Haye and Solis: The Best of the Brand New Heavies

david haye19.06.07 - By Chris Kavanagh: Friday 27th April 2007 saw two significant new entrances in the pro ranks of the heavyweight boxing division: unexpectedly, it also saw two first-round knockouts of very credible fighters. David Haye and Odlanier Solis both made their professional heavyweight debuts around the same time, a few hundred miles apart, in London and Hamburg, and both were so impressive as to ratchet up hopes that we might be seeing some new talent in the division to answer all the lamentation of the last few years.

Haye and Solis met as amateurs back in 2001, having reached the final of the World Amateur boxing Championships. Solis came out on top, after both fighters were given counts as they exchanged heavy artillery.

A beautiful first-round uppercut from Haye almost knocked Solis down, but instinct took over for the world’s premier amateur heavyweight. Bending over backwards like a limbo dancer in reverse, he stayed on his feet backing out of the way of Haye’s follow-ups just long enough for the referee to step between the fighters, and give him a standing eight count, before the first round concluded with a 9-4 advantage to Haye.

After Solis had somehow stayed upright under this pressure though, Haye might be in trouble… And so he was; a resurgent Solis, emboldened by surviving the best Haye could offer, dominated the second 6-15, backing up Haye and forcing him to his own standing eight. At 19-15, Haye was only down four points heading into the third, but Solis doled out more of the same, and Haye didn’t have the defence for it. He took another standing eight, before the referee ended his punishment midway through the round. Solis had captured a perfect fifth boxing gold for his native Cuba, in their five finals that day.

The silver turned out to be the crowning achievement of Haye’s amateur boxing career, as he was forced to bow out of the following year’s Commonwealth Games (where the now newly-minted pro David Dolan picked up the super-heavyweight gold) after just one fight, having injured his bicep against Ali Shaukat of Pakistan. He had been picked out for heavyweight gold there and perhaps then super-heavyweight gold in Sydney in 2004, to follow his friend Audley Harrison’s win in the previous Olympics.

That win had brought boxing back to mainstream TV in the UK, when the BBC won the bidding war for Harrison, paying the Olympic hero a massive £1 million for his first ten fights. This was the first time professional boxing would be on free-to-air TV in years, giving an opportunity to the masses to witness a sport that had been confined to pay-TV for years, shutting out any potential fans not subscribed to Sky.

I was one of the millions who, on those BBC shows, for the first time saw boxing outside of the Rocky series. Gradually my casual attention turned to avid interest. It took a while, with only a few shows a year, but these shows became something to be anticipated, and I started to wonder what it felt like to be in that ring.

By the time David Haye turned pro at Cruiserweight, keeping to his amateur weight of 200lb (although he was still growing) boxing shows were a highlight. But I had other things on my mind. When David Haye turned pro in December of 2002, I was sipping a solitary Guinness in the Magdalen College bar in Oxford, the night before my interview, pondering how I ended up spending my 18th birthday like this. Haye, on the other hand, was knocking out 121-fight veteran Tony Booth (whom Enzo Maccarinelli fought in his eleventh fight) in 2 rounds, debuting in style, and christening his newly-minted 10-fight BBC contract with a KO win just as Harrison had done with his.

In the meantime I wandered for the first time into a boxing gym back in Sheffield, and saw a little of what it was about on the inside, before signing up with the Oxford University Amateur Boxing Club as I moved to begin my studies in some rather less intense arts. The BBC decided their millions would be better spent on football, and turned their back on boxing in summer 2003, after Harrison’s first ten fights had failed to ignite the public support for which he had hoped. In the short period that televised boxing had been available in every home however, amateur boxing clubs had taken their membership from 5,000 to 8,000, and I was soon one of them, skipping and shadow-boxing with my fellow students under the watchful eye of head coach Des, and bugging him to let me get in the ring and feel what it was like.

A man called Steve spotted me in the gym and asked if I’d mind being filmed for a documentary he was making. I was mindful even then of the woeful status of our sport, having seen it fall from grace at the BBC, and I thought such a project might help to promote it a little, as well as perhaps explaining this passion that none of my friends understood. With such a naïve and quick thought I consented, and for the next few months, Steve followed me through my first proper sparring session: which roughly went, move, jab, move, SMACK on my nose, “OUCH!”… “Okay, have a rest, welcome to boxing.” and through the training, the unimagined pain of skipping and skipping, and keeping on skipping, running through rain, mud, blood and sweat, and finally the pay-off, when Des told me he was going to let me fulfil my dream, and get in the ring, for real, in front of a couple of thousand people, hitting and being hit.

