David Haye: I don’t believe Aleksandr Usyk has the firepower to keep Derek Chisora off him
A few years ago, David Haye could be found in Munich smashing glass containers over the head of Derek Chisora, now he manages him. That’s boxing, so they say.
The two have forged a working alliance that has breathed new life and fresh impetus into the career of the heavyweight veteran, Chisora, and has him in the shape of his life heading into his crunch clash with former undisputed cruiserweight champion Aleksandr Usyk this weekend.
Their fistic feud ended with Chisora on the deck after five violent rounds at Upton Park in 2012 but now Haye oversees Chisora’s training and he insists he is ready to upset the Ukrainian hero.
“We’ve never not been friends,” smiled Haye. “We’ve got a very good working relationship where he respects my opinion. If I request him to do a certain session that he doesn’t want to do, I think there’s only me that can convince him to do it. And that’s why he wanted me to guide his career, because he’s got so much experience very few coaches can say, ‘Do this’ and have any reference to why that’s the right thing to do if Derek doesn’t want to do it.
“We’ve had back and forth but he needs a strong manager to manage him to do the right things. From the food he eats to how he travels to the gym or home, everything’s a negotiation. It’s quite exhausting but it feels like it’s been worthwhile because it’s got Derek to this stage where he’s the best he could possibly be.”
It’s one of boxing’s more unlikely working relationships. The high-flying, commercial entity that is the Hayemaker and the enigmatic wild card, Del Boy. But Haye says he’s seen his man change, particularly over the course of a training camp that has grown longer and longer because of Covid and previous delays to Usyk-Chisora.
“I don’t think he won a round of sparring before he fought Dillian Whyte,” Haye continued. “He was losing every round and I remember watching and I asked [former Chisora trainer] Don Charles why he was getting battered and he said, ‘That’s just how he spars. Rarely does he win rounds in sparring.’ What kind of preparation is that? He said he was a fight-night fighter. But what he’s done now is win just about every round and that was against fresh guys. The last 30 rounds he’s sparred, I’d be very surprised if he lost any of them if I was a judge because he’s been pushing the pace, forcing the action, moving his head, punching with people, pinning them against the ropes and letting barrages of punches go. It’s not pretty, but it’s effective.”
That seems to be the plan. Come knocking at Usyk’s door with heavyweight artillery and keep knocking until the door falls off its hinges. The centerpieces of preparation have been getting Chisora ready to walk through the impending fire. Haye maintains that it’s the work he’s witnessed in camp that’s got him feeling more relaxed than he did before many of Chisora’s other bouts.
“It sounds really strange,” he continued, “but I had more butterflies before he fought David Price, before he fought [Senad] Gashi even and Arthur Szpilka, there were more nerves before those because there was too much of the unknown and he went into those fights having done 80 percent of what he should have done. But when you’re fighting elite fighters, 80 percent isn’t enough, particularly if you don’t have the amateur pedigree. I’m sure Usyk has gone into fights 80 percent of what he could be, but his 80 percent is a big improvement compared to every other cruiserweights because his skillset’s that good.
“Derek hasn’t got that skillset to fall back on so he has to be 100 percent. If he’s to cause one of the biggest upsets in British sport, he’s going to need to do something he hasn’t done before; the pace, the punch variety that he brought to the table against Dillian Whyte isn’t enough. The fitness levels he brought to the David Price fight aren’t enough. And I’m aware of that but, fortunately in the weird world we find ourselves in, it’s worked out perfectly for Derek. If this fight had happened in March, or even July, I would have been worried because the last eight weeks of his training camp, every single session he’s done has been the ideal session. For example, a 10-round sparring session… Rarely did Dereck get through 10 rounds without an injury, or his arm hurting, or his leg, a hamstring, there was always something that stopped the training happening and we had to work around it. With this camp he’s given me that extra little bit. He’s emptied the tank every single time we’ve required him to, he’s been injury free and it’s been a pleasure to work with his team.”
Chisora has enlisted the help of London Shootfighters as he’s honed his skills and work rate, employing them to help him use his own physicality more in close.
“We’ve had sessions where we’ve had five or six sparring partners going at him for between eight and 12 rounds and the sparring partners know that if they can knock Derek Chisora down, they get an additional £1,000,” Haye added. “Everyone was going for that £1,000 and they knew they only had two rounds with him, so they could spar knowing they could use all of their energy in those two rounds forcing Dereck to have to go with them – and then he had a fresh sparring partner in and we did this time and time again. At first, he wasn’t physically able to do it but come the last four weeks Derek has been able to go at a pace we didn’t think would be possible for him and it took a lot of trial and error to get him to this point but it’s been perfect.”
