David Haye: The Greatest Hits
It’s been two years since David Haye retired as a professional fighter. The former unified cruiserweight champion and ex-WBA heavyweight king achieved plenty, but was he satisfied with his 28-4 (26) career?
“I don’t know,” he considered. “Kind of, yeah. I always strived for perfection. If you’d asked me that at the beginning of my career [if he’d achieve what he did] I’d have said no, that would not be mission accomplished. My mission was to stay undefeated forever and be the greatest boxer ever known but after my first loss I realized I can’t be that unbeaten guy, [but] I can at least become a two-weight world champion. I did that. Then I thought I was going to be two-weight undisputed champion, I didn’t do that, but I always set crazy high standards.”
Haye was a decorated amateur who won a World silver medal at the Belfast games in 2001, losing to Cuba’s Odlanier Solis in the final. He turned pro in December 2002, stopping Hull, England’s tough Tony Booth in a round. Within his first 10 fights, there were notable wins over Lolenga Mock and Arthur Williams but the fast wheels came off in his 11th contest, when he was stopped in five rounds by former cruiserweight titleholder Carl Thompson. Trainer Adam Booth threw in the towel after Haye gassed following his fast start.
He returned three months later and stopped six opponents in a row, including Glen Kelly, Alexander Gurov and Lasse Johansen. He then showed he could go 12 by outscoring Ismail Abdoul and displayed the appetite for a hard fight, stopping future champion Giacobbe Fragomeni in the ninth round. He tried his hand at heavyweight, bombing out Tomasz Bonin before getting his first world title fight. He had to go to France to take on popular Frenchman Jean Marc-Mormeck, who was 30-3 at the time, and Haye climbed off the floor to stop Mormeck in seven. It was a thriller and one of the best cruiserweight fights in the division’s comparatively brief history.
He promptly unified against big-punching Welshman Enzo Maccarinelli, the WBO titleholder, and then set his sights on the big boys. He moved up to heavyweight, tested the waters by stopping gatekeeper Monte Barrett and then was back on the road, dethroning giant Russian Nikolai Valuev in Germany to win the WBA title. He defended against John Ruiz and Audley Harrison but didn’t deliver on his promises to scalp the imperious unified champion Wladimir Klitschko on a soaking night in a football stadium in Hamburg.
He didn’t fight for more than a year, but when he returned it was big news. There was a grudge match win over Derek Chisora after their well-documented Munich press conference brawl and Haye had seemingly gone out on top.
Four years later he was back. There were two quick wins and then two high-profile losses to Tony Bellew. Haye snapped his Achilles in the first fight before losing a thriller in 11 rounds. He lost the rematch in five and that was that. The Hayemaker journey had run its course. The tank was empty.
“I don’t miss it one bit,” Haye said, having ventured into poker playing, spending more time with his family, working as a TV pundit and managing former rival Chisora. “I don’t miss the grind of the training, I don’t miss any part of it, to be honest. I’ve got a routine and I’m probably in better physical condition now than I was in the last five, six years. Physically I’m in better shape than I was for any of my comeback fights because I’ve been able to let my body rest, I’ve been able to be me and go back to being athletic David who I always was. I didn’t have any pressure to go through training camps and fight this guy or fight that guy. I had big operations and rushed back with physiotherapy. Every operation I’ve had I’ve come back in half the time I should have done because I was chasing it, I wanted to get back in there and get that momentum going in my career and I was never quite 100 per cent because time was ticking. You want to get back in there. I always pushed the boundaries. I always went back quicker than I should have done but that’s life. You do the best you can with the cards you’re dealt and I always did my best. I fought as many times as I could. Everybody thought I didn’t fight as much as I should have done but I fought has much as I physically could. Everyone says, ‘Why did you have such big gaps between your fights?’ That’s all I could do. I was recovering from injuries, going back into training camps and fighting again. It got to a stage where I couldn’t keep putting my body through training camps. I don’t miss the buzz of fight night one bit. I get the buzz walking out with Derek. When he walks into battle or when he spars I kind of live vicariously through him, I feel the tension, my heart’s going and I probably get more nervous for his fights than I did my own because I was in full control in my fights whereas it’s down to Derek to do what he’s got to do. I’m a bit of a control freak and to not be in full control when he’s in there, it’s quite daunting, but he’s found a nice rhythm in his life now and he’s going to achieve what I believe he should have always achieved and that’s winning big, pay per view events.”
