Britain's newly-crowned world heavyweight champion David 'The Hayemaker' Haye took a giant step over a potential banana skin first defence last night (April 3rd) in Manchester, as he softened up and stopped John Ruiz in nine one-sided rounds.
The WBA's number one-ranked contender was floored four times in total, and found himself on the seat of his pants after merely 22 seconds of the very first round. However, it was a sign of both Ruiz' incredible resilience and durability that he lasted into the ninth round with the heavy-handed and destructive Haye.
Despite Ruiz' immense show of bravery, experienced cornerman Miguel Diaz had seen enough mid-way through round nine, and waved the white towel in a symbolic gesture of surrender. Ruiz had been stopped for only the second time in his 53-bout professional career and the first time for 14 years.
Tactical last time out against Nikolai Valuev in November, the 29-year-old Haye was back to his gunslinging and cavalier best at the Manchester Evening News (M.E.N) Arena. Keen to meet fire with fire from the off, Haye slipped and dodged Ruiz' early rush, before unleashing a vicious and powerful one-two combination. The jab fell short, but the follow-up right hand pierced Ruiz' guard and cracked the granite-chinned Puerto Rican flush on the jaw. Rarely floored or hurt, Ruiz flew backwards on to the ring canvas, with barely 20 seconds of the bout gone.
The determined Ruiz shot up at the count of five, but was clearly unsettled by the speed and impact of the punch. His legs became heavy and is intentions had switched from pressure to survival.
Desperate to become only the second man to ever stop 'The Quiet Man', Haye surged towards Ruiz upon the restart and looked to land anything and everything. He missed wildly with looping left-hooks and roundhouse right hands, before two right-hooks to the side of Ruiz' head sent the former champion hurtling towards the ropes. A further right hand to the back of Ruiz' cranium scrambled the challenger's senses and dropped him to the floor for a second time in the round.
Ruiz protested the illegal blow and, in a bizarre turn of events, referee Guillermo Perez scored the knockdown as legitimate and then deducted a point from Haye for an illegal rabbit punch.
Ruiz was again upright by the count of five and readied himself for the incoming onslaught. With a little less than two minutes remaining, Haye had all the time in the world to size up his victim and bring the curtain down prematurely on Ruiz' challenge.
Haye jabbed cleverly to the body and then followed up with two hard and straight right hands to the face, as Ruiz backed off sheepishly in centre ring. With the three-knockdown rule in effect, Haye did everything in his power to drop Ruiz for a third and final time. He slung manic right hands and left-hooks and threw Ruiz off of him whenever 'The Quiet Man' returned to the grappling and mauling style of old.
The challenger took some further heavy leather in the final 90 seconds, including a flush left-hook, but was able to utilise his survival instincts and durability to see out the round. By the round's conclusion, Ruiz was, in fact, the fighter coming forward and throwing punches - albeit of the tired and desperate variety. Even so, it was a remarkable turnaround for Ruiz, given how bamboozled he'd been two-and-a-half minutes previous to that.
With the first-round frenzy over, both men settled into a more sustainable and sensible rhythm in round two. Ruiz set the pace and continued to roam forwards, while Haye made use of his stunning left-jab to provide answers to each question the challenger posed. Hands low and body loose, Haye would move side-to-side on Ruiz, never giving him a solid target, and would then walk him on to hard left-leads or stinging right hand counters.
The American warrior's only sign of light arrived when Haye would back up to the ropes and become static. Ruiz would then rally with right-crosses and left-hooks, in an attempt to land something on the elusive Haye. The Londoner would catch many shots on his gloves, or simply glide away from them, but some were getting through.
Haye was content to cruise on the back-foot and set traps for Ruiz, capitalising whenever John fell short with a left-jab or left any gaps in his defence. Although Ruiz continued to press on the front-foot through the first quarter of the bout, Haye was the one producing the eye-catching and crisper work.
The difference in power was also notable, as Haye's flush shots would have a visible effect on his gutsy opponent. Ruiz would land the occasional jab or right hand, but Haye never seemed fussed or unnerved by the power.
Ruiz found more openings in rounds three and four, as Haye's workrate and defence dropped. Initially expecting to blow his opponent away early, Haye now appeared to realise he may have to settle down into a longer, perhaps more gruelling type of affair. Luckily, this was exactly the kind of fight Haye expected when walking into the ring 15 minutes beforehand, so was able to mentally adjust.