That one night shines on in my memory, euphoric and beautiful, scary, but a moment I wouldn’t swap, one of the best of my life, experiencing the total thrill that is boxing. I lost, as I expected I would, knowing that my opponent had trained far harder, and in fact outweighed me by something like 3kgs (7lbs) before we got in the ring, but the double thrill of the fighting, and as well holding my own, giving back, and realising that I made myself belong in there, has stayed with me since. I finally understood what all those other boxers knew, great like Haye; or rather rubbish like myself; how there’s nothing like being in a ring and giving it everything. I’d also ended up in a film, called Blue Blood, which would take on a life of its own, and put me unexpectedly a few years later on posters, cinema screens, and DVDs. All these people I didn’t know could watch a snapshot, and imagine how it might have been at 18, peeking in on the greatest sport at the greatest university, and fighting that euphoric contest that remains one of my fondest memories.

In the aftermath of the fight, fired with the bug, I wanted to keep on fighting, though I had already achieved what I set out to do: to box for real. My family and friends though had other ideas; those who had watched the fight from the outside were horrified at the violence that they saw, involving someone real they knew and cared about. What they couldn’t see was the glory of it that I felt; but they worried, they questioned how a lad at Oxford could be risking his brain, getting hit in the head repeatedly, just for a thrill. It was hard to argue that there was no risk, I was only a feather, I wasn’t getting hit hard, to me it was beautiful, but having done already what I wanted, I was persuaded to play it safe, not to risk myself for one more hit. I returned to the gym once or twice, found a new skill and joy in sparring, found I could now beat my opponent when I tried again in the practice ring, with those lessons I could only have learned when we fought for real. In the end though, I couldn’t do it to the people I cared about, and I stopped going, knowing that I would be hurting them if I went on hurting myself for the joy. I had to retire to my armchair.

Having been on the inside of the ring, its allure was now a total hook, I watched any boxing that I could see, precious little as BBC coverage dwindled, and began to discover the vast network of online fans, that luxurious ghetto to which coverage was relegated as boxing drifted from the mainstream. I became a semi-regular on Audley Harrison’s forum, and dreamed that the man who first sparked my interest in boxing would do enough to convince everyone else it was worth their attention, as he progressed towards that inevitable downfall to come. Audley padded around for much of his fights, learning ponderously as if his opponents were there to be studied rather than beaten, but finally he would decide to win at some point in every fight, and then he was special. When Audley unloaded he’d overwhelm each opponent with combinations that these guys just couldn’t take, until the ref waved it off; and we’d all spy some gold dust in his chosen moment.

Haye, meanwhile, went on to knock out his first ten opponents, with only two surviving as far as the fourth round. The ninth of these was on the under-card of Harrison’s first title tilt, for the third-rate WBF belt, against an unbeaten Dutchman named Richel Hersisia. Having faced criticism for some of the opposition he faced, Hersisia’s 21-0 (16 KOs) record looked great, and he followed Haye’s under-card knockout with a fourth-round stoppage to take the title. In the aftermath of the fight, Audley sweated at the camera, saying he was happy to get his first title; although despite his reputation, he was humble enough to acknowledge it wasn’t a meaningful one. Instead, he expressed his desire to claim one of the legitimate world titles, leaving to the commentators to explain to the uninitiated this bizarre division crippling our sport. A month after the retirement of Lennox Lewis, it seemed realistic to hope that another Briton was getting ready to take the baton from the heavyweight king.

Harrison stayed active, defending his new title twice within 3 months of winning it, and perhaps the best of these destructions was of a touted Pole, called Tomasz Bonin. He was unbeaten, 26-0 (15 KOs), pretty tough looking, and seemed like Audley’s sternest test yet. Stung by criticism of his class of opponent, it looked like the self-managed fighter was going to start stepping it up. It was a fascinating fight, with both men having their moments, before finally Audley came through like we knew he would, and the referee stopped it in Round 9, as Audley put it together and pummelled Bonin against the ropes with a flurry of fast hard punching.

Bonin was perhaps the high point for Audley, he was unbeaten, had tempted the BBC to show a couple more fights, and had shown his mettle and grabbed and kept a plastic strap. Unfortunately, following the fight, he was off a whole year with injury.

