Boxing: Haye basks in limelight after making most of licence to thrill
David Haye passed from pariah to a contender again at West Ham's East End home on Saturday night.
A prize-fighter's life veers between the vertical and the horizontal with brutal suddenness. Out on the wild frontier of Upton Park, an enthralled audience watched Haye restore his reputation as a heavyweight of marketable skill and determination.
He will never reach the heights of Lennox Lewis. Nor can you imagine him ever beating a Klitschko. But at least the victor was recognisable once more as a serious boxer who understands that combat is meant to take place inside the ring.
'Licensed to Thrill' the promoters called it, stretching a point.
'Licensed by the Luxembourg Boxing Federation' would have sold few tickets, especially to those loyal to the British Boxing Board of Control, who opened a giant loophole for Haye v Dereck Chisora to take place by not banning him outright -- a sentence that would have been respected by most governing bodies around the world.
The post-fight bonhomie after Haye's fifth-round stoppage prompted many to suspect that the unscheduled rumble in a press conference room in Munich was a stunt to draw 30,000 punters to an eventual grudge match in London.
If so, the Royal Shakespeare Company should take an interest in the two protagonists. That brawl six months ago looked like a case of spontaneous combustion. Or, as Chisora's promoter, Frank Warren, said: "Things got stupid in Germany."
Indeed. And then they got slightly more sensible on West Ham's pitch, despite the sky's incontinence.
"To all those people who slagged it off: did boxing suffer tonight?" Warren asked. "Did theses two show sportsmanship? Yes they did."
"After sharing a ring with Dereck I've got a new-found respect for the man," Haye said. "He raised his game tonight. He said to me, 'You'd better bring it' -- and I'm glad I did."
"Yeah, same here," chimed Chisora on the press conference dais. Applause (not from reporters) rang round the room. Peace in our time.
Only six months ago Haye was throwing a punch at Chisora in civvies with a bottle in his hand, and camera tripods were being wielded in an outbreak of violence that prompted German police to open a rather tame investigation.
Now, Dereck and David might well hire a Winnebago and head off on vacation together. You will see them playing chess in parks and fishing beside one another around lakes.
Both outcasts, the two found a way to re-enter mainstream boxing society, and were noticeably well behaved. Even their exchange of punches after the bell at the end of the third round was put down to deafness.
The audience, knowing they were on trial, too, confined themselves to throwing a pint of beer and the odd water bottle after Chisora was stopped.
The two fighters went about their work conscientiously, even if Haye risked ridicule by fighting in trainers: an unusual choice dictated by his memory of another rainy night, in Hamburg, when he fought Wladimir Klitschko.
"It worked for me, I wasn't slipping around anywhere," he said. For a man who talked of "gang raping" Audley Harrison and wore a T-shirt showing the severed heads of the Klitschkos, to be cast in the role of good guy reflects the miserably low standing of Chisora, who has hammed up the old Sonny Liston outlaw pose, but without Liston's talent.
Many on the Upton Park pitch wanted Haye to remove Chisora from a denuded heavyweight scene.
In the event, he achieved something that was beyond Vitali Klitschko, the more illustrious of the brothers. He put Chisora down, twice.
For four rounds the fight followed an entertaining pattern. Haye pressed Chisora with his jab and combinations. Chisora hunkered down and threw huge overhand rights. From the front row you could feel the force of the blows.
The fight at least satisfied the basic tenet of heavyweight boxing: that big men should make the ground shake with their power and physical courage.
In the fifth and final round, Haye clipped Chisora with a left hook, then a right, which decked 'Del Boy' for a count of seven. Three right hooks and two lefts completed the execution.
Chisora rose a second time but was saved by the referee. Then came the hug between men who had no more use for choreographed hatred. The money was in the bank.
Somewhere beyond the East End cauldron, British Boxing Board of Control officials were doubtless grimacing at the sight of Luxembourg's tanks on their lawns. The hold of sanctioning bodies (WBC, WBA etc) has been weakened in recent years and now the oldest governing body of all has been outmanoeuvred by an opportunistic principality and by Warren.
Meanwhile, Amir Khan's future in the ring is in crisis after he was ruthlessly knocked out under the heat of the Las Vegas lights by underdog Danny Garcia -- a limited fighter from Philadelphia with a vicious left hook.
Khan walked straight into the punch as he slumped to a second successive defeat.
Garcia retained the WBC light-welterweight crown, and collected the WBA strap for his brutal artistry. (© Daily Telegraph, London)