David Haye defied history and logic to become a world heavyweight champion in Nuremberg last night, defeating the seven-foot Russian Nikolay Valuev, holder of the World Boxing Association title, over 12 rounds. It was probably the most surprising, if not sensational, result in the annals of unarmed combat since the original David toppled Goliath almost 3,000 ago.
The 29-year-old Londoner may have failed to fell this giant – although he came close to doing so in the final round of an otherwise uneventful contest – but he certainly achieved a victory for the Little Man. That makes him only the seventh Briton to hold a world heavyweight title, and the first since his idol, Lennox Lewis, six years ago.
Haye won on a majority verdict in a country not noted for judicial generosity to visiting fighters. Two judges from the US and Italy marked him a four-rounds winner, 116-112, while a third from Italy scored it a draw, 114-114. "I did enough to win and that's all I care about," said Haye, who fought off the back foot, darting in and out until the 12th round when Valuev, never floored, was perilously close to crashing to the canvas when a left hook from the nine inches shorter, seven stones lighter Haye thudded into his jaw.
For the first time in his life, and for the first time in 53 fights, he wobbled unsteadily, his leg dancing a drunken jig. Haye tried to capitalise on his first real breakthrough but Valuev clung on, after an ineffective performance which belied his size and strength. Haye had promised a jaw-dropping moment and that was it.
Against this gargantuan Russian it had always been a case of reaching for a Czar. Haye's tactics may have been negative, buzzing around like an angry bee trying not to get swatted. It wasn't pretty, it wasn't exciting, but it worked – although it could be questioned whether he had won as well as two of the judges suggested.
To be honest, it wasn't much of a fight because, as it turned out, big Nikolay wasn't much of a fighter. He plodded, his punches catching the air rather than Haye, stalking a retreating opponent who followed the guidelines given to him by Lennox Lewis: hit and move.
Not that Haye hit that much – neither man did – but it was clear that the time had come for some charisma to be injected back into the ailing heavyweight division.
"I've dreamed of this day since I was a little baby," said Haye. "I dreamed I would be the heavyweight champion of the world, and it has come true."
No fighter has ever conceded as much height and weight in a title fight and won. While it may not have been the most edifying of encounters in the division, at least it has seen a British boxer restored to the top of the pile. Moreover, it has surely thrown a spanner in the works of this year's BBC Sports Personality Awards.
Haye had not fought for a year and this was only his third contest as a heavyweight but he showed that his two deficiencies – a dodgy jaw and suspect stamina – were no handicap against a 36-year-old opponent who was far from the towering inferno that we might have anticipated. Haye won it because of the few punches that were thrown in the entire fight, his were the cleaner and sharper.
His elusiveness frustrated Valuev, whose seven-stone advantage failed to weigh heavily on Haye.
A 9,000 crowd at the Arena Nürnberger did not demur when the scores were announced and Valuev reacted to the result impassively. As early as the second round Haye's trainer, Adam Booth, was advising him: "Sting him and he's gone. Keep on breaking his heart." And that was exactly what Haye kept trying to do.
Haye revealed afterwards that one of the reasons that he threw so few punches was that he had damaged his right hand early in the fight. "I tried to rein it in. His head is solid. The hardest thing I have ever hit. It was like hitting a brick wall. I am pretty sure it's broken, but it's a small price to pay being the heavyweight champion of the world."
Valuev said: "The speed of my opponent was a problem. I could not work my right and the 40-plus kilos difference in weight is something you start to feel."
Resolutely, Haye evaded all the big man's efforts to blow him away. It didn't make for a pretty fight but one doubts that Haye was bothered about that. Now he must face the American John Ruiz, himself twice defeated by Valuev in a mandatory defence which hopefully will take place in Britain where, overnight, the Hayemaker has become a national hero.
Having breathed new life into the heavyweight division, Haye will now want to renew his challenge to the Klitschko brothers. But though they are not as big as Valuev, worryingly for Haye they hit much harder.