Haye also thinks Team Usyk are overlooking Chisora, that they see Chisora as merely a gatekeeper.
“One hundred percent,” believes the former two-weight world champion. “They watched his fight against Gashi where Dereck was chasing shadows all night and he’d sparred orthodox fighters and he didn’t know how to close the range on a southpaw, but since that fight, particularly when he fought Szpilka, that’s when he got his mindset into the southpaw style and he’s since had the Price fight but then went straight back to switching his mind on to the southpaw assault and here we are. He’s had a year to work on this fight. He’s had a year to harness his fine tuning and his southpaw assault. How many sparring partners has Usyk had that have forced the pace, walked into range, hit him behind the head, hit him low? Who’s roughed Usyk up in sparring? When you get a fighter who’s as good as Usyk, sparring partners are under manners. They stay at long range. They go through the rounds trying not to get beaten up. No one’s going to be willing to absorb everything Usyk’s throwing at him to get inside to really pound his body, break him up and slow him down and I think he’s going to realize in rounds four five, six that he can’t keep Derek off him and he’s going to have to change something but he will be so damaged he won’t have 12 rounds of fight left in him because it’s been punched out of him in the first few rounds. Derek is going to get peppered early doors, no doubt about it. He’s willing and accepting of the fact that he’s going to have to come through some tough spots in this fight, but is Usyk willing to hold his feet and really let Derek have it up close? Is he going to try and clinch? Is he going to try and run? At some point he’s going to need to hold his feet to keep Chisora off him. He’s going to want to make this fight an extravaganza. He failed to excite the world about being a heavyweight against Chazz Witherspoon. He won the fight but no one thought after that, ‘He’s definitely got a chance to beat AJ or Fury.’ They said, ‘Let’s see what he does next’. So they’ve picked someone on paper he should be able to deal with but in reality he’s picked a big, strong, hungry, solid 115kg (250-pound) heavyweight who punches for 12 rounds and that’s something he’s never had to deal with before. Even as an amateur he fought Joe Joyce but he’s a long-range boxer, a long-range puncher and very basic and easy to read. Derek doesn’t know what he’s doing half the time, so he’s a very tough fighter to deal with. Even when I fought Chisora, if it wasn’t for the fact that I had Carlos Takam in training camp, really pushing me in every sparring session, I would have been ill-prepared and it would have got to rounds three or four and I would have thought, ‘Do I have enough left to go down the stretch?’. Fortunately, I was aware how hard it is to fight a big, strong man when they’re pushing and pulling inside.”
Usyk is attempting to do what few have done, move up from cruiserweight to win heavyweight gold. It’s something Haye managed, and he and Usyk are both featured prominently in most lists of the best cruisers in the division’s short history.
“Usyk has had a longer, more sustained career and he’s campaigned at cruiserweight and I was never really that interested in being a cruiserweight champion but I was a cruiserweight,” said Haye, when asked who was better of the two. “I wanted to be a heavyweight; I just wasn’t big enough. I knew it was possible. Evander Holyfield did it and I thought I was going to do what he did, unify the belts and then move up. The moment I unified I moved up. I had no defenses. The way Usyk beat those cruiserweights, very few of them were spectacular knockouts whereas all my fights were by knockout. I wish he was around in my time. I think his style would have gelled nicely with mine, he’s a long-range puncher who doesn’t like to get too close, so it would be a long-range affair, which always suited me. The kind of fighters I struggled with get close, they get into range and force the fight and Derek at the moment is the ultimate guy in closing the space down and making you fight at a pace you don’t want to fight at. I don’t believe Usyk has the firepower to keep Derek off him, because once he gets close to him he’s going to be hitting anything he can get his hands on. It’s very tough [the move from cruiser to heavyweight] if you don’t have dynamite in your fists. If you can’t keep a big man off you with firepower, you’re going to have to learn to fight inside and become an inside fighter and to become an inside fighter at heavyweight when you haven’t been an inside fighter at cruiserweight is a very dangerous game to play. It means you’re going to be in range to be hit and a shot from a cruiser is very different to a shot from a [250-pound] man with 10oz gloves on. There are weight classes for a reason. Derek isn’t carrying the blubber he used to carry around his mid-section, he’s not puffy and full of lumps of linguine. He’s been eating lean, nutrient-wise he’s got organic food in him, we get his blood work done, we make sure everything’s optimal and he can’t be any better than he’s going to be on Saturday night. This is him at his very best. He’s going to be better than he was against Vitali Klitschko, Robert Helenius.. This is him at his best now and I don’t think Usyk is going to be physically or mentally prepared for the type of fight Derek is going to force him to have.”
Usyk-Chisora plus undercard will be broadcast on DAZN in the U.S. and Sky Sports Box Office in the U.K.