- Brian Doogan
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It was Thursday afternoon, and a last-minute appointment with his barber and heavy traffic on the Van Wyck Expressway left Monte Barrett running late for his flight to London from New York's JFK Airport.
Trainer Jimmy Glenn, waiting by the terminal entrance, had already checked in. "Where are you, man?" he said anxiously into his cell phone. Barrett assured him that he was only 10 minutes away, but he had had been 15 minutes away more than half an hour before.
The 78-year-old trainer rolled his eyes and told a story.
"There are big guys around today who are trying to be fighters, but you can see that they don't know how to fight," said Glenn, who has been in the sport for 65 years and runs boxing's best bar, Jimmy's Corner, on West 44th Street.
"I trained a guy called Mark Gastineau in the 1990s. He used to be a defensive end with the New York Jets. He had 17 fights and he could fight a little bit but he was a lover, a handsome guy and girls just loved him. I had to chase the girls away from him. Monte's different. Monte can fight and, if he does what he's capable of doing, he'll win this fight with David Haye just as long as he can get here to catch the damn plane."
Barrett arrived with about 10 minutes to spare, enough time to talk up his chances against former cruiserweight king Haye.
The 6-foot-3, 37-year-old resident of Queens, New York, has been stopped by heavyweight titleholders Wladimir Klitschko and Nikolai Valuev in a 12-year career in which he has never delivered, epitomizing the great malaise that has afflicted heavyweight boxing in America in recent years.
He has won 30 and lost six of his fights, stopping 20 opponents. Most alarmingly, he was stopped in the second round by Cliff Couser, a journeyman heavyweight from Las Vegas, in July 2007, though he subsequently avenged this loss in two rounds.
When he challenged Hasim Rahman for the interim WBC heavyweight title in 2005, he dropped a wide, unanimous decision. Still, the battle-hardened veteran's confidence is high, and he is adamant that Haye has bitten off more than he can chew.
"I'm a better boxer and I'm faster and more experienced than David Haye. His naivete is his biggest weakness," said Barrett. "Haye is wet behind the ears and he just doesn't know what he's letting himself in for. There is no tomorrow for me. I have to fight for my tomorrow and I'm desperate to come back to New York with a win, so I can go on to challenge for a heavyweight title again.
"Haye is a model, he's a trash-talker and he's an actor. I see he's also got a lot of very pretty women on his MySpace page, so I guess he will have other things to turn to after I beat him."
If Barrett were to claim the win, it would not be a monumental shock, for he is a capable trial horse, as Tye Fields discovered when he was stopped in the opening round in June at the Mandalay Bay in Las Vegas.
"He hits hard enough to land David on his arse -- if David is foolish enough to get hit on his chin -- but David wanted a test like this and that's what Barrett will be," said Adam Booth, Haye's manager and trainer.
American heavyweights might be an endangered species, but Britain's big men would discount them at their cost.
From Phainting Phil Scott -- whose series of groin-clutching collapses in the 1920s earned him an unflattering sobriquet and a succession of wins by disqualification but failed to elicit a title shot -- to Don Cockell, Brian London, Henry Cooper, Joe Bugner and Richard Dunn, Britain has produced a succession of heavyweight losers.
Bob Fitzsimmons and Lennox Lewis, Britain's world heavyweight champions at the end of the 19th century and 20th century respectively, stand out as beacons on a bleak landscape.
Haye, 28 years old and 6-foot-3, has prepared himself for the jump from cruiserweight in an ultra-modern gym at the rear of a scrap-metal yard nestled between olive groves and Kyrenia's rugged mountain range in northern Cyprus.
Given the derelict environment that is the current heavyweight landscape, Haye could be a threat. He has prodigious power and a finisher's instinct. In 22 bouts, he has won 20 by knockout or stoppage.
His jab is strong -- though he could probably utilize it more productively -- and his long, pulverizing overhand right is reminiscent of Lennox Lewis at his destructive best.
In terms of speed, he will be significantly quicker than most heavyweights, and he will be accustomed to quicker punches coming back at him. But the big question will be: Can he avoid being hit on the chin?
Lolenga Mock, an obscure African super middleweight, floored Haye and had him in deep trouble in Haye's seventh pro fight. Haye recovered to win by stoppage in the fourth round. But Carl Thompson, a former WBO cruiserweight titleholder who was in the twilight of his career when he fought Haye in September 2004, stopped him in the fifth round, Haye's only defeat.
So it is legitimate to speculate that genuine, hard-hitting heavyweights could reach his chin and take him out.
For his part, Haye can punch as hard as anybody. With a single devastating right hand, Haye stopped WBC No.11-ranked heavyweight Tomasz Bonin from Poland in the first round in April 2007. He is sure to encounter a greater degree of resistance from more dangerous men during his tenure at heavyweight.
"Monte Barrett is a guy everyone knows. He has fought on all the major U.S. TV networks, and his last win over Tye Fields was shown live over in the UK, so people know what they're getting with Barrett," said Haye.
"He's been fighting world-class heavyweights and hanging with them for years. When I beat Monte better than anybody has before, people will start to realize I'm serious about becoming world heavyweight champion."
With HBO ready to fast-track Haye on a collision course with Wladimir Klitschko next year, the O2 Arena in London on Saturday will be an interesting place.
Brian Doogan is a sportswriter for The (London) Sunday Times and is a longtime European correspondent for The Ring magazine.
Monte Barrett was once a highly regarded heavyweight prospect -- kind of like David Haye. But that was before the six losses on his ledger. There's no tomorrow for Barrett, and if he's ever to make the most of his career, the time to do it is Saturday.