David Haye is a glorious remedy to the decline in entertainment, thrills and personality that has slowly been eroding the heavyweight division for too long.
There are some people who still talk about the loss of the sweet science and the neglected art of self-defence, but hopefully they were all tucked up in bed with their Muhammad Ali DVDs and cocoa before Haye danced to his latest night of fun in Manchester on Saturday.
Haye's first defence of his World Boxing Association belt against American John Ruiz was most certainly not a flawless display of sensible boxing fought across a bloodstained canvas like a game of human chess. It was, instead, a brutal and brutalising slugfest that deserved a low canopy of cigar smoke to give it the authenticity of a genuine throwback fight.
There was not much in the way of insults in the weeks, days and hours before the first bell, which is understandable as Ruiz has punched for pay as the "Quiet Man" for 18 solid years. However, the niceties came to an abrupt and chilling end in the opening 15 seconds when Ruiz was sent crashing to the canvas with a shattered nose and eyes so wide they looked frozen open.
Ruiz somehow regained his footing, but not his senses and he was sent tumbling again inside a minute; this time he complained that he had been hit on the back of the head, which he had. The crowd of 19,200 were on their feet and often their seats, convinced that the fight was over. It was not, and Ruiz held and grabbed his way to the safety of the 60-second break. "By the end of round one it was already a better fight than I wanted it to be," admitted Haye's trainer and promotional partner, Adam Booth. "David hit Ruiz with some great shots and all that happened was that Ruiz's face changed shape. I knew then, and David knew then, that it was going to be a long, hard night."
Ruiz has not been stopped since he was blasted in 19 seconds nearly 15 years ago, nine of his 11 world title fights have gone 12 rounds, so it was no great surprise that he came out for the second, the third and the fourth rounds and chased Haye. It was one of the bravest performances by an American heavyweight since Mike Tyson stood as sacrifice against Lennox Lewis in 2002 on a night when Tyson proved his heart by risking his life.
However, in both rounds five and six, Ruiz – with his face distorting under each thudding punch – went down again from a mixture of legally landed textbook punches and desperate swipes. Haye, by the way, was breathing heavily and clearly suffering from his lack of sparring during a long training camp that was ruined by a cut eye. He was, as Booth succinctly pointed out, bouncing off the ropes into Ruiz's educated combinations and not sliding off in defensive patterns. "He needed more rounds, there was a problem whenever David came off the ropes," added Booth, who is both a purist and a perfectionist.
The capacity crowd enjoyed every second of the savagery and in rounds seven and eight they watched the desire slowly leave Ruiz's own fighting heart. He deserved the long looks of respect Haye awarded him at the end of the rounds. "I have no idea what was keeping him up, but at the same time I knew that he would never jump on the floor like so many pathetic recent challengers," said Haye.
The end came in round nine with Ruiz's cornerman, a wise and knowing veteran called Miguel Diaz, finally mounting the ropes in a mercy mission at about the same time that the referee waved his arms and embraced the battered Ruiz. It was officially 2:01 of round nine, but the details of the fight will be lost in the telling and the re-telling of the night by the thousands in attendance and the millions watching on TV around the world.
There will be cynics and critics quick to point out that Ruiz was 38 and that Haye was blowing and that neither fighter would have lived with Lewis or other champions from the past. There is truth in the complaint, but nobody cared on Saturday night because Haye is the first prize fighter since Tyson's rise over a quarter of a century ago capable of giving a kiss of life to the battered old beast that is the heavyweight division. Lewis was a better heavyweight, but not a more entertaining one.
"It's all about trying to unify the heavyweight titles now," claimed Haye in the early hours of Sunday morning. "I gave the fans knockdowns, drama and something to talk about when they get back to work. Boxing should be entertainment and some fighters have forgotten that."
Haye will be out until late this year and there is a real chance that a fight with either Wladimir or Vitali Klitschko, who hold the three other belts, can be made on proper terms. The Klitschkos will claim that they can beat Haye with ease and at the same time make truly outrageous contractual demands to keep the fight at bay for another year. The Briton, meanwhile, would fight a Klitschko for a Curly Wurly bar if he could because there is definitely a crazy side to him: Haye is a very British sporting idol, a mixture of punk rocker and fearless underdog.Reuse content