The challenger appeared rejuvenated and galvanised by his ability to soak up Haye's early blast and still be standing and pitching back. He trudged forwards - sometimes into counter-punches - and was content to take some in order to give some.
Haye became sloppy with his power shots, but was still impressive whenever he reverted to his basic and blindingly fast left-jab. His use of this particular shot brought to mind former world heavyweight champion Larry Holmes in his fighting prime. Such was the jab's potency, Haye didn't seem to require anything else to control Ruiz and bust up his reddening face. Haye's jab appeared as lethal and heavy as most fighters' power shots.
Knowing no better, Ruiz' strategy through the middle rounds was to simply walk Haye down, ride out the storm of thudding jabs, and hopefully outlast the gifted champion. He seemingly had no other option but to take flush shots to the face and try and see through the fog at the end of it all. As a result, Ruiz suffered a shattered cheek bone, broken nose and numerous swellings and cuts for his troubles.
Yet, despite Ruiz' deformed look and his desperate game plan, he remained hopeful of outlasting Haye in the second half of the contest. He believed he'd walked through Haye's best shots and that the worst of it was over. He expected self-doubt to creep inside Haye's head and suck all the life from his legs and punches.
Unfortunately for Ruiz, Haye never even contemplated the idea of defeat. Instead, Haye dropped Ruiz for the third time in the bout at the end of the fifth round.
The champion swaggered casually towards the ropes, before sprining on Ruiz with a sudden burst of jabs and right crosses. Shocked by the ambush, Ruiz covered up and dropped to one knee. Once again complaining about a rabbit punch, Ruiz rose on seven and rode out the inevitable Haye flurry to end the session.
Haye wouldn't have to wait long to return Ruiz to the ring canvas. Entering the sixth round, Haye appeared to have gained his second wind and was now firing with more intent, accuracy and speed. He would beckon Ruiz into range, spin off and then nail the gutsy challenger with right hands.
Haye's impersonation of the shoulder-roll brought about the next knockdown, as he deflected Ruiz' attack behind his shoulder and then unleashed a right hand counter-punch in retort. A further barrage of right hands sent Ruiz to the deck for the fourth time in the contest.
Never beaten, Ruiz once again rose and prepared himself for Haye's attempt to finish. Haye loaded up on every punch to get the desired result, but couldn't silence 'The Quiet Man'.
By the end of the round, it was hard to determine whether Haye's power would bring an end to the bout or, conversely, his desperation to make that power count would lead to his own downfall. 'The Hayemaker' once more put his all into getting Ruiz out of there, but to no avail.
While Haye struggled to keep Ruiz grounded, the American's corner were now keeping a close and concerned eye on their charge. He was being slowly and mercilessly beaten up by Haye and, facially at least, he was no longer recognisable.
With calls of 'one more round' ringing in his ears, Ruiz set about Haye more in round seven, slightly increasing his pace and punch out-put. Haye looked to get some more spring in his legs and relied primarily on his expert left-jab. By now, Ruiz' attempts to get close were futile, as Haye had taken so much out of his opponent's legs and strength reserves. Rather than getting close and smothering, Ruiz was now stuck in deadly mid-range - a perilous position for any Haye opponent.
Haye was happy to move around the ring and pot-shot his foe with clean jabs and the odd counter right hand. He stepped up the pressure in the eighth, landing a number of punishing right hands and left-hooks on the contorted face of Ruiz.
Heading into the ninth, Haye was now in a position to act as puppet master with his left-jab. The ever-slowing Ruiz was stuck in the mud and was being prodded and pained by each shot Haye decided to throw. David could control the pace and Ruiz' movements with his jab, as well as use it to set up his own power shots.
Haye switched it up for the finish, as he sprung forward with a lead right-cross, followed by a sharp left-jab, before swinging a left-hook to the body and a final right-hook to the head. Bloodied and tired, Ruiz sagged back on the ropes and was compassionately saved by trainer Miguel Diaz, who held the white towel aloft in the corner. The stoppage came about with only a minute to go in the round and three rounds left in the fight.
He'd done it. Haye had become only the second man to ever stop Ruiz and the first for some 14 years. The exciting Bermondsey fighter had retained his WBA world heavyweight title for the first time and destroyed his number one contender. 'The Hayemaker's heavyweight reign of terror is just getting started...