THE bottle was not intended to be a weapon. The press conference not supposed to be a stage. And Dereck Chisora and David Haye were not destined to fight. But as machismo filled the air, fate went awry in Munich’s Olympiahalle on February 18 2012. Chisora had just lost a competitive decision to Vitali Klitschko. Haye was hanging around hoping to secure a shot at the Ukrainian.
“So you’re not going to fight David Haye?” he barked at Klitschko’s manager Bernd Boente from the back of the room, with a bottle of lemonade in his hand.
“At the beginning we all thought it was funny,” Boente recalls about the roots of this tale. “Haye was there shouting, promoting himself. We know David, we know that’s what he does and it was okay. He was trying to get a fight [with Vitali].”
But Chisora, sitting at the front alongside his promoter Frank Warren and freshly bruised from battle, took exception to his moment being abused. He leaned into the microphone and told Haye he had no business being there. Disdain drove each word from his mouth. Haye didn’t hold back with a response, choosing to remind Chisora he had now lost three out of his last four contests.
“I was p***** off,” Chisora remembers about that moment. “I’d just done 12 rounds, come out of the ring, it was hectic. Everything happened in a split second.”
The man who had just proved doubters wrong by going the distance with the WBC heavyweight champion, stood up from his seat, walked past Warren and headed towards Haye. No security tried to stop him, his path to his tormentor was clear. Haye stood his ground, shaping his body for confrontation, and focused intently on the fighter coming towards him.
“In combat situations, you don’t think, you just react,” Haye describes about his mindset at that time. “If you think too much about what’s going on, you’ll end up on the floor seeing stars. It’s like asking me what I was thinking the first time Wladimir Klitschko threw a left jab at me. I wasn’t thinking, I was just trying to react to it and do what I naturally do. I was working on instinct. The same happened when Chisora got in my face and threatened to start a fight. Fighting instincts kicked in.”
He slammed a right hand straight at Chisora’s jaw. Lemonade sprayed like champagne but this was no time to celebrate. Things had just got nasty.
“He glassed me, he glassed me,” a groggy Chisora cried after impact.
“As far as I know, everybody was handed a glass of lemonade upon entering the room,” Haye explains. “I took the bottle and drank from it because I was thirsty. I wasn’t even thinking about what was in my hand at that point. If we’d squared up in a cinema and I had a box of popcorn in my hand, you’d have seen bits of popcorn flying all over the room once my fist connected with his chin.”
The violence intensified quickly as people from both camps added to the mess. Fists and tripods enticed blood from wounds. And the world was in shock as news of the melee spread quickly over the internet. But not everybody was aware of what was going on. Robert Smith, the General Secretary of the British Boxing Board of Control, was tucked up in bed, oblivious to the chaos.
“I was at my sister’s house and we’d been out to a family function on the night,” Smith says.
“At about 7:30 on the Sunday morning I received a phone call from Gary Richardson from Radio Five asking me what I thought about last night. I thought he was talking about the fight [Klitschko-Chisora], and I’d watched a bit of the fight, so I said, ‘Yeah, decent fight’. Wrong fight. When I realised what had happened, I was absolutely horrified.”
A sentiment shared by the majority. The brawl was not Chisora’s only Munich misdemeanour. At the weigh-in he slapped Vitali, and moments before their bout began, the Londoner spat water into Wladimir’s face. Understandably, Chisora was called before the Board to explain some of the decisions he’d made that weekend. His licence was withdrawn, but curiously, there was no ban. Haye, at the time officially retired, didn’t have a licence nor need to explain himself to the Board. Suddenly, Chisora was taking all the blame.
“The brawl shouldn’t have happened,” he reflects. “It was bad thing. People calling me mad and insane, I don’t care about that. I don’t worry about what people think of me. But it shouldn’t have happened. At the same time, people started to realise that boxing was still alive. You could say because of that, it was a bad and a good thing.”
Rumours about a boxing match between the pair began as soon as the brawl ceased. But Warren insisted he had no interest in staging such a contest. Haye immediately declared he would not share a ring with his rival. But the newspapers couldn’t leave the subject alone; the infamy was hyped to the hilt. Haye, always partial to being the centre of attention, realised the contest may not be such a bad idea, after all.
“It only seemed like a good idea when I got back to England and saw the national and international clamour for the fight,” he says. “Ultimately, the fight happened because of the way the media and the sportswriters reported the incident in February. If these boxing writers and news writers hadn’t blown the press conference brawl out of proportion so much, the fight would never have happened. The interest just wouldn’t have been there.”
There was talk that a foreign boxing body would sanction the contest. While those in the industry labelled such an event preposterous, Warren – furious with the Board’s treatment of his boxer – announced that the fight would take place on July 14 at Upton Park, the stadium of West Ham United. The unknown Luxembourg Boxing Federation were handed the job of sanctioning the contest and licensing the fighters. It was a mind-boggling development.
Within 48 hours, 20,000 tickets had been sold. The boxing purists may not have liked the contest, but the public certainly did. They didn’t care about Luxembourg’s role. And Haye had barely heard of the nation.
“Before anything, I actually had to go away, find a world map and discover where Luxembourg was. I then had extensive talks with my legal team to discover whether this was an avenue we could feasibly pursue and, in the end, it turned out to be above board and didn’t break or bend any rules. They assured me it was perfectly legal and, subsequently, we went ahead with it and agreed to do the fight. I did what I had to do to the make the fight happen there and then, when the fans wanted it.”
