- Brian Doogan
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It was an omen, perhaps, that Evander Holyfield should be ringside at London's O2 Arena to witness cruiserweight champion David Haye's destructive display.
From the moment that he embarked on a professional career after winning a silver medal at the 2001 world amateur championships in Belfast, Ireland, Holyfield has been a powerful inspiration for Haye; the old master's presence gave the occasion a certain gravitas.
Maybe the occasion got to Enzo Maccarinelli, for in the battle of Britain's big punchers, the Welshman was dispatched in two dynamic rounds by 27-year-old Londoner Haye.
It was the most emphatic performance of Haye's six-year career -- Maccarinelli, a knockout specialist himself, was overwhelmed by Haye's prodigious attack.
Maccarinelli's own attacking instincts were rendered negligible -- and the result lent credence to the high ambitions Haye revealed on the eve of his debut against British journeyman Tony Booth in December 2002.
"At 6-foot-3, I'm pretty much the same build as Holyfield," Haye explained on that night. "He [Holyfield] won an Olympic medal at light heavyweight and a world title at cruiserweight before he moved up; my focus right now is on taking the traditional route, Southern Area [an English regional] title, British title, Commonwealth title, European title and then a world title. Holyfield used [the cruiserweight division] as a stepping stone and one day, maybe I will do the same."
Certainly, the opportunity is there for him. After suffering almost nine months to get his body down to the 200-pound cruiserweight limit and to keep it there (first for his title-winning effort against Jean-Marc Mormeck last November and then for this first and only defense against Maccarinelli), Haye will have his second fight at heavyweight within the next six months. Before challenging Mormeck, he knocked out WBC No. 11-ranked heavyweight Tomasz Bonin in the first round in April 2007.
The heavyweight division is at one of the lowest ebbs in its history, and Samuel Peter's sixth round knockout of Oleg Maskaev in Cancun will not have changed this perception.
But Haye could generate a real surge of excitement, for he combines impressive athleticism with concussive power and a hint of vulnerability that will, as he acknowledged himself, "make it all the more interesting."
Bright, articulate, something of a reformed playboy and talented, too, he has the makings of being the breath of fresh air that the stalest division in boxing desperately needs.
He does not mean to hang about either -- he is determined to be out of the sport before he turns 31.
All fighters say this, but Haye has a history of marching to his own tune rather than following the usual, time-honored ways.
Adam Booth, his trainer and manager, has been in his corner since his amateur days. Together they have retained an independence bordering on aloofness that has not sat well with establishment figures.
Haye could not have cared less: He always knew that his class would tell, even in his darkest days after a fifth-round stoppage defeat to former cruiserweight titleholder and fellow Briton Carl Thompson in 2004.
His destruction of Maccarinelli confirmed how complete his rehabilitation has been.
British boxing is undergoing an invigorating renaissance period, but the prospect of a genuine contender for heavyweight glory emerging from these shores is something else, particularly if he can become the antidote to the moribund band of big men who currently populate the scene.
Whether he can remains to be seen, but he has authentic power and formidable speed, which will probably prove too much for the heavyweights of this era.
The fear is that his chin and stamina may not withstand the test -- but the man himself is totally unafraid.
"I'm confident that I'll achieve more at heavyweight than I have as a cruiserweight," he asserted. "I'm going to take a little time out to allow my body to readjust but I won't weigh more than 230; that's the biggest I'll need to be."
Holyfield was impressed by what he saw of Haye, but he cautioned recently against Haye's weight gain becoming extreme.
"Weight doesn't make you a bigger puncher and, if he is not careful, he may get too heavy," Holyfield warned.
Haye and Booth, however, will do it their way, following the same scientific approach that has moved Haye into position to be a real threat at heavyweight.
"The boxing world is craving a heavyweight on the scene, a heavyweight who is not afraid to put it all on the line. Soon everyone will realize that that's me," Haye declared. "I'm not the kind of guy Wladimir Klitschko will relish taking on, but that's the kind of challenge I'm looking for.
"I want to fight the best and I'll fight anywhere: Russia, Ukraine or Las Vegas. As long as there's a ring and the referee can count to 10, I'm sorted."
This is the kind of novel thinking that could sort out the heavyweights -- and not a moment too soon.
It is refreshingly reminiscent of the Holyfield way.
Brian Doogan covers boxing for The Sunday Times and Ring magazine.
David Haye may have conquered the cruiserweights, but he isn't about to rest on his laurels. The hard-hitting Brit is ready to take on the very best at heavyweight.