AS a young professional boxing hopeful, David Haye was not that much different from his peers, despite a World amateur silver medal marking him out as a prospect to watch. He still keenly craved the approval of the fans and would eagerly visit boxing forums to find reviews of and reaction to his most recent fight, even engaging with the punters. While Haye still peruses the online message boards to this day, he no longer contributes.
“I love the banter,” he tells me, as we sit in his gym in Vauxhall, London. “I used to write as myself when I was younger, up to my 10th-11th fight. I used to try to justify my performances, like I needed their approval. I’d be like, ‘I went out and beat this guy really well; what do you think?’ ‘Nah, the guy was crap.’ ‘But he hadn’t lost before.’ ‘Yeah but he’d never fought anybody.’ People always used to say, ‘You’ll never gonna be cruiserweight champion because if you can’t beat Carl Thompson, how you gonna beat Jean-Marc Mormeck?’ Then I beat Mormeck: ‘Oh he was over the hill, you wouldn’t beat Enzo Maccarinelli, he’s young etc’, beat him, ‘You’re never gonna be heavyweight champion, you won’t beat Nikolai Valuev, he’s too big and you’re only a pumped-up cruiserweight,’ beat Valuev and then ‘Valuev was too slow.’ Then ‘You’re not gonna beat Klitschko’, lost on points, ‘Ah, I always knew you was s***, I’ve been saying it since 2002.’
“All these people who were saying these things were paying to see it. You can’t please everyone. People are moaning about Floyd Mayweather but he’s done nothing wrong in his career. He’s beat every single man he’s ever faced and people say he’s a cherry-picker and only fights people when they’re finished. Really? He’s not young himself. ‘Manny Pacquiao’s over the hill’… they’re about the same age!”
Haye is one of the game’s finest self-marketers and is acutely aware that a desire to see a boxer lose is much more likely to increase that fighter’s bank balance than widespread indifference.
“As long as you’re interesting to people, as long as you’re relevant, that’s all that matters,” he stated. “As long people are taking time to log into a forum and write something, even if it’s to say you’re the worst fighter they’ve ever seen in their life, they hope they never see you again, as long as they’re writing about you, they don’t realise, they’re a secret fan. If I buy a ticket to see the Spice Girls and I only went there to see how terrible they were and slag them off, I’m a fan. They don’t realise that. Without people like that I wouldn’t be here today. I love my haters as much as my supporters. I need them arguing with each other because if everyone loved David they’d get bored of that and have nothing to say in the pub. I talk to fighters who, like me when I was younger, they take it really personal when reviews don’t go their way. It doesn’t matter, just be happy you’re in the magazine. I don’t complain but I’d probably complain if they weren’t writing about me!”
And, to clarify, David Haye has never bought a ticket to see the Spice Girls, though he would not be drawn on whether he has ever been given a ticket to the ‘Girl Power’ act at no charge.
#HayeDay returns to The O2 on May 21, tickets are available on general sale now via AXS.com.