Seven years ago David Haye and Giacobbe Fragomeni met in Germany and boxed three rounds to decide who would advance a step closer to the 2000 Olympic Games. Despite dominating much of the action, the British boxer was deemed to have been beaten by a score of 11-1 and was thus eliminated from the final qualifying tournament. His Olympic dream was over.
Last night at York Hall, Bethnal Green, Haye and Fragomeni reconvened, this time as pros. Up for grabs was a European cruiserweight title, the possession of Haye, as well as a number one ranking with the WBC. Essentially, in place of the Olympics carrot was a shot at the world cruiserweight title. Again, they had it all to fight for.
Arguably the two premier cruiserweights in Europe right now, Fragomeni was unbeaten in twenty-one bouts, while Haye had rebounded from an early career to loss to Carl Thompson with a stunning run of results, including a 45-second demolition of former European champion Alexander Gurov. Therefore, unlike when they first met as amateurs, the two were now rounded and seasoned, approaching their prime as cruiserweights. Indeed, Fragomeni, 37, had turned pro late and was making up for lost time, following a lengthy and acclaimed amateur career.
Naturally, though, when the first bell tolled and punches were encouraged, the stocky Italian fought every bit as hard as he may have done in his twenties. He pushed forward behind a high-held guard, enthusiastically bobbed his head from side-to-side and looked to engage with Haye whenever the champion dared stop still for a second. Considerably shorter, both in height and reach, Fragomeni had no option but to get in close and drag his taller foe into a dog fight.
Haye, on the other hand, was blessed with better physical dimensions, as well as superior speed, so could efficiently dictate the pace and range of the bout in the early going. To do this, he used his legs to keep out of harm's way and then pot-shotted Fragomeni with sharp jabs and right hand leads whenever he tried to ransack his space. And, given that most of these shots, even the jabs, were numbingly powerful, Haye's output made Fragomeni think twice about getting too close in the early rounds.
Still, bit-by-bit, the Italian edged closer and closer and, as the middle rounds progressed, he extracted confidence from two things. Firstly, he remained upright, despite losing rounds and being pinged with big shots, and, secondly, the pace had dropped, and Haye had noticeably slowed. It seemed perseverance and sheer bloody mindedness was starting to pay off and Fragomeni found an extra spring in his step as he entered the sixth round.
This spring would become a leap in a matter of seconds, however, as Haye found himself trapped by the ropes and then tagged by a couple of innocuous looking prods through the guard, one of which drew blood. Instantly, the crowd gasped in horror. Fragomeni's eyes lit up. They all saw the same thing; Haye's eye had been sliced open and a non-stop stream of blood flowed down the side of his face. As a result, his movements became sloppy and erratic, spiked by panic, while Fragomeni scurried after him as though it was the last round of the fight.
In the end, Haye just about did enough to survive. He avoided most of Fragomeni's follow-up punches and safely returned to his stool at the end of the round, albeit breathing heavily and caked in his own blood.
Sixty seconds later, Haye was off his stool, considerably less bloody, and armed with instructions to move, move and move some more. He needed to stay safe and protect his damaged eye. Fragomeni, of course, had other ideas. He was told to increase the tempo and go after that eye in the hope that a little more damage would bring an end to the contest. Contrasting plans, both now had different ways of going about claiming victory.
The seventh and eighth rounds should have been gobbled up by a resurgent Fragomeni but, in truth, weren't. In fact, they were evenly contested and, though his corner wanted him to increase the pace of the fight, the flow of the action had now dropped alarmingly. Fragomeni's arms and legs had slowed, he often appeared stuck in the mud, and this indecisiveness allowed Haye to gather his thoughts, fill up fuel and once again take the initiative in the bout. He continued to move and protect his eye, but he was also back to firing hard punches in the direction of Fragomeni, something that only added to the Italian's sudden look of despair.
The tables again turned completely in the ninth. Haye found his rhythm, while Fragomeni lost his completely. Then, mid-way through the round, this switch proved emphatic, as Haye glided around the perimeter of the ring, cracked his opponent in the ribs and then followed up with a variety of messy but punishing head shots. Right there and then, Fragomeni's resolve ebbed away. He cowered from the initial body shot and was then sent tottering across the ring by aforementioned head punches. Haye sensed the end was near and put it on him, forcing the Italian to collapse to the canvas and take a count. Finally, a breakthrough.
Fragomeni got to his feet and looked into the eyes of referee Daniel Van de Wiele. They were the solemn eyes of a beaten man. They were eyes that then focused on his cornerman, and former world champion, Patrizio Oliva, who stood by the turnbuckle waving a white flag of surrender. Immediately, Fragomeni's shoulders slumped and his face dropped, a face that was now a strange mix of disappointment and relief. The fight was over, finished. Haye had retained his title and, far more importantly, gained revenge over the man who once upon a time ended his Olympic dream.