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Haye-Maccarinelli conjures memories of Benn-Eubank

Maccarinelli, left, and Haye are giving U.K. fans their biggest domestic encounter since Benn-Eubank. AP Photo/Alastair Grant

Their naked hatred for one another was in evidence at the press conference to announce the fight.

"I don't like you," Nigel Benn snarled, as he approached Chris Eubank on the dais, flexing his arm muscles and biting on his bottom lip.

Eubank, a master of psychology, stared thoughtfully at his opponent before he turned his head away in disdain.

It was the most anticipated domestic boxing match in Britain for years. Over 42,000 people packed into Old Trafford, Manchester United's famous old football ground, and the estimated worldwide TV audience was half a billion, with 18 million viewers in Britain alone.

"A seething mass of faces," was how Eubank characterized the crowd in his autobiography, and the action was described by one ringside reporter as "12 rounds of savagely unremitting violence" even if the judges' drawn verdict proved anti-climactic.

Still, no follower of British boxing can forget Benn-Eubank.

Whether the world cruiserweight title fight between David Haye and Enzo Maccarinelli can reach the same heights remains to be seen. But it is the biggest domestic encounter between British boxers since that hate-filled October bout in 1993.

"I'm in the business of delivering big fights and this is a real fight between two huge punchers, both of whom will have pride and a hell of a lot more besides at stake," said Benn-Eubank co-promoter Frank Warren, who will promote Haye-Maccarinelli. "As soon as these guys get in the ring they put the foot on the gas pedal and off they go. This one has all the ingredients."

Risk, intensity, power -- these are some of the ingredients, along with vulnerability and serious question marks against both boxers.

Haye, the 27-year-old champion from Bermondsey, south London, won The Ring cruiserweight championship with a seventh-round stoppage of Jean-Marc Mormeck of France last November. The final denouement of the 35-year-old Frenchman was devastating: a succession of hard hooks to the body, a cuffing right hand, a savage right uppercut to the jaw and an overhand right that landed on Mormeck's left ear as he fell to the floor. Badly shaken, Mormeck still managed to rise to his feet but referee Guido Cavallieri correctly waved the fight over.

Haye's performance, however, was not flawless. In the fourth round, Mormeck nailed the Englishman with a left hook to the jaw and followed up with his right hand. Another booming right hand caught Haye on the left side of his face as he took a knee in a neutral corner, wisely under the circumstances.

Although he looked across to his trainer, Adam Booth, and nodded in an attempt to show that he was clear-headed and fine, in truth Haye was in a heap of trouble and Mormeck's inability to capitalize aided his survival.

"I was very weight drained. In fact, I hardly ate a proper meal during 17 -- yes 17 -- weeks in training camp and even then I had to shed 14 pounds in the last 10 days to make the weight," Haye acknowledged afterwards. "My legs completely went when he caught me but I just told myself, 'I've got to get up.' The guy was a big puncher and I showed class and patience. I knew I had to pace myself."

But what Haye admitted to next could be construed as an indictment of his decision to engage in one more fight at cruiserweight, whatever about the $2 million purse he will collect for meeting Maccarinelli, his fellow 27-year-old from Swansea, Wales.

"It's been torture [making the 200 pounds weight limit]," Haye continued. "It was worth it to win these [WBC and WBA] belts but I cannot defend them. The danger to my health is too great.

Haye is fully aware of the dangers that come with draining down to an unnatural weight.

"The biggest risk of brain damage comes when boxers are dehydrated and I was completely dried out at Friday's weigh-in [before the Mormeck fight]," Haye said. Come the fight, my body was at no more than 65 percent to 70 percent efficiency. It was a risk I took -- just one time. The way people get brain damage is when they are violently dehydrated, so what's the point of having money if you end up in hospital because of it?"

This is the risk Haye is prepared to take as he boils his heavyweight body down to cruiserweight once more. He is also risking his future marquee value. A silver medalist at the 2001 world amateur championships, he has long been groomed for stardom and his mission to emulate former world cruiserweight champion Evander Holyfield -- who managed to overcome the charge that he was a synthetic heavyweight through the sheer force of his will -- was articulated from the outset of his career. Haye has always seen himself as a heavyweight work in progress, but delaying his progression from the cruiserweight class could prove to be a disastrous error of judgment by himself and his team.

Haye has rationalized his decision by suggesting that all fights are risks. He wants to "show everybody there is no shadow of a doubt that [he is] No. 1." But Mormeck is not the only opponent against whom Haye has betrayed weakness.

