By Thomas Gerbasi
The retirement of David Haye didn’t last long, but that doesn’t mean he didn’t enjoy it while it was happening.
“I had a big retirement party in London that everybody came to, and that was really nice,” said the former heavyweight and cruiserweight champion of his walk into the proverbial sunset following his 12 round decision loss to Wladimir Klitschko on July 2, 2011. “They were playing all my old fights on the big screen and everyone was getting drunk and enjoying it, and celebrating my victories and what I’ve done in the ring. It was nice.”
Boxing has a way of getting its claws into you though, and almost immediately, Haye, still a young man in his physical prime at 31 years old, was haunted by the specter of a return. A post-Klitschko visit to heavyweight legend Lennox Lewis’ place in Jamaica didn’t help matters either.
“He’s a great guy and he’s also retired but people keep telling him to come back,” recalled Haye. “He said you do what you’ve gotta do.”
And as rumors swirled of talks between the Haye camp and that of Wladimir’s brother Vitali Klitschko, the retirement that no one expected to last was, well, not going to last. The only question was, how would the Londoner get dragged back into the sweet science? Like everything involving the charismatic “Hayemaker,” it wasn’t going to be typical, and after British journeyman Dereck Chisora went 12 hard rounds before losing to the elder Klitschko brother on February 18th, the answer came in stunning and unpredictable fashion, as the two engaged in a heavily publicized brawl at the post-fight press conference that introduced “He glassed me” into the fighting lexicon and sent boxing pundits scurrying to describe it as the latest black eye for boxing.
All the while, you got the impression that Haye was rubbing his hands like a mad scientist that just discovered the formula to destroy the world. But in reality, Chisora’s lack of self-control, coupled with his gutsy effort against Vitali and a larcenous decision loss to highly-regarded Robert Helenius in December of last year, made what would have been a mismatch worthy of worldwide derision a couple years back a viable fight. Chisora’s promoter Frank Warren knew it, and he made a beeline to Haye.
“Frank Warren gave me a proposition to fight Dereck Chisora in a 10 round non-title fight in a soccer stadium,” said Haye. “I said ‘well, that’s interesting,’ and the amount of people that pull me up in the street and say ‘David, man, why don’t you fight Dereck Chisora? You saw what happened at the press conference; you should do this for real. You should do it in a ring so you get paid for it,’ and it made sense. It’s a fight that I believe could get me closer to a fight with Vitali Klitschko. At the moment I’m coming off a loss to Wladimir, his brother, and if I go out there and make a statement against Dereck Chisora and dispatch him in a fashion that has never happened before, I think that will send shockwaves around the world.
“Although Dereck Chisora isn’t a world beater and hasn’t really beaten anyone of note, he always gives a good account of himself, like he did against Vitali Klitschko and Robert Helenius. He went 12 rounds and pushed both of these guys pretty hard. So I believe if I go out there and knock him out, I think that speaks volumes and really sort of force Vitali into thinking about his own legacy. And in years to come, people will say ‘why didn’t you fight David Haye? You’re fighting all these old, washed up guys, how about David Haye? He fought the same guy you beat and knocked him out. You didn’t knock him out; why don’t you fight David?’ Hopefully that will be the case.”
On Saturday at Upton Park in London, over 30,000 fans will watch Haye fight Chisora. Haye is out of retirement, clocking in at a trim 210 pounds at Thursday’s weigh in to Chisora’s 247 pounds, and the aforementioned number of fans is expected to shoot even higher before the bell rings. On a day when UK star Amir Khan faces Danny Garcia in Las Vegas in a major world championship bout, much of the sporting world is talking about Haye vs. Chisora.
“The only bit of excitement in the heavyweight division after I retired was when I beat up Dereck Chisora at that press conference after the Vitali Klitschko fight,” said Haye in what may be deemed hyperbole, but that is likely the reality. “That was the only time heavyweight boxing was back in the headlines. It’s a shame it took something like that, but it always seems that whenever I’m involved in something, it gets headlines and it gets people excited. This fight, coming against a guy coming off three title losses is kind of a Superfight in the UK and in Europe. It’s absolutely huge. It sold 30,000 tickets already. When was the last time you saw a non-title heavyweight fight or a non-title fight in general sell that many tickets? It’s crazy and we expect another 10,000 over the next couple of days. It’s a huge event. It’s front page news and back page news in all the newspapers, and it completely eclipsed Wladimir’s fight against Tony Thompson last weekend.”
Over eight million viewers tuned in to German television network RTL last week to watch Wladimir’s second win over Thompson. Those are impressive numbers, and Haye agrees before pointing out that “if you look back a year prior to when I fought Wladimir Klitschko on the same weekend, I got 16 million. So they got half of what they got the year before, and I think that’s a testament to the Klitschkos fighting guys they know they can beat and no one’s interested in seeing. I know eight million’s a lot, but that’s half of what it could be if it was against a guy like myself.”
The foundation is already being set for Haye vs. Vitali, and the Brit is leading the charge like he always does. But will the public buy the fight after Haye’s less than stellar performance against Wladimir Klitschko last year? After all the hype and build-up, Haye lost a one-sided decision, with his claims of a broken toe hindering him earning plenty of abuse from around the globe. To his credit, when talking about the fight these days, it’s with no bitterness and no excuses.