It was during that time out that Haye decided to step it up big, to try for a world title in only his eleventh fight, against Carl Thompson, reigning IBO Champion, who had previously held the British, European, and WBO titles.

In a sign of the BBC’s waning support for boxing, they only scheduled highlights the next day, for what turned out one of the most thrilling British fights in a long time. Haye battered Thompson for the first four rounds, with the veteran taking an astonishing amount of punishment that would have stopped most fighters. Terry O’Connor, another veteran Brit, allowed Thompson to continue however, whilst the wily old champion absorbed all he knew he could. Haye, understandably looking for the stoppage while he dominated Thompson in similar fashion to those other ten he had knocked out, couldn’t break Thompson down, and gave his all in the attempt. By the fifth he was absolutely punched out, and ripe for the taking. Haye could hardly hold his hands up, and as Thompson surged forward in attack, Haye found himself on the other end of a one-sided battering. This time however, the victim hadn’t the defence left that had preserved Thompson through Haye’s shellacking, and as damaging shots rained past Haye’s spent and flaccid arms, his corner had no choice but to throw the towel in, to spare the young star further punishment.

The defeat, disastrous derailment as it seemed at the time, was perhaps the best thing that could have happened to Haye; hubris discovering him in the foothills, before he had a chance to scale the real heights of world boxing. Dogged in his amateur career by allegations of poseurism, laziness, and a general belief that he didn’t have to try that hard, Haye had a lesson smashed into his face by Carl Thompson, and he was a changed fighter. The superstar DJ and fighter; who had swapped gloves for decks for summer in Ibiza, and enjoyed pictures with Hef after fighting at the Playboy Mansion; now knew that his talent alone wouldn’t always be sufficient when he was tested in the ring’s forge.

Back to the drawing board, Haye built on the experience of the Thompson fight, training up his stamina and his defence to match his world class aggression, and was back in the ring three months later. Haye’s next five opponents lasted no more than the first ten, only heavyweight Gary Delaney lasting three rounds against a 206lb Haye.

Meanwhile, returning from injury, Audley Harrison walked through a couple more guys until the next step up came and he booked to fight long-time detractor Frank Warren’s then star Danny Williams, a year after he’d been pummelled by Vitali Klitschko as reward for beating an over-the-hill Tyson. The Battle of Britain was heavily hyped, playing again on terrestrial TV under Warren’s new contract with ITV; and Britain’s boxing fans all got excited again; that is, until fight time… The two put on a shambolic affair, an overweight Williams edging a boring decision over a lacklustre Harrison, who was booed from start to finish. Both men ended up apologising for the display, and promised they would never look so bad again. Harrison even managed to skip above this disappointment long enough to do almost exactly the same again, dropping another boring decision to Dominick Guinn, sparking a brief flair in the latter’s career.

With this second defeat, there seemed no way back for Audley, until Williams suffered his 5th loss and Frank Warren found no better option on the British heavyweight merry-go-round, but to offer up a rematch. Hopes were low for the fight, in contrast to the first, but thankfully the action provided a dramatic contrast: with Harrison aggressive from the off. Thrilling to watch, it seemed like at last Audley had decided not to postpone that moment where he let it go and fought hard for victory, but to go for it the whole time he was in there. As it ever had been, an aggressive Audley at his best was way too much for his opponent; Harrison floored Williams, and smashed through him to register a third round KO, the best undoubtedly of his career. Suddenly Audley was popular again, and Frank Warren signed him on the spot, promising great things if this was the Audley we would see from now on. Great things hadn’t so much materialised when Michael Sprott, perennial domestic contender, was revealed as Audley’s next test, but it was tolerable to have a victory lap against another fighter of similar calibre, before Audley stepped up beyond this new level.

Audley was reborn in the mould of the Williams fight, and went after Sprott with equal fury, firing combinations whilst taking a little, but not as much, back from a dominated Sprott. He was taking a fair amount though, and suddenly Sprott showed us that Audley had learned only a lesson of offence, but not how to mix it with his hitherto respectable defence. His chin five miles out in the air, an attacking and oblivious Harrison was caught perfectly across the jaw by a Sprott hook that had started out some long way behind his back as he turned to avoid the onslaught. On replay, the punch had a five mile run-up until it connected with Harrison’s high chin, and it was unlikely Sprott ever hit even the heavy bag so hard as this, for his trainer wouldn’t allow so luxurious conditions to throw. As Harrison’s head spun round, the lights were out on his consciousness, and his brief comeback, before he hit the canvas, down and utterly out of the game.

