When Danny Williams suffered a form of crucifixion here in the small hours of yesterday morning - his pain was slow and relentless at the hands of the defending champion, Vitali Klitschko, and the outcome was never in doubt - it seemed that heavyweight boxing had simply nowhere to turn.
Except, that is, to arguably the best preserved near 40-year-old in the history of sport's roughest trade. In its desperation, would boxing go back to the man who last year retired in possession of the linear World Boxing Council title, Lennox Lewis, with any other prospect but another cold rebuff? Mischievously, Lewis suggested it just might.
He admitted that at one point in the torture of the hopelessly outclassed Williams he had an urge to throw down his broadcasting equipment and say, "step aside Danny, let me sort this out". The worry must be that boxing is now desperate enough to throw many millions at indulging such a whim. With the potential for such madness in the air - Don King, after all, was in the building - there was only one certainty.
It was that at any point past the first round, when Williams suffered the first of four knockdowns and sustained a cut over his right eye, the chances were that the bewildered man from Brixton wouldn't have known the difference between an act of deliverance by Lewis and a dire insult.
When the referee, Jay Nady, waved the fight over one minute and 26 seconds into the eighth round the only possible reaction was relief. Wayne McCullough, the former bantamweight world champion from Belfast who took terrible beatings from Naseem Hamad and Erik Morales, dryly, sadly, had the most charitable reaction, saying: "Danny showed tremendous courage, but that doesn't win world titles - I know." The inescapable truth was that Williams never looked for a moment anything other than the journeyman to whom the boxing fates so randomly assigned the job of ransacking the last pickings of Mike Tyson in Louisville last summer.
That piece of bizarre happenstance persuaded Williams and his trainer, Jim McDonnell, that he had an earthly chance of having a similar impact on the unseductive but vigorously applied talent of the champion, Klitschko, and that he might possibly do it while carrying 19st 4lb as the joint heaviest participant in a title fight.
It was speculation from a boxing madhouse and Williams paid the price with a visit to the hospital and the sober advice from his promoter and manager, Frank Warren, that he should carefully consider his future.
Williams emerged from hospital weary and somewhat crestfallen but he insisted, "I still want to continue. I take inspiration from Frank Bruno, who lost two world title fights and then went on to win the crown."
But Warren said: "Danny can't go on taking punishment like that. I would like to see him giving himself the chance of spending his money."
Williams, who had some of that spending power put on hold before the fight when the Nevada Athletic Commission were informed of demands of $60,000 (£31,000) and $90,000 respectively by Dwight Yardy, who claimed to be the fighter's manager, and the American tax authorities, seemed more inclined to learn the brutal lessons of the night than his trainer.
While Williams, who it is estimated will earn more than $1m when British television rights are included, admitted that watching videos of the champion had given him no real idea of the difficulty of facing him - and that long before the end he knew that he was being beaten by the better man - McDonnell still seemed to be living in the Louisville warp of both time and reality.
He said: "We've had Danny checked out and he's A1 OK. He will come back fighting. I just can't see him retiring. Everything I said about Vitali Klitschko is true. He was exhausted by round four. There's no way Danny is packing up. It was frustrating he got cut in the first round, though it was a good shot.
"From the moment he came back to the corner at the end of the first round Danny didn't once complain. Klitschko is safety first and even after seeing the damage he had done he wasn't looking to finish things off. Danny thought he had let everybody down but I told him he hadn't because of his courage."
Out of this jumble of non sequiturs, Williams may one day be able to settle on one point of unchallenged truth. It was that at every point of his ordeal he did indeed display astonishing courage. Four times Klitschko invited him to surrender, starting in the first round when the 6ft 8in Ukrainian, having landed a series of jabs with ridiculous ease, put Williams down with a right hand that carried a lot more effect then aesthetic glory.
The fact is that Klitschko, by his own admission, is a mechanical fighter. Earlier we had seen one of superb natural fluency in the 24-year-old Puerto Rican Miguel Cotto, who retained his World Boxing Organisation junior welterweight championship with a technical knock-out over the former champion Randall Bailey. Cotto's combinations were beautifully sculpted and confirmed the view of aficionados that the great crisis of the sport is concentrated among the big men. Here we had the confirming evidence as Williams was systematically stripped bare by Klitschko.
Before the fight Williams and McDonnell had taunted the Ukrainian with the charge that he was a robot. The champion smiled thinly, and agreed. He said: "It is true my style is ugly, but you know it is very effective."
There were times when Klitschko might have been exacting a sadistic revenge. His long left hand landed on Williams's head as relentlessly as the workings of a grandfather clock. His uppercuts and hooks and right crosses were delivered as chilling formalities. Each one announced that in a time of desperate scarcity, Klitschko is unquestionably the heavyweight of the moment. He put Williams down in the first, third, seventh and eighth rounds, and said later: "Danny Williams hit me with some hard punches and I was surprised by his iron chin and his heart. I have pain in my hands from so many punches."
How many punches? The statistics tell a story of grotesque authority. Klitschko connected with 296 of the 519 shots he threw. Williams landed 44 of 193. Ninety-nine of Klitschko's jabs were on target, against six of Williams'. When the fight was halted, Klitschko led by 11 points on one card, 10 on the other two. It was the accountancy of a slaughter.
Klitschko's next challenger will be Hasim Rahman, who paid a terrible price in this town for ambushing Lewis early one Johannesburg morning - a crushing right hand that retrieved the WBC title and spoke of a talent for unleashing destructive power that in the end made him unique.
Lewis stood amid a crowd of courtiers and gave his successor carefully measured praise. "There's no doubt Klitschko is the best out there. He's the right champion, but it's hard to say that he did his reputation much good tonight. The difference in class was too great. Klitschko is a difficult fighter, but there's no doubt he is the boss of a B crop. I felt sorry for Danny Williams, he couldn't quit because of his pride but also because he was fighting for the world title and he knew this was his only chance. So that keeps you going long past the point where you suspect you are beaten.
"When I see a fight like this I have to admit it is tempting to think of coming back. This is because I think it would be so easy to do the job, but then I also think that Klitschko and boxing needs me a lot more than I need them. I also think, what do I need to prove?" Around about this time Danny Williams was having his brain scanned. If Lennox Lewis was making more than a passing joke, you might have been bold enough to suggest that he was possibly in need of similar attention.Reuse content