judges, two from the United States and one from South Africa, voted overwhelmingly in Klitschko's favour.
There could be no argument. Haye showed courage but like his good friend Andy Murray, he ran into a class act. So what we had hoped would be a great British double, became a lost weekend.
From the moment this on-off match was made, the erudite Klitschko had seen Haye as a gobby upstart and while last night he did not exactly make him eat his words, he certainly made him eat his jab. That long, snaking, stinging left hand kept Haye dancing on the end of it, frustrated and at times angry at his own inability to get inside and bring about the Blitzkrieg he had promised in an encounter the German promoters had fittingly labelled "The War".
Haye had angered Klitschko, and the crowd, by delaying his entrance into the ring at the Imtech Arena by 10 minutes. That was part of his game plan, but whatever the rest of it was, it simply did not work against an opponent twice as experienced – and twice as clever.
In fact, Haye found himself on the floor some seven or eight times, though never from a proper punch. He either pushed or feigned a knock-down in order to catch the referee's eye and complain that Klitschko was man-handling him illegally. It worked once, when the American referee Genaro Rodriguez deducted a point in the seventh round, the only one on my scorecard that Haye actually won. However, it worked against him when the exasperated Rodriguez decided to administer a mandatory eight-count in the 11th after Haye had again stumbled to the floor from what appeared to be a push on the shoulder.
Haye complained afterwards that a broken toe had restricted his mobility to the extent that he was unable to land his most explosive shots but it was hard to see how he could have worked his way inside Klitschko's reach in almost any circumstances. "Just jab, jab and jab," Klitschko's corner man Emmanuel Steward ordered halfway through the fight, and indeed that was virtually all Klitschko had to do. Although when he did throw the occasional right, Haye took it on the chin without flinching, proving his jaw was not as fragile as many had suspected.
Klitschko's face, with a cut over his nose, was testimony to the fact that Haye managed to land the odd glancing blow of his own, though not to any great effect in a contest which was as much about the mechanics of Klitschko's boxing as Haye's endeavours to take him out of his comfort zone, rough him up and rile him, which he had threatened to do.
"I might not have been at my best but I gave it as much as I could," Haye said afterwards. "I couldn't push on my right leg. Something happened in training and I didn't want to pull out. I thought adrenalin would get me through it but it was tough. It's incredibly frustrating."
The scorecards of the three judges – 117-109, 118-108, 116-110 – were a fair reflection of the way the bout swung in Klitschko's favour virtually from the first bell, and the result was exactly as I predicted last week.
Klitschko said: "I've accomplished my dream and unified all the belts, except the one held by my brother Vitali. I still think Haye's behaviour before the fight was disgraceful and the result speaks for itself. He criticised me for being too cautious but he was more cautious than almost anyone I've fought. He was very fast and I just didn't get the opportunity to knock him out. I was hoping this would be my 50th KO. He connected a couple of times but I wasn't hurt."
Haye's consolation is a 50-50 split from a fight expected to gross £30m and having lost his world championship status it now seems highly likely he will keep his word about retiring. There is certainly no point in fighting Klitschko again and even less big brother Vitali, whose jab is even more lethal than Wladimir's.
Great British dust-ups
Henry Cooper v Joe Bugner, 15 March 1971, Wembley
Bugner, 21, wins British and European heavyweight titles with controversial points verdict, precipitating Cooper's retirement at 37.
Chris Eubank v Michael Watson, 21 Sept 1991, White Hart Lane
Watson spends 40 days in coma and is left partially paralysed after 12th round KO (WBO super-middleweight).
Lennox Lewis v Frank Bruno, 10 Oct 1993, Cardiff Arms Park
Lewis comes from behind with left hook to stop Bruno in seventh round (WBC heavyweight).
James DeGale v George Groves, 21 May 2011, 02 Arena, London
Unbeaten Olympic champion DeGale outfoxed by ex-amateur rival'sback-foot tactics, losing British super-middleweight title on split decision.Reuse content