Whatever anyone said in the Sprott-Harrison aftermath, as Sprott claimed bizarrely that his knockout power had come from a severe electric shock he received a week before the fight, it was hard to think that the man with 8 losses, knocked out several times by fighters a good way below world class, would be afforded such luxurious target practice against any of even today’s mixed bag of champions. If he gets that fairytale title shot that Frank Warren has been promising Skelton, Williams, Sprott, and Harrison, for several years now, then the world will only see him as cannon fodder for whichever champion fancies the easy defence, having the proverbial puncher’s chance, but little chance of that lightning striking twice. It is time to look elsewhere.

Haye however, had learned the lesson of his defeat much more completely than Audley, whose BBC shows had provided the stage for some of his early fights, and the taste that sparked my own interest in boxing. Harrison had followed his first defeat, against Danny Williams, earned through his own opposite problem of lack of aggression, (so frustrating in the face of all his skill when he commits himself) with an even less active self-defeat against underachiever Dominick Guinn. Britain’s one-time heavyweight hope learnt one lesson in those two fights, and finally attacked properly in a beautiful third round revenge KO of Williams, but his Hubris wasn’t corrected, and he hung his chin out to dry for Michael Sprott, promptly to spark it with a massive right hand, sending Harrison’s career finally up in flames as it sent the man mountain himself crashing to the canvas.

While Harrison flared and failed, though, Haye rumbled on, promoted by Warren’s main rival, Lennox Lewis’s former promoter Frank Maloney, who had taken over from Warren in the Sky satellite TV contract. With limited audiences on the pay-TV platform, he wasn’t mass market in the way Harrison and Williams were, but, strengthened by the lessons of Thompson, Haye kept winning and was set up for a shot at the European Cruiserweight title. His opponent, Alexander Gurov, had lasted 8 rounds with the World Cruiserweight Champion a few fights before, and it looked set for a great match. I’d missed so many of Haye’s fights, only getting to read about them later, but I had to see him crowned, and I persuaded a bunch of mates, with whom I’d never managed this before, to get together at a friend’s Sky-enabled house, promising them the explosive fight I knew the never-disappointing Haye would give us. This was the night I would never forget. We were all round the TV, beers in hand; I grinning and giving all the background; as the rest watched dispassionately, knowing that I was hooked since I’d been in the ring myself, and there was no chance of shutting me up.

The fighters came up, Haye much more disciplined than of old, not coming out all guns blazing, but working the jab, moving around, picking his shots. This was a Haye who had learned to have the patience that could have beaten Thompson. But even a patient Haye couldn’t mistake the opening he saw: for hands as fast as Haye’s, the brief gap in Alexander Gurov’s guard was as rich as the long slow opportunity Sprott had taken when Harrison obliviously hung out his unprotected chin to dry. Haye smashed Gurov’s head back with a perfect right-hand, and the briefly-reigning European champion just wasn’t there anymore. He crumpled to the canvas, and wasn’t getting up; Haye had won the prestigious title in just 45 seconds.

I was thrilled, and, of course disappointed, by the anti-climax of Gurov’s total inability to deal with the awesome Haye, and the decidedly little amount of boxing we were rewarded with on our boxing night. The rest, of course, were cheery that we could move on to other pursuits than watching this strange sport, where one man could destroy another in such a manner. The screen was soon displaying soccer again.

Haye’s opponents’ frustrating inability to deal with him meant that at this stage, now ranked in every respectable top ten, he had still not ever gone the distance; and the question of the stamina, that had let him down so badly against Thompson, was still not answered even whilst he was touted as a world champion in waiting. I’d never been as tired as after my few amateur rounds, so I knew how hard it must be to go 12, and no one could know how Haye would fare until he did it.

It would be hard, though, for Maloney to find anyone who could make Haye go 12, however necessary that test seemed. Even when he didn’t look for knockouts, he found them, and his notorious power made no mistake when the opportunities were taken. The only man who could make David Haye keep fighting for 12 rounds was David Haye, and so when the time came for his mandatory defence of the European belt, Haye held himself in check, keeping his real power under wraps as he toyed with Ismael Abdoul for 12 long rounds, disappointing in the process a legion of fans who had come to see what they knew he could do. Haye faced heavy criticism for the laborious performance, but he had big plans, and the last box but one was now ticked: Haye could go 12 rounds with his opponents he proved, even if they couldn’t usually go 12 rounds with him. Dominant as ever, he’d also won all 12 on every scorecard.

