Boxing: Haye top dog as sport punches above its weight

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The Independent Online

Mark Twain enjoyed fisticuffs back in the bare-knuckle days – both as a fan and occasional street-fighter – so the modern game can empathise with his renowned reaction when told of his published obituary. Reports of its death have been greatly exaggerated.

Like several of its practitioners, boxing made a remarkable comeback in 2009 with mega-fights and packed arenas both here and in the US, plus a black eye for political correctness with its return both to public popularity and schools.

Top billing saw the panto season come early for David Haye, who slayed a slothful giant and played the clown to be Britain's principal boy, heavyweight champion of the world, at least the half of it not owned by the Klitschko brothers, with whom intriguing arguments need to be settled.

Amir Khan rose like a fistic phoenix from the ashes of his devastating KO by Breidis Prescott, employing the world's greatest trainer, Freddie Roach, and his quickfire fists to win the WBA light-welterweight title as a springboard to chasing his American dream.

Carl Froch, arguably the most authentic world champion of the trio, held on, if somewhat fortuitously, to his WBC super-middleweight title.

Globally, never mind the Klitschkos or the now de-Valueved Nikolay, it was the little Pacman, Manny Pacquiao, who bestrode the boxing world like a colossus, flattening the ever-fattening Ricky Hatton, then dismantling Miguel Cotto. The seven- weight champion is one of the most celebrated boxers in history, a prospective political force in the Philippines.

With Floyd Mayweather, another un-retiree, giving his usual masterclass against Juan Manuel Marquez, the ring is savouring its biggest ever showdown. Forget the sparring over drugs tests. Pacquiao is no dope, nor is Mayweather or their promoters. It will happen because there are too many noughts involved for the cheques not to be affirmatively crossed.

The amateurs lost six of the Olympians and, regrettably, coach Terry Edwards, but eventually regrouped with Froch's trainer Robert McCracken charged with restoring some of the glitter in time for 2012.

A year of sensation was coupled with sadness following the tragically violent departure of three champions – Alexis Arguello (shot), Arturo Gatti (strangled) and Vernon Forrest (shot) – while here the Irish Olympic medallist Darren Sutherland left the sport in shock by inexplicably hanging himself. Chris Finnegan, one of the most colourful ex-champions, died, as on Christmas Eve did Terry Lawless, the most productive, protective of managers.

Financially, the greatest loss was the collapse of new TV bankrollers Setanta. But as the bell rings for 2010, at least the battered old game has again beaten the count and is now ahead on points.

Three to watch

Kevin Mitchell The chirpy, undefeated Dagenham lightweight, 25, boxed as astutely as the Hayemaker to beat the man (Breidis Prescott) who beat the man (Amir Khan). Frank Warren will get him a deserved world title shot early this year – and also has in mind a fascinating pairing between buddies Mitchell and Khan at the Emirates in the summer.

Nathan Cleverly A toss-up whether he or fellow unbeaten young British welterweight champion Kell Brook climb on to the world title stage first. But the British and Commonwealth light-heavyweight champion, 22, a boxing brainbox studying maths at Cardiff University, has the skills to follow his one-time stablemate Joe Calzaghe. And he's a better dancer.

Luke Campbell With GB's amateurs struggling after Beijing, the southpaw Hull bantamweight, 22, alongside light-welter Bradley Saunders, looks the brightest hope for a place on the 2012 podium after becoming the first Briton to win European gold in almost half a century. If the pros don't get him first.

Alan Hubbard