David Haye signalled a warning to the big boys of boxing that he is a serious threat in his new career as a prospective heavyweight champion of the world. He took his first steps towards that lofty ambition with a five-round demolition of former contender Monte Barrett here last night, flooring the American five times before the fight was stopped with the stricken Barrett on the canvas.
Haye revels in his nom de guerre as the "Hayemaker" and he threw them in abundance to register a victory that was both emphatic and rumbustious. Even the onlooking WBC world heavyweight champion Vitali Klitschko must have been impressed with the Londoner's punching power, although it was questionable just how many bullets "Two Gunz" had left in his armoury.
The New Yorker had got off to a bad start when he tried a Naseem Hamed-type leap into the ring over the top rope and fell flat on his back. It was a position he was to occupy frequently during a fiery encounter.
At the arena where he unified the world cruiserweight titles with a blistering dismissal of Enzo Maccarinelli in March, 27-year-old Haye made a relatively tentative start but was soon in full swing, flooring Barrett twice in the third round, first with a chopping left hook and then battering him to his knees again.
A right upper-cut in the fourth had Barrett floundering on his knees again. Early in the fifth Haye was himself on the floor, albeit from a slip, and Barrett was deducted a point by referee Richie Davies for clobbering him while he was down. This piece of impertinence from a now desperate opponent provoked Haye into a furious riposte. He flattened Barrett with a brutal left-right combination to the chin. Davies immediately called a halt as Barrett fell on his back yet again.
Barrett has been one of the ring's most accomplished journeymen and although he has known better days, he is no mug. But he was certainly mugged last night. Now Haye has his sights on the Klitschko brothers Wladimir and Vitali within two or three more fights, or so he says. This is a tall order in every sense and the towering Vitali, now back as a heavy-hitting champion, was himself sizing up Haye. Eight years ago, Vitali had also fought Barrett in London, also flooring him five times, but to achieve his own heavyweight ambition, Haye may have to bulk up a bit. Last night, at 15st 5lb, he weighed only 15lb above the cruiserweight limit, although at their peak Muhammad Ali, Joe Frazier and Mike Tyson did not weigh much more. But this is the age of the super-heavyweight, as the Klitschkos have shown. Yet there is no doubting Haye's power when he says: "I know I talk a lot of smack, but I promised I'd deliver and I did."
However, attracting a crowd to the vast auditorium here proved tougher than his fight. The 20,000-seat arena was only about a third full and it is evident that Haye needs to put more punch into his promotional skills.
It was a night for celebrating a homegrown success in Liverpool too, where 21-year-old Hull bantamweight Luke Campbell became England's first European amateur champion in 47 years – Frankie Taylor was the last to strike gold in 1961. Campbell capped a terrific tournament by winning on a countback with the scores level after four rounds against a tough, experienced Bulgarian, Detelin Dalakliev.
Dalakliev had equalled the tally at 5-5 with two seconds left. It was a victory that surely earmarked him as a welcome prospect for 2012 in view of the anticipated defection of several of the Beijing battlers to the pro ranks.
It was a triumph, too, for GB coach Terry Edwards whose eight-year tenure has seen British boxers claim gold at Olympic, World, Commonwealth and now European level. "Luke has boxed brilliantly throughout this tournament," he said. "I thought he won clearly enough for the scores not to have gone to a countback."
Campbell said: "It's the first time I've ever gone past three fights in a tournament so it's been a long 10 days and it's been very draining mentally but it's all been worth it. I'll move on to the next step. It's a long four years now until London and I've got plenty to improve on."