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Haye has eyes on boxing's biggest prize

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LONDON, England -- In the jubilant minutes following his unification of the world cruiserweight division, David Haye saved his sharpest comments and wittiest prose for his interview with American television.

For all his platitudes aimed at the British audience about his "wonderful home crowd" in this cultural hot-pot of south-east London, where spivs and showbiz collide, Haye knows as well as anyone that his future lies in the United States. And maybe, just maybe, in the salvation of the heavyweight division.

If you think it seems ridiculous to be talking about a man who has fought just once at heavyweight as a savior, then you’d be right. Yet that is simply an indication of just how far the former blue ribbon echelon of the fight game has plummeted.

With a lumbering posse of faceless and personality-free Russians, plus big-hitting, newly crowned WBC kingpin Samuel Peter, propping up the division, any fresh face or new talent is more than welcome.

Any glimmer of hope is readily snatched up, though fortunately Haye, at 21-1 with 20 KOs, has the tools to have a real shot at stardom.

Whether Haye, who dispatched Enzo Maccarinelli in the second round at the 02 Arena on Saturday night, can be the real thing when he steps up to heavyweight remains to be seen. But if he can transpose his cruiserweight achievements to the bigger class then it will certainly be to the benefit of the sport.

Normally, the sort of boisterous and disrespectful words laid out by Haye following his second-round stoppage of Maccarinelli would be cause enough to wish failure upon such a mouthy heavyweight hopeful.

However, the heavyweights of today, in the most part, deserve disrespect for imprinting an ugly stain upon their profession and when Haye spoke about "Russian bums" and Wladimir Klitschko's "disgraceful" performance in beating Sultan Ibragimov last month it was hard to disagree.

Haye's flamboyance out of the ring and punching power within it make him a marketable commodity and he could make himself extremely wealthy over the next few years.

In the absence of any legitimate American prospects, the 27-year-old is the next best thing, full as he is of strut, swagger and self-belief.

His persona, cut on the gritty streets of Bermondsey, just a few miles from the scene of his victory at the O2 Arena, is far more akin to that of an American fighter than previous British champions like loveable loser Frank Bruno or the ice-cool, reserved Lennox Lewis.

"Why wouldn't the American public like him?" said Haye's trainer and manager Adam Booth. "He has got the looks, the physique, the fighting style and the chat.

"He has never lost to a Russian, even in the amateurs, and he doesn't intend to start now. He wants to get in there, mix it up, and leave his legacy."

Haye has given himself just two and a half years to clean up the heavyweight division before retiring, a feat that will be made easier by recent moves to unify the major belts.

Critics will point to his tendency to drop his left hand and claim he is small for a heavyweight, yet his explosive punching power, as demonstrated by his brutal dismantling of Maccarinelli, cannot be discounted.

His defection from cruiserweight leaves the cupboard bare in that category, with Maccarinelli tarnished by this defeat and Steve Cunningham unlikely to set pulses racing in the corridors of power at the big TV companies.

But if Haye's move to heavyweight is successful, the juggernaut of support behind him will gather pace quickly and who knows, we may again see a champ with some charisma and style.

"Tell those heavyweights I’m coming to get them," said Haye. "It's going to be a hell of a ride."

Whether or not Haye makes good on his promise to send the heavyweight division into overdrive, at least he may serve to shake it out of first gear and the embarrassing state of stupor that is tarnishing boxing's credibility.

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