Bunce on Boxing: Rumble in the Jungle was nearly KO’d by a stray elbow

“The 11-month gap between fights robbed me of the title. I know it did”

When Filip Hrgovic’s right elbow sliced through both the epidermis and dermis, leaving David Haye requiring six stitches from a plastic surgeon, the pair joined a list of unfortunate fighters.

The cut happened late on Friday night in the second round of the last day of Haye’s sparring for this Saturday’s fight against Tyson Fury and everybody in the Vauxhall gym knew that the fight was off. Hrgovic, a Croat was not even the most dangerous of Haye’s six or so sparring partners but he was just in the right place at the right time to end the multimillion-pound night.

Haye had six stitches inserted above his left eye and will find out later this week how long he will be out of the ring; there is bold talk of a December fight but next March or even April looks far more likely. Fury, meanwhile, will probably take a contest next month to stay busy, which is the sensible option.

There seemed to be genuine remorse in Haye’s voice when he apologised to Fury and to all the fans who were due to pack the sold-out former MEN Arena in Manchester. I believe he is genuine because the purse, thought to be in excess of £3m, was the sole motivation for the fight and a long break could lead to the bout never happening.

It looked like one of the greatest fights in history would never happen when, in September 1974, George Foreman was cut above the right eye by Bill McMurray’s left elbow. The pair were finishing off a long training camp at their base in Kinshasa, Zaire, when the cut, tiny compared to Haye’s gash, opened up  with just eight days left before the Rumble in the Jungle’s original date of 25 September.

In addition to what has been said about Foreman trying to leave the country – there are lurid tales of armed guards confiscating his passport – it is a little-known fact that Muhammad Ali was even more desperate to flee and return to America. However, Ali, who would be in Zaire for a total of 57 days, sought wise counsel, stayed and exploited Foreman’s desire to run away. “Ali kept telling everybody that ‘George is scared, George doesn’t like Africa, George doesn’t like Africans.’ Ali just put up with it,” said Gene Kilroy, Ali’s friend and business manager.

Had either boxer left Zaire there is every chance that, for a variety of financial reasons, one of sport’s most iconic events would have simply never taken place. They both had to stay, not exactly prisoners but they were each warned about the consequences of flight by President Mobutu Sese Seko’s  henchmen. He was, after all, a nasty little despot who ran Zaire for 32 years and he was delighted when the pair finally fought on 30 October.

When Ray Webb, a good little fighter from Hackney, landed flush with a right hand on Michael Watson’s nose in November 1989 it was the last day, last round and last few seconds of sparring for Watson’s WBA middleweight title fight against Mike McCallum. “ What could I do? Ray was an old friend,  a good friend,” said Watson.

The nose was broken and the fight at the Alexandra Palace was off. Watson had not fought since May and McCallum, perhaps realising the delay would be longer than expected, took a hard, 12-round defence in February 1990 against Steve Collins. Watson could only look on in despair.

He finally got his chance against McCallum in April 1990 but Watson had been out of the ring for 11 months and the inactivity cruelly ruined his performance; he was stopped in the 11th round and his timing looked off. “The 11-month gap robbed me of the title. I know it did, but I can’t blame Ray,” Watson said.

Nobody is blaming McMurray, Webb or even big Filip for their wayward elbows and well-placed punches but it is, all the same, a dreadful shame when a big fight collapses at such short notice. Fury was probably at a peak mentally and physically, and I hope he can maintain it; Haye thrives on long breaks and, once the cosmetic stuff is over, will be back to normal.

Sport
sportWWE latest including Sting vs Triple H, Brock Lesnar vs Roman Reigns and The Undertaker vs Bray Wyatt
Arts and Entertainment
Louis Theroux: By Reason of Insanity takes him behind the bars again
tvBy Reason of Insanity, TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Cassetteboy's latest video is called Emperor's New Clothes rap
videoThe political parody genius duo strike again with new video
Arts and Entertainment
tvPoldark, TV review
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Caption competition
Caption competition
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Junior Web Designer - Client Liaison

£6 per hour: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity to join a gro...

Recruitment Genius: Service Delivery Manager

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: A Service Delivery Manager is required to join...

Recruitment Genius: Massage Therapist / Sports Therapist

£12000 - £24000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A opportunity has arisen for a ...

Ashdown Group: Practice Accountant - Bournemouth - £38,000

£32000 - £38000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A successful accountancy practice in...

Day In a Page

No postcode? No vote

Floating voters

How living on a houseboat meant I didn't officially 'exist'
Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin

By Reason of Insanity

Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin
Power dressing is back – but no shoulderpads!

Power dressing is back

But banish all thoughts of Eighties shoulderpads
Spanish stone-age cave paintings 'under threat' after being re-opened to the public

Spanish stone-age cave paintings in Altamira 'under threat'

Caves were re-opened to the public
'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'

Vince Cable interview

'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'
Election 2015: How many of the Government's coalition agreement promises have been kept?

Promises, promises

But how many coalition agreement pledges have been kept?
The Gaza fisherman who built his own reef - and was shot dead there by an Israeli gunboat

The death of a Gaza fisherman

He built his own reef, and was fatally shot there by an Israeli gunboat
Saudi Arabia's airstrikes in Yemen are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Saudi airstrikes are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Arab intervention in Yemen risks entrenching Sunni-Shia divide and handing a victory to Isis, says Patrick Cockburn
Zayn Malik's departure from One Direction shows the perils of fame in the age of social media

The only direction Zayn could go

We wince at the anguish of One Direction's fans, but Malik's departure shows the perils of fame in the age of social media
Young Magician of the Year 2015: Meet the schoolgirl from Newcastle who has her heart set on being the competition's first female winner

Spells like teen spirit

A 16-year-old from Newcastle has set her heart on being the first female to win Young Magician of the Year. Jonathan Owen meets her
Jonathan Anderson: If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

British designer Jonathan Anderson is putting his stamp on venerable house Loewe
Number plates scheme could provide a licence to offend in the land of the free

Licence to offend in the land of the free

Cash-strapped states have hit on a way of making money out of drivers that may be in collision with the First Amendment, says Rupert Cornwell
From farm to fork: Meet the Cornish fishermen, vegetable-growers and butchers causing a stir in London's top restaurants

From farm to fork in Cornwall

One man is bringing together Cornwall's most accomplished growers, fishermen and butchers with London's best chefs to put the finest, freshest produce on the plates of some of the country’s best restaurants
Robert Parker interview: The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes

Robert Parker interview

The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes
Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

We exaggerate regional traits and turn them into jokes - and those on the receiving end are in on it too, says DJ Taylor