He promised the world, but delivered barely a jab. Inside the MEN Arena, Manchester, Audley Harrison, one-time Olympic gold medallist and national hero, stepped towards David Haye in the centre of the ring and towered above the former cruiserweight, every physical advantage stacked in his favour, destiny on his mind. Yet, despite the infectious mantras and the bigger frame, his eyes, the most telling sign of all, projected only fear in the face of his enemy.
The crowd roared in anticipation, knowing they would witness either a one-sided shellacking, as promised by Haye, or one of the most shocking and dramatic conclusions to any Hollywood blockbuster, as guaranteed by Harrison. Haye's WBA world heavyweight title was up for grabs, of course, but this fight had now become bigger than just that. It was personal, it had a back-story and, ultimately, it had been a crossover success, attracting interest normally unheard of before a boxing match. In the weeks leading up to the fight the participants couldn't walk anywhere without being stopped and asked about it.
Nevertheless, despite the talk and the story lines, when the hours dwindle and all that's left is a ring and two gloved-up competitors, reality is quick to nudge fantasy out of the way. While a great ring battle was frequently promised, those in the know remained sceptical. Even Harrison, the most convincing of the many characters involved, was also his own biggest cynic. The closer he got to the first bell the more he began to doubt his own boasts and plans. He never admitted this self-doubt, of course, but he didn't need to, either. His eyes told us all we needed to know.
In stark contrast, Haye's eyes screamed only violence and bad intentions. Unlike some, he had never bought into Harrison's story or his many rallying calls. All he saw was a fragile former Olympian, a man he had once befriended and then, years later, beaten up in sparring. Their separate journeys had cast a blemish on their relationship and now they had to settle a dispute the old-fashioned way.
For two rounds they seemed more friends than foes, however. Harrison, eyes still bulging with trepidation, circled the ring and kept out of harm's way, while Haye, quicker but smaller, bided his time before uncoiling. This stand-off made for a messy opening to the fight and it wasn't long before the 20,000 fans in the arena began to boo. There were many threatened punches, and even the occasional jab, but very little that could be described as anything close to penetrating.
This all changed in the third round, though, when Haye stopped pretending and started fighting. He put his foot on the gas and simply invaded Harrison's space, doing so with the support of vicious left and right punches. Audley, still dazed by the occasion, never saw it coming. He stood prone by the ropes and caught a volley of straight right crosses to the head, before eventually flopping to the canvas on his side.
And though he pulled his six-foot-six frame upright on the referee's count of eight, his gum shield was absent and he still had ninety seconds left to survive in the round. Unsteady and hurting, the signs were ominous.
To his credit, Haye wasted no time in finishing matters. He raced across the ring, cocked his right hand and then proceeded to unload a further few punches on the unprotected head of his former friend. Seconds later, it was all over. Haye had won the dispute, and nobody, not even Audley Harrison, was in the least bit surprised.