“After that fight I was bitterly disappointed with my performance and the fact that I didn’t win,” he said. “There was never a consideration that I could lose that fight and it didn’t go my way, and that was a bitter pill to swallow. Wladimir made it pretty clear that he had no intentions of giving me a rematch and he beat me fair and square, he doesn’t have to. He can go and fight the guys like Tony Thompson, who he’s already beaten, who he knows are old and he can get a nice easy victory over and be safe and earn good money. So it’s a business decision, and he said I don’t think I need to fight you again.”
Vitali is fair game though, and if he can dominate and stop Chisora Saturday, that fight could become a lot more of a reality in the coming weeks. But then there’s the pesky issue of the sanctioning of Haye-Chisora and the impact that going with the Luxembourg Boxing Federation will have on Haye’s future. As mentioned earlier, the brawl in Germany didn’t sit too well with boxing’s powers that be, specifically the British Boxing Board of Control, and Chisora’s license was revoked indefinitely in March. When the bout was officially announced in May, it was also noted that the Luxembourg Boxing Federation would sanction the contest, provoking outrage throughout the UK fight community and threats from the BBBofC. But the fight will go on, and the way Haye sees it, this is all much ado about nothing.
“The average guy in the street who goes to a bar or pays a hundred bucks to watch this fight, they don’t care who governs the fight,” he said. “They don’t care if it’s the British Boxing Board of Control or the Luxembourg Boxing Federation; they just see Michael Buffer in the ring, they see a referee, two boxers, judges, and they see a fight, that’s it. They don’t care about that stuff. It’s all political stuff that happens behind the scenes, and the average guys on the street don’t care about that. The fight’s fully licensed, there are ambulances there, there’s medical assistance, and there are all the same regulations that there would be if it was the normal British Boxing Board of Control sanctioning it. This is just another one, and I think people have finally realized to stop moaning about that, and get on with it and enjoy the fight. Just accept that this is what’s happening Saturday night, and just sit back and enjoy it.”
Haye can whip off some outlandish statements from time to time, but when it comes to this topic, he’s one hundred percent on target. Chisora has had his issues with the law in the past, and his actions before and after the Klitschko fight (slapping Vitali and spitting at Wladimir, along with the Haye brawl) are nothing to be praised or celebrated for, but when it comes down to it, this is a fight sport and these are fighters, and the safest way for the two to settle their differences is in the ring. There’s no point sugarcoating this or making prizefighters out to be angels. These men punch other men for a living, and occasionally, there’s going to be a grudge match like this that could get out of hand before the opening bell rings. But that’s why they fight the fights, and tomorrow night, Haye expects England to shut down until the final punch is thrown.
“I don’t know exactly what it is, but people get excited,” he said. “When I fight, everybody stops what they’re doing. No nightclubs are open in London until my fight’s over because all the bouncers and security guards are watching my fight. (Laughs) It’s quite amusing to have that happen. I’ve had people say that they’ve waited outside of a club for an hour because there’s no security to let them in. Everything stops. Every bar, every club, every pub is electric. And even in the UK now, The Odeon, which is a big cinema chain over here, they’re doing closed circuit, so they’re paying to watch my fight like it’s a movie. And these are getting sold out nationwide. People who live up north are saying they can’t get down to London for this particular fight and they need to see this. They don’t just want to watch it on TV, they want to go out and make a big night of it, and I think there are very few fighters out there that cause that type of excitement.”
Again, Haye speaks the truth in a way that only he can. Because as dominant as the Klitschko brothers have been over the years, likely cementing spots in Canastota’s Hall of Fame for themselves five years after they hang up the gloves, they don’t bring excitement to the division like a David Haye does. And he knows it. He also knows that a fight with Vitali would ignite the sport just like the Wladimir bout did. So he needs to make a statement this weekend.
“It’s a yardstick and you can measure me against Vitali from this one fight,” he said. “And if I do a better job than Vitali did, that will raise a few eyebrows. They say you’re as good as your last fight, well my last fight was against Wladimir Klitschko, arguably the best heavyweight on the planet, and I lost on points. I won a few rounds, it wasn’t many, and I didn’t perform like I said I would or I believe I could have done, but after this fight, people will say ‘okay, David Haye destroyed Dereck Chisora, a tough, durable guy who’s proved himself at the highest level, and yeah, David Haye’s back.’”
Needless to say, it’s good to see him back after his short retirement, but for the man himself, he has just one goal in his return, and if he doesn’t hit it, the next retirement will be a permanent one.
“I don’t have a heavyweight legacy like Lennox Lewis, but I’m a former undisputed cruiserweight champion and heavyweight champion of the world, and there are a lot of fighters that would kill to have that type of resume,” he said. “But I always wanted to reach for the stars and always aimed to be the best possible fighter I could be, and to win multiple titles. And I wanted to right the wrong. After I lost to Wladimir, I wanted an opportunity to win back the heavyweight title, and if that comes along, great, I’ll be over the moon, I’ll train hard and do whatever I can to win that, and if it doesn’t happen, I’ll have to accept that and be happy with the Dereck Chisora victory as my last professional contest.”