Haye, now 39 years old, relived five nights from his glorious past:
Date/ Venue: September 10, 2004/Wembley Arena, Wembley
Titles: Cruiserweight non-title bout
At that time in my life, my loss against Carl Thompson was exactly what was required. It was exactly what the doctor ordered to get me on the right track to beat someone like Mormeck or someone like Maccarinelli. I needed to taste defeat. I needed to taste the pain of not sacrificing, I need to know. It was my humble pie. Natural God given talents aren’t enough, you need more than that. You need to pay the price. You need to take punishment in training, when you think you’ve pushed hard you need to push harder and you’ve got to keep going. I wasn’t mentally, physically or spiritually tough enough to deserve to beat Carl Thompson – who’d paid his dues over the years. I’d been a fan of his for so long, for someone who never got the money or the credibility he truly deserved. He was one of Britain’s greatest fighters. He wasn’t the greatest marketed fighter but pound-for-pound he was as tough as they come, he was as honest as they come and one thing you can guarantee with Carl Thompson is he wasn’t cutting any corners in the gym. I was the young, brash, future world champion reading all my own press clippings, believing I was the best thing since sliced bread and all I had to do was turn up and knock him out. It was a tough, long ambulance ride to the hospital for a brain scan afterwards and I had some harsh words with myself, that it wouldn’t happen again. Fortunately, I’ve never felt as bad as that since. The closest I probably came to that was my last fight (vs. Tony Bellew) and that wasn’t down to me not putting in the effort, it’s just that the well had run dry.
Result: Thompson KO 5
Date/ Venue: November 10, 2007/Palais des Sport Marcel Cerdan, Levallois-Perret
Titles: Ring, WBA and WBC cruiserweight
Mormeck was the one that meant the most because he was considered numero uno in the cruiserweight division. He’d been there, done it, he’d beaten every man he’d faced up until then. He’d lost a fight to O’Neil Bell but won the rematch. He had this awkward style that I’d never like to face. He was a shorter fighter who gets close and forces me to fight in close. I’m a long-range counterpuncher. I like to have space. I don’t like to be pressured to fight at another man’s pace. I had to devise a game plan to slow that pace down, effectively break him down to the body in the first six rounds. I’d studied his style and he relied upon people teeing off on him because he had a very good chin, a high-held guard, with a turtle-shell defense, and because you could hit him a lot you continue to throw clusters of punches at a time and it feels like you’re doing damage, but with him that wasn’t the case. He can take it all day long and just walk you down. People punched themselves out against him in the first six rounds and then he’d have Round 7 onwards, grind them down and when it comes to a points decision, particularly in France, he was winning a decision. He did some damage to me. He put me down in Round 4 with a left hook but I was able to weather that storm and when Round 7 came it was time for me to start letting my hands go. I was trying to average less than 25 or 30 punches a round in the first six rounds and then I was going to significantly increase the punch output from Round 7 to 12. Going into the fight I knew his style was all wrong for me and I had to get it just right.
Result: Haye KO 7
Date/ Venue: March 8, 2008/O2 Arena, London
Titles: Ring, WBC, WBA and WBO cruiserweight
Maccarinelli was a highlight because it was unifying the belts. Mormeck held the WBC, WBA and Ring magazine belts, the IBF was stripped off him and I then won those belts and there was only one man who had another belt. I went from being a massive underdog with everything on Mormeck’s side. I had 25 tickets of about 6,000 at Mormeck. Enzo Maccarinelli had a lot of hype back here; he was a big Sports Network-Frank Warren promoted fighter, he’d made a string of WBO title defenses and that was a lovely moment, walking out into the O2 Arena as the champ, as the world number one, defending my title against the longest-reigning champion at the time and adding the WBO belt to my titles was an amazing moment. And to do it in the fashion I said I’d do it. I said I’d knock him out in two rounds and I’d get him out of there in good style. I didn’t really get to feel his power and I didn’t really want to. He hit me with a decent body shot and I knew it was hard. He caught me with a shot and cut my eye, I got a nick over my right eye – I think – so I didn’t come out of it unscathed. He had very quick hands. I could feel his power, so I made sure it was at long range and I didn’t want to stand and trade with him. I wanted to use my superior athleticism and get the victory.
Result: Haye KO 2
Date/ Venue: November 7, 2009/ Nuremburg Arena, Nuremburg
Titles: WBA heavyweight
The best night was probably the biggest night. I’d told everyone since I was a little kid that I was going to one day beat the Ivan Drago. I remember watching Rocky IV when I was a small child, probably under 10, and it really resonated with me, the fact that Rocky was the underdog, he was a small guy, he went out to the mountains and trained on his own and he did all the old school training. It was all against him, he was on foreign soil and he wasn’t the biggest guy but he had the heart and he had to find a way to win. I must have watched it 100 times. Of all the times in history I happen to be 29 and in my prime when the biggest heavyweight in history held the WBA heavyweight title, so that’s who I had to beat. I formulated a game plan, implemented it, it was a tough training camp and he was a very awkward opponent and I had to fight the perfect performance; one bob instead of a weave or a duck when I should have dived and it would have been a different story. I couldn’t allow someone who outweighed me by (99 pounds) and had nearly a foot in height to lean on me or get in the trenches, that would have been a crazy thing to try and do. It was very physically difficult but the game plan was to make it look easy. The game plan was to be supremely fit, to be able to move consistently, continually for 12 rounds, so I had to be more conditioned in my legs. I put a little bit of weight on, I was (217 pounds), about a stone (14 pounds) over the cruiserweight limit, but I needed that extra weight to be able to absorb the punches and I needed to be able to make him pay any time I countered. They couldn’t be tippy-tappy shots or he’d walk through them. I had to gain his respect in the opening couple of rounds and I did with a big overhand right in the second which actually broke my knuckle. That gave me that bit of room where he couldn’t walk me down. I had to be a matador to the giant bull.