Lolenga Mock, an obscure African super middleweight, knocked him down in his seventh fight as a pro and fellow Briton Carl Thompson, formerly the holder of the belt now worn by Maccarinelli, stopped Haye in the fifth round in September 2004 -- Haye's sole defeat.

Stamina, which was the issue in both those instances, remains a nagging doubt, though no one doubts Haye's power, for he has stopped 19 of the 20 opponents he has beaten. Only Belgium's Ismail Abdoul has done 12 rounds with Haye.

"My weight was an issue before the Mormeck fight because I had to come down from 230 pounds but the highest I went up after the fight was 218, so it hasn't been as difficult for me to make weight this time," Haye insisted. "I don't feel like I'm putting myself at risk. If I did, I'd have said, 'Thanks, but no thanks,' and I'd have moved up to heavyweight.

"If I'm as good as I think I am, I can beat anybody in the world at heavyweight and that will be my goal after I beat Maccarinelli."

Maccarinelli has been taken the full 12-round distance three times, most recently by former alphabet titleholder Wayne Braithwaite. But the American is one of the few recognized names on his record. Mostly, "Big Mac" has gorged on domestic opposition and foreign fodder; Bobby Gunn from Hackensack, N.J., an embarrassing example of the latter.

After losing just four out of 50 amateur bouts, Maccarinelli, the son of an Italian father, turned professional in 1999. As a teenager, he was something of a tearaway, famously beating up a bouncer on the streets of Swansea, while honing his punching power in his father's gym, the Bonymaen Boxing Club, which was little more than a tin hut.

"I remember how I used to go into town -- I was only 16 years old but I looked older than I was -- and I'd beat up these big, egotistical doormen who would bully people on a night out," Maccarinelli explained. "I never picked a fight with a random stranger but I thought I could take on the world, that was my mentality."

But his self-esteem suffered when he was knocked out in the third round of his fourth professional fight by English journeyman Lee Swaby. It was a wake-up call. His rehabilitation under the meticulous matchmaking of promoter Warren featured a succession of rapid knockouts, including a ninth-round stoppage of former cruiserweight titleholder Marcelo Fabian Dominguez of Argentina in July 2006.

He was on course to face long-time titleholder Johnny Nelson from the Brendan Ingle school in Sheffield, England, but injury forced Nelson's retirement. Maccarinelli still needs a defining win.

"I did many things wrong as a young professional fighter but you live and learn and one day you grow up, and that's what happened to me," he revealed.
"For example, two nights before I stepped in the ring with Swaby I was out on the town getting drunk, which was no way to prepare. But these are some of the things you go through and, hopefully, you learn your lesson. I'm more mature now, I have a wife and four children and my boxing has come on leaps and bounds since I joined Enzo Calzaghe's stable of fighters in Newbridge. Enzo's a great trainer and I'm improving all the time. Now I think I'm close to my peak."

Sparring with world super middleweight champion Joe Calzaghe has further enhanced Maccarinelli's repertoire. He is still more of a stand-up European-style boxer than Haye but he is no longer the mechanical, almost one-dimensional power-hitter that he once was. His left hook remains his most destructive weapon but his jab and right hand have developed into worthy weapons in their own right.

"Enzo wants to be the undisputed world champion and he will be," predicted Calzaghe, who was named Britain's coach of the year in the annual Sports Personality awards and trainer of the year by The Ring and the Boxing Writers' Association of America. "To me, Mormeck didn't show much in his fight with Haye and I don't think that Haye has boxed anyone like Enzo, who will set a pace that he won't be comfortable with. He likes to box in a comfort zone at his own conventional pace but Enzo won't allow him that luxury. Enzo will be prepared for 12 rounds and he can swallow up 12 rounds but I don't know that Haye can stick the pace. The weight is not an issue -- if he wasn't able to box any longer at cruiserweight, he wouldn't even be trying to and all boxers have to come down from their walking-around weight in any case -- but the pace will be a major issue."

Haye emphasized that Maccarinelli will be performing at world level for the first time.

"I know I punch harder than him, I know I'm faster than him and I've fought better opponents than him," Haye declared.

The animosity that fuelled Benn-Eubank does not exist between these two cruiserweights -- not yet anyway -- but Maccarinalli replied in kind.

"We're two boys who fight the same way. We like to take the other guy out," he said. "Everyone says it will be an early finish but, if it isn't, it will be the 12 most brutal rounds in British boxing and that's a fact."

In this battle of big hitters brutality and damage might be the only guarantee.

Brian Doogan covers boxing for The Sunday Times and Ring magazine.