David Haye staged a glorious heist here on Saturday night to beat Nikolai Valuev for the World Boxing Association title, shock his doubters and become heavyweight boxing's most desired fighter.
Haye pulled it off with speed in a fight that followed a predictable, ponderous pattern and when it was over Haye left with the belt and the heavyweight division's future in his damaged fists. There are some in the sport who will claim it was not a great fight, a bore and a travesty for a prize once considered the ultimate trophy, but this is 2009 and all that Haye has to be is the best of his day and not the best of all-time.
Valuev went off into the boxing sunset without much of a fight, to be honest, and never once troubled Haye with a single shot, which has far more to do with Haye's impeccable preparation than Valuev's giant limitations. In the end, as the final seconds faded, Haye wobbled the sad-faced Russian for the first time in his 53 fights and he looked a shot or two away from coming to rest in a 23st heap, stretched across more than half of the canvas. He had looked like a forlorn and beaten man for most of the fight.
Haye, who at 29 is about to enter the prime heavyweight years, won the fight from his back foot with counters that left Valuev swiping at air for 12 solid rounds. There were few punches thrown, not a single brutal exchange and thankfully no serious clinches.
Haye won by not getting hit and it was a glorious and long-overdue reminder that modern boxing is the product of something once called the noble art of self-defence. In Las Vegas, the so-called home of boxing, the mob have booed master boxers like Lennox Lewis and Floyd Mayweather for too long without understanding that not every fight has to resemble Rocky. Strangely, most of Haye's fights do resemble Rocky, but not Saturday night's.
"I had planned to be more aggressive and hunt him down in the second half of the fight," admitted Haye. "I had to change strategy when I hurt my right hand after about three rounds and that meant I had to box and move and not look for the stoppage." In a funny old way it is possible that the damage, which will be examined today in London, helped Haye win by making him move and not stand in front of Valuev looking for a spectacular end.
"I caught Valuev with some big punches, the rights at the start of the fight would have knocked out either of the Klitschko brothers [Vladimir and Vitali] and hopefully I will get the chance to show that very soon," continued Haye, who had been down to meet the Ukrainian pair this year on separate dates which fell through.
Haye's friend and trainer, Adam Booth, had to remind him between most rounds to stay calm and not take risks. "I grabbed him a few times and told him, 'Don't you dare go looking for a knockout'. It worked, the plan was a dream, the fight was flawless," said Booth and he is right. Booth and Haye, by the way, are also Hayemaker Promotions, who had a piece of Saturday's action and clearly like Kalle Sauerland, the dynamic youngster driving Saturday's main event. "We will do some serious business now," promised Sauerland.
In the final round a despondent Valuev lamely touched gloves at the start and when the last bell tolled, seconds after a left hook buckled his huge legs, he never once raised his hands. Some people had scored it a shutout for Haye, but there was a mild shock when the decision was announced as a majority. Valuev was, amazingly, in front on two of the three scorecards after seven rounds, but my score tallied perfectly with the two judges who voted for Haye by 116-112, which means eight rounds to four. The Mexican judge scored it a draw, which stunned most of the ringside fancy.
"It was more than just a victory for David," continued Booth. "It was a victory for heavyweight boxing and a victory for the sport – the people now have a heavyweight that they can get behind." The Klitschko brothers, who hold the other three recognised world titles, have agreed to a fight at any time, and now Haye will be able to sit at their table and not leave with a short-end deal.
Long after the lights had been dismantled and 8,000 fans had wandered off into the wet night, Don King, who has a slice of Valuev's fallen stock, was still clutching his trademark flags and shaking his head and muttering: "Oh baby, oh baby, David will be king, yes, he will be king!"
There was a slightly more sober reaction from Richard Schaeffer, the man in charge of Golden Boy Promotions, who also had a piece of Saturday's promotion and was never less than three inches from Haye's face once the verdict was announced. Schaeffer turned his back on a career in Swiss finance and a lucrative sideline as a stamp collector to transform Golden Boy from a hobby for Oscar De La Hoya into the promotional force in modern boxing. Schaeffer wants the British boxer, the British boxer's fans and the heavyweight belt in Las Vegas as soon as possible and riches in the heavyweight-starved money oasis will be immense.
It is common for the days after a new world title victory, especially won at heavyweight, to descend into farce as a variety of claimants step forward to suggest future fights, bizarre opponents and to start boldly talking in telephone numbers. The Haye machine of chaos had taken off long before the boxer had left the ringside and it will continue for weeks. Haye will be abused by some people, Valuev's legacy will be destroyed and finally everybody will see sense and move on. It happened to Lewis, Britain's last heavyweight champion, when he first won the title and people were still muttering about his shortfalls when he retired 10 years later in 2003.
It looks increasingly likely that the Venezuelan-based WBA will insist that King's fighter John Ruiz, an old-school veteran who has twice lost tight decisions to Valuev, gets the first shot at Haye's belt. The fight could be at the fabulous O2 in south London, a venue that is a walk away from Haye's mother's home, which will be a safe sanctuary from any future critics.