The stamina issue conquered, only the final test remained: would Haye stand up when someone found a way to take the fight to him and put on some real pressure? What may well prove to be his final defence of that European Cruiserweight belt was lined up against a tough Italian, Giacobbe Fragomeni. Haye had wanted to snatch fellow Briton Enzo Maccarinelli’s WBO title, taken in 71 seconds by smashing Mark Hobson around the back of the head, but, perhaps knowing that Haye would easily take down the apparent world champion if given the chance, Macca’s promoter, the same Frank Warren, demanded options on Haye when negotiations got going… and so they soon stalled. So another WBO champion was left to his next 20 meaningless defences in an unpopular division, starting with a fiasco that didn’t even make the main TV show, when Maccarinelli fought a fat man who had been knocked out when he was only a welterweight. Haye, on the other hand, was matched with the man from Milan, Giacobbe Fragomeni, and the European defence doubled as an eliminator for the WBC Cruiserweight title Haye had long coveted.

Fragomeni, unbeaten in 21, came to fight, and pressured Haye throughout, whilst soaking up a huge amount of punishment with stubborn head down. Haye was classily winning the rounds though, in perhaps the most entertaining fight of his career, until suddenly disaster struck. Against the run of play, an excellent right hand from the challenger opened up a grisly cut above Haye’s left eye, from which blood began to spurt as soon as Fragomeni’s fist was back in his high guard. As they fought out to the finish of the round, the bleeding increased, and Haye’s desperate straits became more and more apparent.

When Haye returned to the corner, and the cameras zoomed in on the opening in his flesh, it seemed that the skill of the seconds would be as crucial in this fight as the duel itself. Skilled hands cooled the flesh with cold steel, and then a mountain of Vaseline was laid over the wide chasm, to hold more blood from streaming into his eye. This was the final question, the tough going, to answer whether Haye was, like his division’s legendary alumnus Evander Holyfield, the Real Deal, a true warrior. While his corner worked frantically, Haye was calm and collected, he sat as they worked and the doctor examined the damage, confirming its seriousness. When he went out for the ninth round, it figured to be his last, and the injury having been unambiguously caused by a punch, all his dominance would come to nought if he was stopped on cuts. Haye knew what he had to do.

Early on in the round, Fragomeni succeeded in the obvious, and got the wound bleeding again, making a mockery of all the skill that temporarily stemmed the unrelenting flow seconds before. If they thought they could stop it, cope with it, then they were wrong. Haye was cut badly and badly in trouble. He had still though, what he had brought to the ring, what he had honed through all his maturing career, and Haye went into knockout mode. Calmly, his precision punches smashed through Fragomeni’s guard, knocking his head back, expelling the air from his body: so the Italian went down, took a count, and got hit again; pushed against the ropes, and crushed under a rain of precise and ferocious blows. The referee saved him in the end, as the man whom the doctor had been about to save because of the blood oozing from his face leapt to the ropes, raised his arms in the air, and preened at the crowd, emphatic expression of victory shining through a bloodied visage he wore with the pride of a fighter. Haye was it.

Meanwhile, Don King had manoeuvred his Cruiserweight world champion O’Neill Bell, into a lucrative rematch with Jean-Marc Momeck of France. Their first close fight had unified the WBC, IBF, and WBA titles, the most legitimate in all the weight divisions, so of course it had to be sullied with a year of inactivity for the new champion Bell, followed by a rerun he ought to be able to win, rather than a dangerous mixing with one of the division’s exciting young fighters. Momeck edged the rematch with a pretty dodgy decision, as he improved on the first fight by losing the later rounds, as he ran out of gas, rather than being knocked out in them. So Haye would have to wait more months for his title shot, expected for late 2007.

