Please, let it be a Klitschko next
MEN Arena, Manchester
I knew it was going to be a strange night the moment Audley Harrison removed his robe to reveal a T-shirt bearing the legend: 'Keep Stonebridge Adventure Playground Open'. Barely 15 minutes later, I found myself asking the question: What did Stonebridge Adventure Playground do to deserve that?
Harrison somehow managed to be even less effective in challenging for David Haye's WBA heavyweight crown than even his most vociferous critics could have imagined. One punch landed in just shy of eight minutes of boxing. All part of the game-plan, Audley claimed after the fight, before denying he had frozen in the moment.
At the weigh-in on Friday, a fellow journalist referred to the impending bout as the "best worst fight" he had ever covered. It was a moment of wry sobriety amid the giddy hysteria being stirred up by certain media outlets, although, I should add, the journalist in question did not go as far as committing his words to print.
It was this pre-fight hysteria that had irked so many boxing fans, those who were not led astray through the smoke and mirrors and who saw the contest for what it was - namely a mismatch, all mouth and no trousers, or what they might have referred to as their "worst worst fight".
While I can see their point, I take a slightly different view. In boxing, hype is part of the overall package to a far greater extent than in any other sport. So while boxing purists (who presumably weren't watching anyway) will no doubt feel cheated by events at the MEN Arena, others will view the overall package as a success - a fun build-up, plenty of personality and nonsense, followed by a raucous night out in a sold-out arena and a brutal knockout to boot. And as Haye pointed out: "A lot of people made a lot of money". And that, in essence, is what boxing is all about.
Only a few maverick thinkers ever believed Harrison had a chance - and so it came to pass. Once he let his hands go, Haye was too quick, too slick and simply punched too hard. Harrison, meanwhile, merely confirmed suspicions he is not entirely enamoured with the rough and tumble side of boxing.
"The one thing you can't do is put fight in a man," said Haye's trainer and manager Adam Booth. "Any man who steps through the ropes is brave but Audley is not a fighter, he's just a big man who happens to be left-handed, which makes him harder to fight."
Harrison's spirit may not be much in evidence in a ring but, make no mistake, he is spirited in other ways. To take as much flak as he has down the years and keep coming back for more - that is a form of courage.
"I'll walk away with my head held proud," said the 39-year-old during a poignant post-match news conference, before proclaiming his "mission is incomplete".
He will feel embarrassed by his performance but, in case anyone is tempted, I wouldn't feel too sorry for him. Unlike you or I when we embarrass ourselves on a night out, Audley will wake up the next morning with hundreds of thousands of pounds added to his bank account. Hundreds of thousands of pounds some fans will say should go to a better home. Stonebridge Adventure Playground, perhaps.
Of the 44 Britons to win Olympic medals in boxing, only four have gone on to win professional world titles and only nine have won a British crown. That is a lot of fighters who have fallen short of expectations.
But falling short of expectations is one thing, telling the world you are going to be undisputed heavyweight champion - over and over and over again - and failing to deliver is more difficult for the public to stomach. For that reason, Harrison's story will be told as a moral fable for years to come.
As for Haye, he was unable to promise the British public he would be fighting one of the Klitschko brothers next but he and Booth were supremely confident it would be signed, sealed and delivered in time. "There's no-one else who can bring the excitement and the numbers I do - and they know it," said Haye. "I will do everything in my power to make this happen, so have a little faith."
Booth added: "Both of them want that defining fight, especially Wladimir [the IBF and WBO champion], because at least Vitali [the WBC champion] has fought Lennox Lewis. If Wladimir was to retire without fighting David it would burn him for the rest of his life. That motivation will make them come to the table. Everyone seems really worried it's not going to happen - but it is going to happen."
If it is to happen - whether it is Wladimir, Vitali or both - it has to take place before Haye's 31st birthday on 13 October next year, when he is adamant he will retire. It is simply inconceivable it will not happen, because for all the talk of the Klitschkos needing a credible fight at this stage of their careers, Haye needs one, too, especially after what went off on Saturday night.
Negotiations are sure to be tortuous but hope and pray to the gods of boxing that a deal will be hammered out soon. Bad enough our lasting memory of Harrison will be his miserable defeat at the hands of Haye on a rainy night in Manchester, a thousand times worse if that is among our defining memories of Haye, too.
PS. I felt compelled to drag myself out of bed and write this addendum having just watched Manny Pacquiao produce one of the most astonishing performances I have ever seen in beating Antonio Margarito and winning his sixth world title in as many weight divisions. Speed, power, accuracy, stamina, for a while there I thought I might have nodded off. Truly, one of the greats...