He was a lot better than he looked. He was a lot faster than I hoped he’d be. I’d watched him on tape but he was much harder to get close to and harder to hit with big shots. because although I had Julius Long and some other big sparring partners who were 6-8, 6-9, there wasn’t anyone with his dimensions or boxing ability. He was very effective, but I had to keep that distance, mix in big, hard feints with concussive shots and try not to miss and get tangled up. It was more of an athletic performance rather than a fight. I had to use every athletic gift God gave me in terms of speed, reflexes, timing… All he could do was chase shadows all night. I nearly had him out in that last round, I caught him with the left hook and maybe because it was late in the fight and he was a little fatigued but for the first time in his career he showed he’d been shaken to his boots. He did a little silly dance and I think that solidified it on the judges’ scorecards. Two had me winning by four or five rounds, one had it a draw – I don’t know what he was watching – but, when you fight a foreign champion on a foreign promotion you’ve got to win by a wide margin and I’m fortunate it worked out perfectly. I put my name in the record books and realized a lifelong ambition. It was about the closest you could get to Ivan Drago at the time. I still get people coming up to me now saying, ‘I remember when you were a little kid you said you would be the heavyweight champion of the world.’ I was never the biggest heavyweight but I think it proves with the right mindset, the right beliefs, the right training… it was the perfect storm. You can do anything and everything if you’re willing to put the time in.
Result: Haye MD 12
Date/ Venue: July 12, 2012/ Upton Park, West Ham
Titles: Non-title heavyweight
Chisora was a good fight. It was after my loss to Wladimir Klitschko, so I needed to prove to the masses that I was still a force in the heavyweight division. Chisora had just done 12 rounds with Vitali Klitschko and conducted himself – during the fight – very, very well. He pushed Vitali to the limit. We obviously had our famous brawl in Munich and after that, that was all the hype you’d ever need for a showdown. It was at Upton Park, there was a massive crowd and Derek had never been put down in his whole career, even in the 12 rounds against Vitali Klitschko, so to get him out of there in five rounds, that was probably the last time ‘The Hayemaker’ was really ‘The Hayemaker’. Since that point I’ve been plagued with injuries and never quite been the same again and the fact that me and Derek embraced after that fight, it was nice. There was so much beef leading up to it, and it was genuine, and when we squashed it that night it showed boxing was a great sport, arch enemies could settle their differences like men, shake hands, embrace and move on. Derek moved on to amazing things and eight years later he’s still here and getting ready to fight on another pay-per-view event and I’m managing him. It’s crazy how boxing works.
Result: Haye KO 5
Date/ Venue: March 4, 2017/O2 Arena, London
Titles: Non-title heavyweight
That was edge of the seat stuff. Whether you were a Haye or a Bellew fan, you would feel you got your monies worth. I’d been fighting on one leg with a snapped Achilles, it’s not the smartest thing to do but when you’re in the heat of battle you’ve got to fight until you can’t fight no more and many people who messaged me after the fight said, ‘You know David, I’ve never been a fan of yours. I always rooted against you. I was rooting against you in this fight, but the way you took your licks, the way you continued when many wouldn’t have, that showed a different side to you.’ It took me taking an absolute shellacking on one leg for people to give me some props… A typical British mentality: they’d rather see you lose with dignity than win and be brash, which is understandable. I get it. The whole fight was pretty blurry. When they opened the Achilles up, the doctor said he’d never seen anything as remotely as messy as mine. Most people, when they injure it, they stop. But for me, to fight for five rounds on it, that unraveled it completely. It took him significantly longer than it would ordinarily do to try and piece it all back together. I’ve got a video of the surgery. It’s not pretty. It’s testament to what boxers go through to see who they are and I wouldn’t change a thing. I did what I thought was best at the time to win the fight and I was punching until I couldn’t punch anymore, and if Shane McGuigan didn’t throw the towel in I would have kept going. Would I have heard the final bell? Who knows? But I’d have been in there swinging to the bitter end. I remember watching Danny Williams fighting Mark Potter and every boxer wants to say they’d do what Danny did over what Vitali Klitschko did against Chris Byrd, in a fight he was winning. Klitschko said he couldn’t fight with one arm [after dislocating his shoulder]. Danny kept fighting with one arm and found a way to win. I’d have liked to believe that I’ve got that live or die, fight to the bitter end mentality. Every fighter thinks they’d do what Danny did but would they really? When they know that by continuing it could get worse and that could end your career forever, is it the smart move to stop? Would my rematch with Bellew have been more successful if I’d stopped straight away? Maybe. Maybe not. Maybe it wasn’t the smartest thing to do, but maybe boxing’s not the smartest thing to do full-stop, getting punched in the head for a living. Sometimes it comes down to heart, sometimes it comes down to personality, and I think that type of mentality, going through what’s needed to go through, is the difference between being a champion and just a contender.
Result: Bellew TKO 11