The Haye plan for world domination was spectacularly on track, with just that one fight to go before he could be Cruiserweight ruler ready to make his move up to heavyweight as champion, as Evander Holyfield had done when he set the mould for Haye’s path back in 1988. In the meanwhile there was plenty of time to sit back, relax, and enjoy Ibiza, or another sojourn with Hef in California. However one thing hadn’t changed from the youngster who challenged Carl Thompson after just ten fights; he was impatient for progress in his career. Knowing the difficulties of making meaningful fights happen at heavyweight, as Ray Austin became mandatory for the IBF title by drawing with Sultan Ibragimov; Haye had his team begin looking for a heavyweight, to see whether his long-planned graduation was to be another success, or another step up too far.

Journeymen were out; as Haye had come too far to take fights that wouldn’t prove anything. A British opponent would mean dealing with Warren, as well as picking from a bunch of top fighters who have all lost to each other, and the best of whom was only top-15 ranked by the WBO, the least prestigious of the recognised title organisations. Haye wanted to set himself on the road to the real heavyweight championship of the world, which meant beating a ranked fighter, to get inside that top-15 that are eligible to challenge for the titles. So Haye had four target lists: IBF, WBA, WBC, WBO; with 33 fighters between the four top-15s. Most of these would be unwilling, too expensive, scheduled for other fights, scared of losing their rankings, or too good to consider in his heavyweight debut.

Eventually, someone said yes; the same Tomasz Bonin whose unbeaten record Britain’s last heavyweight hope, Audley Harrison, had ruined before his supposed path to the heavyweight title went off the rails. Bonin was unbeaten since Audley, stringing together 11 wins, and gaining himself a #11 ranking with the WBC, the most prestigious of the title organisations. It had taken 256lb Audley 9 rounds to stop the Pole, and Bonin had claimed even then that it had been premature, whilst 37 men had found no way to beat him, and 20 of those, proper heavyweights, had been knocked out in the attempt; so for a 200lb fighter he seemed extremely dangerous.

Haye was universally acclaimed for taking on such a hard opponent, and there was plenty to intrigue the pundits; Haye’s only problem hitherto had been stamina in that Thompson fight, and this was exactly what was going to be needed if he fought an opponent who only gave his opponents early nights by beating them. He was also hard-hitting enough to tell us whether Haye’s chin could take proper heavyweight punches, in the division where every man has to fear that any other man who belongs there can end it in one punch.

Haye weighed in at 217lb and Bonin at 231lb, not a nightmarish difference, but enough: Haye hadn’t picked a small heavy to start his campaign with the big men. After a grandiose entrance; Haye was in the ring, facing up to a man who could soon hit him with the full force of that 231lb frame, with no one to save him but himself. The fight started, and both men circled, throwing one or two shots to feel out the opposition. Distance read, Haye fired off a jab followed by a straight right; the first basic combination any of us had ever been taught, and bang! Bonin’s head twisted, and he swayed, stumbled, and collapsed to the canvas. The power that had blasted through the cruiserweight division had made it up to heavyweight: forcing only the second knockdown of Bonin’s career. The heavyweight jumped up quickly, as if to deny that he had been down, and Haye paced in the neutral corner, ready to go in again, knowing that he must keep his caution. The astonishment was; he hadn’t floored Bonin through a dangerous all-out attack, where he might be caught himself, he had been punching accurately and conservatively at distance, but his jab went straight between Bonin’s hands, smack into the face the guard didn’t quite protect, and Haye’s left hand was back to protect himself when the long straight right smashed into the same target in the moment of Bonin’s confusion from the first hit. Haye hadn’t knocked him down with reckless aggression; he’d done it with speed and accuracy; in short he could hit, and hard, without getting hit. This looked something like the second round where Wladimir Klitschko, at 246lb, had disposed of that hopelessly outclassed Ray Austin, in his mandatory world title defence weeks earlier.

When the referee’s count ended, Haye went back in on Bonin, throwing many more shots, but keeping a decent defence, overwhelming the bigger man with his speed and ability to send his fists into the target no matter what Bonin tried. Under Haye’s charging aggression, Bonin stumbled and lost a leg, having to use his arm to keep himself from falling to the canvas. It looked like his failure to stand came from Haye’s repeated punches, but as his punisher retreated to the neutral corner, the referee ruled it not a knockdown, and it counted merely as some rest for Bonin to regroup ready to face Haye again. When he did though, there was no longer confusion, Haye smashed him a few more times and Bonin was once again on the canvas, with no one able to argue it was anything but a knockdown. The opener was now at least a 10-7 round for Haye, whatever Bonin managed in the rest of it; the worst of the 140 he had boxed in a 6-year career. But he wouldn’t make it out; Haye scented blood, he charged back in on Bonin, who tried to shuffle away to the side, but Haye literally ran after him, and led with an outstretched hook to the side of Bonin’s head, as if throwing a spear, with the full force of his charge behind the thunderous punch. Bonin crumpled, as Haye threw more towards the descending head, but the referee was between them and saved Bonin from the most awesome fighter he had faced in his heavyweight career, a nightmare who had pretended to be a cruiserweight, who had somehow made cruiserweight in his last fight, yet who punched harder than all those big men Bonin had defeated, and harder than the Olympic champion who had beaten him previously with a flurry against the ropes, without flooring the fighter whose fourth trip to the canvas that night was now mercifully the last.

