Perhaps prematurely the crowd shrilly proclaimed “The King is dead, long live the King!”
Boxing had been written off. It was too dull to draw modern crowds, they said. UFC was a looming force. How could investors and fans keep shelling out cash if no one cared anymore? The grand storylines were gone, they said. The heroes were not rising up, some suggested. Look at how the kids flock towards such flash barbarism!
The system needed a shake-up or it was kaput.
Sure there were still intriguing narratives in boxing but no one really wanted to follow as old heads dragged out a career or showy promoters mentored another star to the top of their division. It was all part of the pantomime alongside the staged conference bust-ups and the continual assurances of pundits that this guy –now this guy? –would go toe to toe with anybody.
Pessimistic this perspective may have been, the few protagonists worth lauding were surrounded by flotsam. In particular, the heavyweight division had fallen spectacularly. No one was watching. Lennox Lewis had retired, vacating his unified titles, scattering them for a swathe of eastern Europeans to scrap over. Where were the Holyfields, the Tysons, the Fraziers and the Alis? Where were the characters, good or bad?
No one wanted to give up on boxing so someone had to step into the breach, someone who could sell a ticket and whip up a crowd, either someone controversial, or someone hugely talented.
Enter the charlatan David Haye.
The London-born boxer dominated the cruiserweight division and did so with a smile on his face, corn-rows in his hair and ambition in his eyes. He could talk too. Not your usual jabbering about hard knocks and a lack of respect for his opponent, but talk about defining a generation and hammering the heavyweights ‘til boxing was great again.
People shot a glance.
He moved up a division.
People raised an eyebrow.
He beat Monte Barratt.
He beat 7ft Nikolai Valuev to win the WBA heavyweight title.
People were staring.
He successfully defended his heavyweight title against John Ruiz and Audley Harrison before calling out the Klitschko brothers. He had previously goaded them with illustrations depicting himself holding the Ukrainian brothers’ severed heads.
People were standing now, mouths agape.
A fight was arranged between Wladimir Klitschko and Haye.
People were grouping together, whooping, hollering and gambling in droves. Could this guy redefine the sport?
POOF! It all ended, ignominiously, too. Haye was shown to be lacking the power or guile to defeat Klitschko and he limped off, complaining of a broken toe and muttering about retiring to move to Hollywood. Our flirt with change was ruefully dismissed.
Haye tried to save heavyweight boxing, but he may well have resigned it to cryospace for another generation. He is back already, out of retirement and working towards another frenzied publicity drive before arranging a fight with the other Klitschko, Vitali. If this does go ahead it will be a nice pay day for the two of them. It will also be boring. No one can trust Haye anymore.
It is just another tacky narrative. Another heavyweight let down.
Good thing, then, that we have something shimmering and exciting on the horizon. Forget the heavyweights. I’ve just checked Twitter. This one could be on. Two icons could finally clash. The winner could well be proclaimed the best pound for pound boxer in a quarter of a century.
Floyd Mayweather, whose domestic violence case will not be heard in court until June, has called out the Pac Man. He said “Manny Pacquiao I’m calling you out let’s fight May 5th and give the world what they want to see”.
I for one would want to see this and I think the rest of the sports world would too. This is a genuine story, and could do what many failed to recapture the average sports fan’s imagination. Boxing would have a new king, and it would definitely pronounce itself alive and kicking.