Boxing: Whole new brawl game

Haye has the clout and charisma to rule world and can save heavyweight division

The boxing ring has turned full circle. Since the retirement of Lennox Lewis, America has craved a new black hope to end the white Eastern European domination of the heavyweight championship. Last weekend, like the proverbial London bus, two came along together. And the irony is that neither fighter is American.

At around the time Britain's David Haye was walking five miles to his Bermondsey home rather than spend two-and-a- half hours in London's gridlocked Blackwall Tunnel, after sending Enzo Maccarinelli spinning around the O2 ring like a drunken early-hours reveller, Nigeria's Samuel Peter was relieving Russian Oleg Maskaev of his World Boxing Council title in Cancun, Mexico. It's now a whole new brawl game.

The Las Vegas-based Peter may be the new wearer of the most authentic of the heavyweight belts but he has neither the clout nor the charisma of the Londoner, who threatens global domination of the divis-ion in the next three years after stepping up from cruiserweight. It will be six months before Haye, 27, is ready to take care of heavyweight business but he aims to unify the titles. Yet he has no doubt that some of the scepticism which prevailed before his five-minute demolition of Maccarinelli will persist. "They said I've no chin and no stamina and they'll be saying the same as a heavyweight," he said. "But I'm explosive and powerful. Even if there was a Lennox Lewis, which there isn't, I'd still go after the heavyweight title. I'm going to knock out those Russian bums who have taken over.

"The Americans crave an exciting heavyweight, someone who can really fight and puts himself on the line. I hopethey'll realise that's me, because I'm the only English-speaking heavyweight they've got."

The Americans, who witnessed, via Showtime, Haye's thunderous ability to separate an opponent from his senses, will happily adopt someone who can walk the walk and talk the talk as inimitably upfront as he does. After the fight, he apologised for keeping the media waiting: "I haven't had sex for six months. That's why I'm late."

America is where he may well be heading, although his options remain open. Before he spectacularly knocked out Poland's Tomasz Bonin last year in his first heavyweight bout, the promoter Frank Maloney, who masterminded Lewis's career, predicted he would become Britain's richest-ever sports personality.

Maloney even pressed his old Union Jack suit to cheerlead Haye when he won the WBC world cruiserweight title in Paris from Jean-Marc Mormeck. Since then their relationship seems to have cooled, and Haye insists he is one of the few top British fighters who is a free agent and will work with any promoter. Maloney still says: "He can be the saviour of heavyweight boxing."

Successful transitions from cruiserweight to heavy are rare. Evander Holyfield is one of the few to manage it, but Haye can point out that Muhammad Ali, the greatest of all, was at light-heavy when he won the Olympic gold as Cassius Clay in 1960.

Before engaging any of the three remaining title-holders, Wladimir Klitschko, Ruslan Chagaev or Peter, Haye is likely to meet the former WBC championHasim Rahman, one of the two men to knock Lewis out, in an autumn eliminator. It was a fight he was close to taking before accepting Frank Warren's seven-figure offer to meet Maccarinelli.Most would consider Klitschko, the former Olympic gold medallist and the big-hitting brother of ex-world champion Vitaliy, as the one who might disrupt Haye's heavyweight dream.

But Haye says of Klitschko: "He's no world-beater, just big at 6ft 6in. He's easy to hit, he just tries to get you out with the jab. I'd get inside that, land some big shots and take him out early. I watched his fight against Sultan Ibragimov. It was a pitiful effort even though he won. Chagaev is one of the better heavyweights because of his style. He thinks about his defence and isn't taking shots all the time. It would be a good fight between us."

Warren is among those who still have doubts about Haye's "Achilles chin" and apparent vulnerability to cuts, but admits: "If he goes up to heavyweight it will be interesting. There are heavyweights out there you would fancy him against and there are those he would struggle with. He can hit, but he can be hit."

It is Maccarinelli who is left ruefully rubbing his chin, but doubtless he will come back to recapture one or all of the cruiserweight belts that Haye will discard as the spotlight switches from Britain's most flamboyant world champion to the most unnoticed, Gavin Rees.

The Welshman hopes to bring some consolation to the Enzo Calzaghe stable with a successful defence of his World Boxing Association light-welterweight title against the Ukrainian Andreas Kotelnik in Cardiff on Saturday. Rees, 27, has not lost in 10 years but is an unlikely champ-ion, a little man (5ft 3in) with a big fighting heart. Kotelnik, 30, drew with Soulemayne M'Baye, from whom Rees took the title, and lost to Junior Witter, but he can be a handful. Rees may have to land his own haymaker to win.

Standing in Haye's way

Wladimir Klitschko: (IBF/ WBO champion). Age: 31. Born: Ukraine. Nickname: Dr Steelhammer. Record: 53 fights, 3 defeats. Key stat: heavy puncher, vulnerable chin.

Ruslan Chagaev: (WBA) 29, b Uzbekistan, aka White Tyson; unbeaten in 25 fights. Key stat: skilful southpaw, recently outpointed Briton Matt Skelton.

Samuel Peter: (WBC) 27, b Nigeria, aka Nigerian Nightmare; 30 fights, 1 defeat. Key stat: small and awkward but not a damaging puncher.

Hasim Rahman: (ex-WBC/IBF) 35, b Baltimore, USA, aka The Rock; 53 fights, 6 defeats – won and lost against Lennox Lewis in 2001. Key stat: may be Haye's next opponent.

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