THE David Haye rollercoaster rumbled to a halt with today’s retirement announcement though arguments about his place in history will now commence. I’d go as far as to suggest, if one can forgive the injuries and arrogance and excuses, and this is boxing so one should, the Londoner deserves to be recognised among the finest fighters his country produced.
The pinnacle for David Haye, despite the riches amassed later, was the 2007 victory over Jean Marc Mormeck in Paris. The Englishman kept his head when he was knocked down in the fourth and rebounded to claim the WBC and WBA cruiserweight titles on fierce away ground in the seventh. It remains one of the most underrated coronations in British boxing history.
The ascent to that peak was also decorated with reasons why Haye, a brilliant amateur before turning pro in 2002, should be remembered fondly. Following his first career defeat to Carl Thompson in 2004 – very much an exercise in realising even the kitchen sink isn’t enough if you’re not clever about when and where to throw it – the Bermondsey star rebuilt impressively.
Alexander Gurov, a solid enough chap, was flattened with one of Haye’s most cinematic bombs, the straight right hand, in the opening round. The EBU title won via the quick finish in 2005 was defended the following year as Haye, bleeding and struggling for breath, rallied to halt future world champion, Giacobbe Fragomeni, in the ninth of a frantic battle.
Mormeck soon followed before a monster unification clash with WBO champion Enzo Maccarinelli took place in March 2008. With promises of rising to heavyweight and conquering all already lodged, Haye set about the Welshman with the kind of reckless confidence that made his contests so exciting. Enzo, try as he might, couldn’t stand under the abuse and was stopped in two. And the fans in London’s O2, as they did until the very end, went ballistic.
One wonders what would have happened if Haye had stuck around at cruiserweight longer and cleared out the division. Victories over IBF champions Steve Cunningham and Thomasz Adamek would have bolstered his legacy, but in the modern era the only way is up, particularly if the only level up is the highest and most lucrative of them all.
Heavyweight contender-cum-yardstick Monte Barret was bludgeoned in five, before Haye – while in talks to face Wladimir Klitschko – decided to in 2009 to instead take on WBA boss Nikolay Valuev, a giant so big he was scarcely believable.
The humongous Russian was favoured by some to retain his title in Germany where he did most of his fighting. Almost to a fault, Haye boxed safely, yet the intelligent manner of his approach [above] should yield praise. He did enough to take the verdict after 12, including a memorable assault in the final session that had the champion tottering unsteadily, and became only the second man to defeat Valuev. Not only that, Haye again claimed a major belt on away soil. It shouldn’t be forgotten that Haye claimed the bona-fide WBA strap – that organisation created the ‘Super’ belt further down the line.
There were homecoming defences against John Ruiz and, infamously, Audley Harrison. The latter thrashing was, as Haye so toxically predicted, “as one-sided as a gang rape” yet the hype surrounding the pay-per-view platform for the mismatch did no one any favours.
If the hostile pre-fight barbs displayed the worst of Haye, the manner of his victory [above] also illustrated the best – at least the heavyweight seek-and-destroy version. With Harrison blasted in three, the showdown with Klitschko was set for July, 2011. Despite more crude promises of destruction, Haye was comprehensively outscored over 12 rounds in a contest that fell short of expectation. And the aftermath, when he blamed a broken toe, tore down his reputation further.
Hindsight hasn’t brightened the whole saga yet Haye’s performance, defensively sound and occasionally dangerous against a peak Klitschko, deserved more than the epitaph his toe provided.
A retirement announcement followed yet few, including the fighter himself, felt it was the end. With typical zest for a payday, Haye pursued a shot at Vitali Klitschko but ended up in a grotesque brawl with Dereck Chisora from which a domestic showdown at Upton Park in 2012 was born. Haye showed he had plenty left as he walloped his enemy to defeat in five thrilling rounds [below], but it would be the last time we’d see “Hayemaker” as he would like to be remembered.
Injuries vetoed two dates with Tyson Fury as Haye’s body rebelled against the huge slabs of muscle it was lugging around. Doctors warned Haye his career was over, and much of his team – led by Adam Booth – believed any thoughts of a comeback should be forgotten.
At the start of 2016, Haye, with Shane McGuigan installed as his new coach, embarked on the return that would eventually finish him. Quick and farcical wins over Mark de Mori [below] and Arnold Gjergjaj proved little before a grudge with rising WBC cruiserweight boss Tony Bellew was manufactured ahead of their March 2017 bout.
Haye was expected to have enough left to win and set up the desired get-rich-quick shot at Anthony Joshua, but the erosion was obvious from the opening bell. His Achilles ruptured in the sixth round, yet he showed extraordinary bravery to last until the 11th, and newfound wisdom to not reference the injury in the aftermath. In defeat, Haye’s popularity soared again.
A rematch was postponed after his bicep gave out but Haye doggedly refused to give up on his career. In April 2018, Haye’s absolute decline was confirmed when Bellew took him out in five rounds. Again, Haye [below] was the epitome of sportsmanship after being rescued in the fifth, choosing only to congratulate his conqueror.
Curiously, those two defeats allowed Haye to restore his character, if not his fighting prowess. That was gone forever and the 37-year-old admitted what he may have known for a long time, when he today announced it was the end.
Four world belts across two weight classes is a better return than most British fighters, and the talent and excitement he unleashed along the way is unrivalled in the current era.
His 28-4 (26) stats should perhaps have been greater. And his habit of making painful rods for his own back was never really corrected. But Haye’s decision to make peace with himself and call time should only be greeted with applause. Love him or hate him, it was an unmissable ride.