David Haye has never had a hard, 12-round heavyweight fight and John Ruiz has only ever had hard, 12-round title fights, so tonight in Manchester in front of 19,200 fans something will have to change.
Haye was forced to share the ring with Ruiz because of a sensible deal that was worked out at an airport in Germany last summer; the deal led to Haye replacing Ruiz and fighting the now vanished Russian giant Nikolai Valuev. Haye won the title and became a celebrity with pit stops on the famine trail – so fast-forward to tonight's potential classic with the enigmatic Ruiz.
There seems to be a great deal of confusion, denial and general stupidity surrounding this fight in the boxing business and for some crazy reason people are expecting a Haye massacre in a round or two. Ruiz has been stopped just once in 18 often grim years as a professional fighter and has been involved in 54 fights, including 11 world title fights. He has gone the full 12-round distance on 12 occasions, including nine times in world title fights.
"Why do people keep telling me that it will be an easy fight?" asked Haye last week after a session at his gym in Vauxhall, south London. "He's fresher now than he was five years ago, lighter and he is the heavyweight that the other so-called champions have avoided. This is hard – even if it goes just 30 seconds it will be hard, and if it lasts 36 minutes then it will be real tough. Ruiz is a proper, old-school hard bastard."
If emphasis of the fight's difficulty was required, news that Haye sparred at midnight on Thursday is proof of his devoted preparation, which had aroused suspicion and rumour in the last week or so.
Haye has a valid point about other champions avoiding Ruiz and in a recent poll of 30 boxing insiders there was just one vote in favour of Ruiz pulling off a heartbreaking victory to ruin the homecoming. The man who went against form and acquired knowledge was Manny Steward, the coach and adviser to both Wladimir and Vitali Klitschko, the towering Ukrainian brothers who hold the other versions of the world heavyweight title.
"Manny is not a boxing mug, he knows what he's talking about," Haye added. "Think about it: the Klitschkos have taken care of about two dozen Americans in title fights and not gone anywhere near big John! It's the truth."
It is also true that many Ruiz fights are hard on the eyes because they involve a lot of mauling, single jabs with quick grabs and hitting and holding. He fought 36 rounds with Evander Holyfield, winning, losing and drawing the instantly forgettable triple which could have been conducted in an old telephone box. Ruiz is ugly but he is genuinely world-class at making you fight his fight, and for Haye that is a very real problem at the MEN tonight.
"It will be about speed and a jab that will be a blur in his face," Haye continued. "He will not have any idea what is happening because the jab will be long and fast. I mix things up in every fight. Look at the Valuev win. Nobody predicted that or thought that I could keep that up. This will be more difficult but I can make it spectacular in the end." The key word in Haye's south London gym, which is just a few railway arches from where it all started at the Fitzroy Lodge amateur boxing club, is "numb". The jab will "numb" Ruiz – that is the simple message.
Understandably, Haye's interpretation of events is beyond the comprehension of Ruiz, who has gently being trying hard to shift his nickname of the Quiet Man. It's hard to dislike most fighters at this bare and naked level of success and Ruiz is no exception to the fistic axiom. "He seems like a nice kid," Ruiz said. "How does he think he will do something that has not been done before? I have seen it all."
However, there comes a painful night in almost all heavyweights' lives when they find the tank ransacked of reserves, and as the minutes tick slower and slower they end up taking a career-ending beating. There are some real markers to suggest that Haye has what it takes to convince Ruiz that the dream is finally over at 38, but Ruiz will have to play his part by fighting dumb and leaving his chin exposed. It would be a first for the Boston strongman and that is why a quick Haye win would be a fantastic result.
So Haye will retain his World Boxing Association heavyweight title and keep on track for both retirement in two years' time by the age of 31, as he has promised, and a fight with a Klitschko in November, which he has been talking about for more than two years. The quality of his retirement and the reality of a Klitschko fight depend on the style, which is the right word, of the victory tonight. It has to be flawless and long or savage and short to convince the sterile American market he is real.
It was not so long ago that the great Lennox Lewis was forced to embark on a seemingly endless mission to convert the Americans into believers. Lewis narrowly succeeded but it took time, and Haye does not have the time. Haye will win in about nine rounds and move closer to becoming the best heavyweight of his generation, which is all that he needs to be right now.
Haye v Ruiz: Tale of the tape
Height: 6ft 3in
Weight: 15st 12lb
Wins: (KO) 23 (21)
Defeats: (KO) 1 (1)
Last Fight: Nikolai Valuev, 7 November 2009, mixed decision
Birthplace: Chelsea, MA
Height: 6ft 2in
Weight: 16st 7lb
Wins: (KO) 44 (30)
Defeats: (KO) 8 (1)
Last Fight: Adnan Serin, 7 November 2009, KO (7th Round)