“There’s something not right with him. It was all in his eyes at the weigh-in. Mormeck couldn’t look at me. It was like he didn’t want to be there.”
Those were the thoughts of newly-crowned WBC and WBA world cruiserweight champion David ‘The Hayemaker’ Haye three hours before he touched gloves with former champion Jean-Marc Mormeck on November 10 at the Palais Des Sports Marcel Cerdan in Levallois, France.
Three and a half hours later, Mormeck, the hometown French hero, would slump at the feet of mandatory challenger Haye following an incredible, come-from-behind, seventh-round barrage. Mormeck’s eyes were now glazed. Haye, in only his 21st fight, had become the undisputed division number one.
The nature of the finish was as frighteningly swift as Haye’s ascension to the peak of the 200 lbs division. It was only three years and ten fights ago that Carl Thompson forced BBC commentator Jim Neilly to declare, “David Haye’s career is in tatters”, upon halting the Bermondsey prospect. Written off and derided for the way in which he suffered his sole defeat, Haye vowed to bounce back and fulfil his dream of becoming world cruiserweight king.
In response, the 27-year-old freewheeler of the division soared up the WBC rankings and defended the European cruiserweight title three times. Haye blitzed the world-class Alexander Gurov in 45 seconds and passed gut-checks in gruelling title defences against unbeatens Giaccobe Fragomeni and Lasse Johansen.
Improving with each fight, ‘The Hayemaker’ was then handed his shot at full-circle rehabilitation by WBC and WBA champion Mormeck, now 33-4 (22). The chance to complete half of his dream – the other half will occur a few pounds north at heavyweight.
Sensing another almighty struggle to break the 200 lbs cruiserweight limit for one final time against Mormeck, Haye moved to North Cyprus in May. The idea was to sculpt his body down from his natural weight to a wholly un-natural, cruiserweight state. A postponement to the original September 28 date made things a little easier, but only in the way a swift bullet to the head is easier than prolonged castration.
Weighing 199 and a half pounds, Haye looked slim and trim. Mormeck, a notch above 199, looked thick and stocky. It was, in effect, a direct representation of their styles. Haye is the fast, sharp, stinging puncher and Mormeck, the bull-like, top-heavy craftsman.
“David has never been in this kind of shape before,” stressed Haye’s long-time trainer Adam Booth. “He’s in a position to throw more punches in this fight than he’s ever done before.”
In his hotel room, merely hours before fight time, Haye zoned in on YouTube videos of significance to the fight ahead. He watched highlights of the 1951 battle between Sugar Ray Robinson and Jake LaMotta – a slick, spiteful puncher against a rough-and-ready brawler. He also watched compilations of the lightweight version of another ‘Sugar’, Shane Mosley.
All the while, Haye acts as relaxed as any fighter I’ve ever seen. “It doesn’t even feel like I’m about to fight – let alone fight for the world titles,” he said, while shadowboxing to McFadden and Whitehead’s ‘Aint No Stopping Us Now’, the song he’d later use for his ring entrance.
Haye doesn’t do nerves. Instead, he tidied his hotel room with the same perfectionist attitude he’d need later that night. “I tidy my room before every fight,” David said. “I don’t even know why I do it."
It’s only when arriving at the Palais Des Sports Marcel Cerdan arena that the immense task Haye faced hit home – the kind of mission that, away from home, lesser men turn down. Packed to the rafters with French fans, the arena was hot, sticky, and intense. Like York Hall on steroids.
On a ringside table sat a menacing stone sculpture of Mormeck’s head. Renowned for his solid chin and unbreakable will, the stone sculpture was a solemn, foreboding sign of what Haye could expect.
However, once inside the ring, Mormeck’s mean exterior seemed to betray him. It made way for a more relaxed and passive look. Haye, on the other hand, had traded in his carefree swagger for a, you-stole-my-woman, sinister, murderous stare.
Despite the pre-fight, early knockout hullabaloo, both men fought to type early doors. The maturing Haye, now 20-1 (19), boxed like the Haye of 2006 – calm, measured and patient – while Mormeck, never blistering out the gate, was content to cover up and make Haye work.
When a defence is as water-tight as Mormeck’s, it can essentially act as a good form of offence. The French slugger relies on the incapability of his opponent piercing his defence as a means of gaining an upper hand.
Sensing this, Haye threw very few left-jabs and even fewer straight right hands – normally a pet-punch for the Bermondsey man. Investing heavily on left hooks and right hooks to the body, Haye stole the first round on workrate alone. “Those bolo shots to the body with the right hand could come in really useful,” Haye said before the fight, while watching Sugar Ray wail away to LaMotta’s mid-section. “They’re quick and take nothing out of you.”
