It sounds like something from the playground, a girl asks two boys who would win in a fight if they were ever going to throw hands.
But here, in 2021, it’s the storyline to an actual pay-per-view undercard fight.
David Haye, retired for three years, meets his old friend, sparring partner and client Joe Fournier on the Oscar De La Hoya-Vitor Belfort September 11 Triller card at the Staples Center in a fight that was made over a few alcoholic beverages at the Greek resort of Mykonos.
“A girl asked who’d win a fight between me and him,” Haye recalled. “I found it quite amusing and said it might be a draw, trying to gee him up and encourage him a little bit. He was a little bit pissed [drunk] and said, ‘You would have done for sure back in the day but not today, with your Achilles, your back, your shoulders, both your biceps have popped off, I’d stop you if we were to fight now.’ I thought he was joking but it transpired he wasn’t.”
Fournier was referring to Haye’s injury-ravaged body that caused him long spells of inactivity in a career that saw him win world titles at heavyweight and cruiserweight.
And while he disagrees with Fournier’s assertions, he conceded his September opponent does know him as well as anyone else.
“I didn’t think it would happen,” the Hayemaker admitted. “We had a bit of a disagreement. We’ve been close, he flew with me to Germany right before the [Tony] Bellew fight for [medical] treatment and he’s been around me and he knows everything, he knows how fragile my body is, the rehabilitation, he’s been around.”
They have also holidayed together, Haye managed Fournier for some of Joe’s own pro career and they have sparred countless rounds together.
“I’ve sparred him loads,” continued Haye. “I used to spar with him before I sparred anyone else. He was the first person I sparred with, he was lighter than me, quick, fast hands and durable but he doesn’t realize that the rounds he did with me… I always used to start against light-heavyweights and cruiserweights just to practice getting hit, to get my timing, taking shots… I used to take a lot of punches to toughen my body up and ride them, then you go to the big guys. I’d never jump straight in there with the big guys or some giant with my timing not being right or else I’d be knocked spark out. The smaller guys would speed me up, so he was the smaller guy I’d spar with first and I managed him at the time so I used to gee him up and say how well he’d done but I think in his mind he was hitting me with shots because he was better than me. Maybe that’s where he got the confidence from. Then he sees me fight Tony Bellew and he beat me twice and he [Joe] was landing shots and he’s just miscalculated the whole thing…”
But once the drunken talk flowed, the challenges started to become slightly more real.
“I said all right, next time you’re in London we will get on 18oz gloves, headguards and I’ll give you four rounds and I guarantee you tap out before four rounds. He said, What? You think I’m going to do that behind closed doors? If I get in the ring with you it’s going to be for real, 10oz gloves on. It was drunken talk and he said Triller have got Oscar De La Hoya out of retirement, and they would love to get the Hayemaker out there and the numbers on my last fight were good so I’d reckon they’d have it as a special attraction for one night only. I said I very much doubt it.”
Then the contract arrived and Haye knew the fight was on and that Fournier was not just winding him up. The money was too good so the fight became a reality. Some say Haye is just using it as a cash grab, to which he replies, why not?
“Who doesn’t need another pay per view blockbuster to box Joe Fournier,” he joked. “[It’s the] Same as Mayweather v Logan Paul, same reason as him. It’s effectively five weeks of focus and dedication and I feel I’m being amply compensated.”
Haye said he is training as he would for any other fight, mixing in boxing training with physio, massages and rehab. The great unknown is whether his body can hold up after it gave out in his last fight with Bellew back in May 2018.
He says he’s training like he’s “fighting King Kong.”
“I can’t afford not to train because if something happens because I’ve not prepared I’ll never forgive myself,” he said, while still shaking his head at how surreal the whole thing is.
There are those who contend that in their eight-round fight, Haye will feel obliged to carry the 9-0 Fournier, but David says that’s not an option. He says his slip and counter style works “at full pelt or not at all.”
It will also be amped up by adrenaline, a roaring crowd and the punches coming towards his head.
And even though he seems to find the whole thing curious and surreal, there’s a part of him that’s looking forward to walking out and fighting as it’s something he thought he’d never experience again.
“I have to say I am a little bit,” he confessed, adding that he’s having his gloves made, shorts designed and that he’s been buzzing from both working hard and from the camaraderie in the gym. He’s also very relaxed about who he’s fighting.
“I don’t feel like it’s going to be life and death on the night,” he smiled, saying that they walk around at a similar weight, with Fournier perhaps being a little bigger. “Maybe it’s not the attitude to have but it doesn’t feel like I’m getting in with a prime Wladimir Klitschko. I’ve been in the gym training more for aesthetics and health reasons, whereas he’s been sparring and training and fighting at a level, not a world level, but he’s been in the ring and doing it and I haven’t. In his mind, he believes that’s enough to beat me right now.”
Haye believes Fournier doesn’t last to round four, mostly down to his inexperience at a higher level. Haye does admit that he is having to recondition his battle-worn body to be in a place it’s not accustomed to being in since he called it a day. He hasn’t been punched in the head or body in years. His neck is becoming a shock absorber again as he prepares for what his old friend can bring.
It’s actually not the first time Haye and Fournier have been together at the Staples Center. They were there together for the Grammys a couple of years ago, but now it’s different.
“It’s a very random situation, I get that,” Haye added. “But how could I turn it down. [I’m] Going to say it’s one and done but I’ve said that before. I was lying before, now I’m telling the truth.”
Haye trots out that well-worn boxing cliché.
Then he gets down to the nitty gritty and admits he wonders if his body will hold up this time.
“A little bit,” he said, when asked if the story of the fight is if his body can go through another pro contest. “I don’t believe the pressure Joe can put on me is enough for something to snap but that’s what I’m being compensated for. That’s the show, how long will I hold up? Some would say my last fight was a sign that there’d was no more, but it’s been three years and my memories of that fight have dissipated slightly…The battle is, is my body going to hold up to do what I’ve always been able to do? I believe yes. I also believed yes the two times against Tony Bellew.”