The Board, their rule over British boxing challenged like never before, steadied themselves for battle. They issued a statement warning licence holders that any involvement in the event would result in heavy punishment. Bruce Baker, the British representative for the Luxembourg commission and a man who had grown tired of the Board’s rules and regulations, was alongside Warren leading the charge for the opposition.
“We didn’t intend to have anything to do with Haye-Chisora,” Baker explains about his involvement. “What I wanted to do with Luxembourg was to rule small hall boxing, to allow promoters to make some money. The Board are a governing body who pile rules on top of rules. Small shows are not making money but the Board won’t relax their rules so people can make a profit for the good of the sport.”
Whatever Baker’s motives, he was a key figure in the bout taking place. He admits the final weeks were fraught with pressure, that predictions of crowd trouble made the final countdown nervy and expensive. But Smith “always knew the fight was going to happen.”
And, of course, it did.
At 6pm on Saturday July 14, fans were circling Upton Park in East London. The atmosphere outside the stadium was a curious one, mystery lingered with the dark clouds overhead. But an hour later, with the undercard underway, the air inside the ground was quite different. As the crowd swelled, excitement and optimism swarmed through the air.
“I’d never been to a fight before but the atmosphere was like nothing I’ve experienced, it was electric,” recalls Daniel Cook, one of 31,500 paying spectators. “I was worried beforehand with all the talk of trouble, but the banter and the crowd were superb. Even when it started to rain, everyone was happy.”
Everyone except David Haye. He had been out of the ring for a year, his previous appearance being a miserable loss to Wladimir Klitschko. On that night in Hamburg, pouring rain had hampered Haye, causing him to lose his footing on one than more occasion. While preparing for his return to another open-air venue, Haye had been monitoring the weather forecast.
“All day I was told it would be sunny, a perfect night for a fight, and then fifteen minutes before I was about to walk to the ring I heard it was chucking down with rain,” he says.
“Instantly I thought about Hamburg, the night I fought Klitschko, when it was also pelting down hard for what seemed like hours. I even asked the people around me how bad the rain was at Upton Park and, no word of a lie, one of them replied, ‘It’s just like Hamburg’. I wasn’t exactly pleased.”
As the rain hurtled down, Haye dispensed with boxing boots and entered the ring in trainers. Chisora entered to a chorus of boos.
“It didn’t bother me, man,” Chisora expresses about his mixed reception. “What you have to understand is, even though those guys are booing, they have paid money to come and watch you. I might be more disappointed if they were at home booing, but if people want to boo in the arena, that’s fine with me. When people pay to come and boo, to call me names, pay money to watch you, it shows you’re something special.”
The supposed villain of the piece circled the ring, his body covered with a long robe, his face hidden by a bandana. His trainer Don Charles was pumped, confident his charge was about to send Haye back into retirement. But it didn’t work out that way.
Soaking wet fans, some partially sheltered by ponchos that a gleeful Frank Warren had thrown into the crowd when the rain began, roared with excitement as the opening bell clanged. The enemies sprung from their corners, eager to conclude things quickly. The fight that the fans wanted was unfolding in front of their eyes.
“One of us had to go,” Chisora says. “Blows were chucked in there designed to take the other one out. And fair dos to David, he did the job. My blows in the third round shook him up but the bell went early for some reason, I’m not going to cry over that.”
With Haye stumbling backwards after a heated exchange, the referee reacted to the sound of the 10-second warning and jumped between the fighters. The confusion was caused by a broken bell, but Haye insists the intervention was inconsequential.
“I wasn’t hurt once in the fight, nor was I hit enough to really even feel anything,” Haye claims. “What he did do well was come forward, push the pace of the fight and eat up shots. He was known to be very durable, and that proved to be the case on the night. I certainly haven’t hit many better chins in my boxing life.”
In round five, Chisora’s resistance crumbled. Failing to defend himself after walking into an uppercut, he didn’t see the perfectly formed left hook that approached at haste. The following right hand that decked him was also out of sight. He rose, but any semblance of recovery was soon hacked out of him by five hurtful blasts. Chisora plummeted to the deck, the power of
Haye’s attack contorting his body. It was all over. What started with a right hand five months before, was finished with a left.
“We gave the public a great fight,” Chisora reflects. “I wasn’t that disappointed to lose. Listen, losing a fight on points is the hardest thing in life. It’s so depressing. But losing a fight by knockout, you can’t help it. You can go back in the gym and work on the mistakes that led to you getting knocked out.”
It all capped a hectic learning curve for Chisora. As with the vast majority of boxing rivalries, this one had an ending loaded with mutual respect; something lacking in Munich, something that only a boxing match could provide.
“More than anything, he’s a man of his word,” Haye says about Chisora. “Remember, after the fight he followed through with our bet and donated £20,000 to charity, the ACLT (Afro-Caribbean Leukaemia Trust). In fact, he went down there personally and hand-delivered the cheque, which I thought was a really nice touch.
“Interestingly, on the day he handed over that cheque, only one news outlet made the effort to go down and report on it and that was iFilm London. Everybody else stayed at home and turned a blind eye to it. All the other media outlets who were so quick to jump on the pair of us back in February acted like Chisora’s goodwill gesture had never happened. Perhaps it didn’t fit the perception they were trying to push to the general public. Chisora was supposed to be an evil man, a thug, a heartless bully and boxing was supposed to be the sport of convicts. Yet here was a reformed character going out of his way to donate a significant amount of money to charity and everybody pretended it was no big thing. But apparently a fight between two fighters in a press conference room was.”