David Haye begins a six-month sabbatical from the ring this morning to work on his body and mind for a three-year assault on the desolate heavyweight division that will begin in November.
At about 2.30 yesterday morning Haye needed five minutes and four seconds to drop and stop his great domestic rival, Enzo Maccarinelli, in front of 20,000 people at the O2 Arena in London. The waiting was finally over and it can only be described as a vicious ending, with Maccarinelli on his feet but out of his head when it was mercifully waved off.
Maccarinelli had fought the ideal fight to get knocked out and once his head had cleared there was a look of total disgust on his face. He stood off, never threw any punches and moved into a corner with his chin in the air against Haye, who had previously stopped 19 of his 20 victims.
The first round was quiet with both moving cautiously and feinting their way through the seconds, but there was a sense that Haye was in control without having needed to land a punch. It rapidly increased in pace in the second round before Haye stepped over the line of defence and connected cleanly with a sickening short right cross that started the finish. Maccarinelli tilted, wobbled and was sent down in a heap with his head hanging over the ropes when another right hand landed. He regained his feet but could not stand still and focus long enough to satisfy the referee and that was the end.
At about the same time that Haye was smiling and watching Maccarinelli stumble like a drunk in a brave attempt to continue, a heavyweight title fight came to a similar end in Cancun, Mexico. A Las Vegas-based Nigerian called Samuel Peter was bashing into bloody submission the World Boxing Council champion Oleg Maskaev, a 39-year-old tough guy from Kazakhstan.
Peter and the other two recognised world heavyweight champions, Vladimir Klitschko and Ruslan Chagaev, are on Haye's short, short heavyweight list and, with the backing of television money and faith from both Setanta in the UK and ShowTime in the US, all three champions are potential options.
Haye, who by the way is a free agent, is now a star and potential saviour in a division that has tragically lost its way. There has been a world tour of mediocrity – with fights in Switzerland, Japan, Russia, Mexico and Germany in the last year or so.
There was a unification fight between Klitschko and Sultan Ibragimov at Madison Square Garden a few weeks ago but the New York crowd booed the tedious affair. However, Klitschko in victory was unrepentant about his safety-first approach. "Klitschko was a disgrace and I will deliver glamour and excitement. I want him more than any of the other champions," Haye said.
The plan for Haye and his trainer Adam Booth now involves a steady programme of gaining weight that the fighter will follow during a 12-week intensive training schedule. The pair will work in isolation, which they prefer, at their base in Northern Cyprus and move from the 200lb limit at cruiserweight to the heavyweight division for a fight in November.
"David will probably be about 220lb for the next fight and I'm working on opponents now," said Booth. "We want a top 10 fighter and I'm hoping that we can get the next fight sanctioned as an eliminator for one of the world titles."
Late last year Haye entered into negotiations with former world heavyweight champion Hasim Rahman, who once knocked out Lennox Lewis, but that fight was put on hold when the money and incentive increased for a showdown with Maccarinelli.
Haye has throughout been adamant that it would be his last fight at cruiserweight, and his move to heavyweight will be made official this week when he hands back his three championship belts.
Maccarinelli, meanwhile, is likely to fight for one or more of Haye's old belts by the end of the summer – and he will win.
At ringside and watching in silence was Evander Holyfield, who just like Haye won the cruiserweight world title before gaining bulk and winning the heavyweight version. Holyfield was cautious about Haye's future and impressed with the London boxer's poise and power but concerned that putting on the pounds will inevitably slow him down.
"It's not really about the weight and being big but I like Haye a lot," he said. Holyfield weighed 208lb when he beat James Buster Douglas – who, by the way, was 38lb heavier – to win the world heavyweight title in 1990, which is just 10lb more than Haye weighed for Maccarinelli.
Haye is likely to fight for a world heavyweight title next summer and he will weigh as much as 230lb. If he wins he will go on and become the wealthiest boxer in British history.
He started his heavyweight journey on Saturday night at the O2 and 20,000 will never forget their part in his rise.