Victorious Haye rushed to the corner and struck his victory pose to the roaring crowd: champion of Wembley Arena already, and ready to make the rest of the world fall at his feet.

That very same night; Odlanier Solis, the man who had denied Haye his World Championship gold medal, made his own heavyweight debut in Germany, one country where boxing is healthy, as it adopts fighters like the Klitschkos as its own, and celebrates without reserve the great natives it also produces. Solis hadn’t been a cert for the pro ranks, his illustrious amateur career fought for Communist Cuba, which didn’t permit its fighters to be professionals, although it celebrated and supported the amateur campaigns that brought it more boxing gold medals than any other nation. With the promise of his talent though, came a promise of riches, if he could supersede Castro’s restrictions on his career, and Solis defected, along with three other Cubans, immediately to be signed by Germany’s Ahmet Öner. After his amateur achievements, Solis was being written about even before he made his pro debut, much in the same position as Harrison had been when turning pro 6 years earlier; a star ready to be turned into a champion. We all expected to hear of him again a few years hence, when he had built up a 20-0 record, fought through all the journeymen. Perhaps then he would be ready to challenge for a first minor title, maybe Harrison’s old WBF, or perhaps an IBA intercontinental, on his way to access that top 15 where Haye was soon to play. Only then would we begin to find out what he was really made of, when he tackled the B-level fighters like Bonin, Dominick Guinn, or their like. The script seemed pretty obvious, except that he must have been utterly awesome when Öner watched him spar in the gym, as they scheduled his debut not against a tomato can, but against the German heavyweight champion Andreas Sidon, not any more a contender, but a stern B-level test, the sort of fighter of whom Harrison was still fighting shy in his first 10 professional fights.

Still, it was to be in Germany, so if Sauerland wanted Solis to win, then we could expect the judges to oblige, and it was scheduled for only 4 rounds, so maybe Solis could just stay in there with the older Sidon and gain the prestigious win, dodgy or not. It was one hell of an impressive test for an untried fighter, not someone quite as good as Bonin, but a fighter with an even more massive edge in experience. If Solis came through this, then we would have to start paying attention to him now, as we did with Sidon’s other conquerors, like Alexander Dmitrenko, not when he was 20-0 having gone through a score of old opponents of Harrison, and others who had climbed their way from the bottom-feeders up.

Öner seemed confident he knew what he was doing: and indeed he did. Solis smashed through Sidon in 47 seconds, and he was down and out against the heavyweight debutant; marking out another new heavyweight star on the same night as David Haye announced himself with his own shocking destruction of a WBC top-15 heavyweight. All the time following boxing had taught me to expect one-sided thrashings against poor opponents when nascent stars made debuts; especially in the moneybags heavyweight division, but in this one night, two brand new heavies had been put in against proper fighters; in fights that actually proved something: and astonishingly, they had both been so good, that even faced with this credible opposition, they had still handed down one-sided thrashings.

From here both must go on to even better opposition, but that means more real top heavyweights, not just another step up the journeyman ladder, as both fighters have leapfrogged past it. Indeed, Solis has since knocked out Alex Mazikin; again in one round, becoming the first man to stop him; and after that quick workout, he is scheduled to fight again in July.

So the world heavyweight mix must now be alive with David Haye, and Odlanier Solis. The most mouth-watering fight in the division may soon not involve any of today’s belt-holders; but rather be a rematch of the two newest heavies on the scene; only I wouldn’t bet on it happening without at least one of them, and perhaps both, carrying one of those belts proudly into the ring beforehand, after they’ve snatched it from whichever of today’s men they relegate to yesterday.

Comments would be very welcome, you can find me in the forum under 0-1.

Article posted on 20.06.2007

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