Aware of Haye’s confidence-building first session, Mormeck, 35, noticeably picked up his workrate in the following two rounds. Rather than retreating, he was now forcing a little more. Taking a page out of Fragomeni’s approach to pressuring Haye, Mormeck shortened up his shots and made them quicker. He left his famous hooks at home and instead fired fast, short, straight lefts and rights. With every shot ‘The Marksman’ slung, the French crowd roared.
Nevertheless, Haye was making investments. Though no quick pay off, Haye’s work to Mormeck’s body was as impressive as he’s ever done throughout his five-year career. Left hooks and right hooks – sometimes even in succession – were crippling Mormeck’s body and gradually lowering his arms.
Yet it was Haye’s susceptibility to Mormeck’s long punches that brought about the first dramatic twist in the action. Early in the fourth round, while retreating to a neutral corner, Haye was caught on the temple by a glancing Mormeck left hook which sent the London hope reeling to the ropes on unsteady legs. A combination of a further right hand and a slip on the canvas acted as the cue for Haye to perform a boogaloo dance and take a knee.
“I was gone,” Haye candidly admitted afterwards. “My left leg knew where it wanted to be, but my right leg had a mind of its own.”
Wisely, Haye took the full eight-count. Upon rising, his legs remained shaky but his eyes appeared to be clear. He registered referee Guido Cavarelli’s count and went right at Mormeck from the restart. He clinched the buoyant champion and walked him backwards – a tactic Haye used to great effect throughout the bout.
“What shot was it?” asked Haye as he slumped down on his stool at the round’s conclusion. Aware of the need to make another impression on Mormeck, Haye started the following round, the fifth, at a brisk pace. He whacked right hooks and left hooks into the head of Mormeck, and switched attacks downstairs with the kind of seamless sophistication the ‘Sugarman’ used to employ.
Mormeck, for his part, didn’t go all out, as many expected. He continued to march Haye down, offering very little for the challenger to hit. A more relaxed Haye began utilising his left hand more – as a jab, hook and an uppercut – figuring Mormeck’s defence against the right cross was just too resolute.
This sense of Haye finding his feet again was only heightened in the sixth as Haye conducted one of the best rounds of his 21-fight career. Crossing the T’s and dotting the I’s on his, up to that point, patchy defence, Haye made Mormeck miss big punches at will throughout the three minutes. He slipped jabs, parried right hands, and leaned away from Mormeck’s heavy combinations. His defensive work on the ropes was improvised, instinctive and inspired at times.
While Mormeck huffed and puffed and hit thin air, he was slammed hard to the gut by rights and lefts. One left to the body, in particular, had Mormeck non-responsive for a good 30 seconds after it landed. A hard Haye right hook to the heady stirred a similar reaction, too.
“Perfect,” was the review from trainer Booth as Haye rested between rounds. “32 punches,” added Booth. “You’re well within”. Before the contest, Booth had informed me that Haye was averaging 85 punches-per-round at their Ozankoy gym in North Cyprus. These precise obsessions with the maths of the fight simply made Haye aware of how much more he had left in him.
Going into the seventh, Mormeck was left only too aware of how much Haye had in the tank. Noticing a major drop in Mormeck’s workrate, Haye upped his own tempo, began planting his feet and hurled sickeningly heavy shots into Mormeck’s head and body. The sounds of Mormeck getting nailed were like those generated from a bass drum. Boom. Boom. Boom.
A hard left cross, thrown from a momentary southpaw stance, caught Mormeck bang on the chin for the first time in the fight and acted as the beginning of the end for the Frenchman’s reign as champion. Remaining patient, Haye landed further right hooks and left uppercuts, as well as a vicious right hand to the body. He then switched to the other side, and chucked a left hook and a flush right uppercut at Mormeck’s jaw.
It was the final right uppercut, however, that disconnected Mormeck from both his senses and his WBC and WBA belts. Landing square on his chin, the almighty uppercut forced Mormeck to sway backwards to the ropes in a groggy state. Unsure whether Haye would follow up high or low, Mormeck instinctively dropped his left arm to protect his body. Haye went high and dished out a final, sadistic right hook behind Mormeck’s ear to send the champion crashing to the floor in a heap.
Motionless for a few seconds and then unaware of his whereabouts, Mormeck eventually rose at the count of eight. Cavalleri gave him every opportunity to continue – including a long count and a question – but Mormeck had no answer. He shook his head – eyes still vacant.
Perhaps the new WBC and WBA champion was right. Maybe it sometimes is all in the eyes. While Mormeck tried to shake the stars and tweety birds circling his eyes, the only things filling David Haye’s eyes were dollar signs and the sharp reflections from two shiny new belts.