- Brian Doogan
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LONDON -- It was not George Foreman-Ron Lyle but it was fought on the same kind of premise. David Haye's assault on the world heavyweight title will be a ride on the wild side, if his five-round slugfest with Monte Barrett at the O2 Arena in London is anything to go by.
The 37-year-old New Yorker was floored five times and Haye got knocked down once, though Barrett's eagerness to finish the job with a left hook to the jaw while Haye was on the floor meant that referee Richie Davies was unable to issue a count.
Instead, he penalized Barrett one point and the 28-year-old Londoner was given valuable extra time to recover. When Haye got up he exploded with a left-right-left combination to Barrett's chin which brought about the stunning conclusion.
So what does it tell us about Haye the heavyweight? Will he hang with Wladimir or Vitali Klitschko or will he hang himself in the process?
Living dangerously would appear to be his modus operandi in the land of the big men. His discipline evaporated at some point in the second round and, from Round 3 on, it became a simple matter of whether it would be him or the other guy. In the end it was the other guy, but this kind of fight when caution is thrown to the wind carries no guarantees.
Ultimately, Haye prevailed because his chin stood up amid all the missiles and Barrett's did not. The local boy appeared to wield a little more power in his fists as well, though his acknowledgement that Barrett's thudding jab "felt like a cruiserweight's right hand" indicated just how great the risk will be for the former cruiserweight king.
"I don't think I'll bother with a strategy next time," said Haye's trainer, Adam Booth. "I'll just train David to swing harder."
Swinging hard was not his problem. Avoiding the crude swings of his opponent was, though Barrett's success was sporadic. When heavyweights are swinging, however, anything can happen and it very nearly did.
Barrett outweighed Haye by only 11 pounds at Friday's official weigh-in and there was no difference in their respective heights (each man is 6-foot-3) but the Londoner was more composed and assertive in the opening round.
Haye's jab sliced into Barrett's face several times and he also mixed it up to the body. The American tasted his power when a couple of Haye's left hooks landed on the side of his head and a left-right combination grazed his jaw.
But Haye appeared to be stunned momentarily in the second round and soon his game plan went out the window or, at least, outside the ropes. When Haye fell to the canvas referee Davies ruled that it was the result of a push, but Barrett had also got in a good punch.
"He buzzed me a couple of times in the fight but I need these types of fights to become more disciplined," said Haye. "Monte Barrett can punch and I felt his knuckles coming through his gloves when he landed on me. I'm not the finished article yet."
Haye was hurt by another left hook before the second round was over and the fun really began in the third round. Barrett was floored twice, first by a left hook to the jaw and then a right. The bell came to his rescue, as it did in Round 4 when he went down twice again.
"Stop the fight," Booth yelled from the corner, but Davies ignored him and the fight went into the fifth. Haye fell to the floor from a left hook before Barrett clipped him with another left hook to the head when he was down.
"I had him in trouble but my timing was off and I couldn't get it together," said Barrett.
Davies took away the point and Haye quickly manufactured a denouement.
His thoughts then turned to the brothers Klitschko.
"I want to beat both of them, Wladimir and Vitali, and I don't care which of them I get first. Just flip a coin," said Haye. "They are both very good in their own way and it will require a different strategy whenever I fight them.
"All of a sudden, they appear to be putting the one with the stronger chin in front of me."
At ringside, sure enough, sat newly crowned WBC heavyweight titleholder Vitali, who revealed that he or his younger brother, Wladimir, who holds the WBO and IBF heavyweight titles, would be happy to accept Haye's challenge.
"Next summer either Wladimir or I will defend our titles against David Haye and we will come to the UK to do it, no problem," Klitschko said. "It is a huge fight, whichever Klitschko brother it will be. Perhaps we could do the fight at Wembley Stadium. Even in Germany this fight will be huge."
Recklessness on Haye's part will not be advisable against the big boys from Ukraine. But one thing will be guaranteed: It will not be reminiscent of Vitali-Sam Peter or Wladimir-Sultan Ibragimov. Hey, it might even be Foreman-Lyle II for real.
Brian Doogan is a sportswriter for The (London) Sunday Times and is a longtime European correspondent for The Ring magazine.
2hMichael C. Wright