I GOT as much out of myself as humanly possible. From the moment I lost to Carl Thompson, I was the consummate pro. I lived the life and did everything I could to be the best fighter I could be. I fought until I couldn’t fight any more. I’m proud of that.
There’s no sadness when I look back on films of myself fighting in my prime, it’s the opposite. I see that as the best version of myself. When you’re no longer in your prime, you can look back and identify exactly when you were in your prime. And those days at cruiserweight, when I was knocking out Jean-Marc Mormeck and Enzo Maccarinelli, I was at my best.
It’s nice that I had some meaningful fights for big world titles on big occasions when I was in that prime. There’s some fighters who don’t get that. They miss their prime by not getting the right opportunities for many reasons. Some have to wait until their mid-thirties before they get the opportunities they wish they’d got 10 years before.
I had the setback in my 11th fight against Thompson but that was the catalyst to put me on the course for world championships. Fighters like Joe Calzaghe or Floyd Mayweather Jnr remained unbeaten but I wasn’t that guy. I lost early and I got the opportunity to learn from my mistakes. With hindsight, I can now say that loss was among my most important fights because of what it made me realise, and what I went on to achieve because of it.
I wasn’t invincible. There is no such thing as an invincible boxer. As a boxer at the top level you try and make yourself as invincible as you can be but that notion of invincibility – whatever might be said at press conferences – is a falsehood.
Every single fighter I fought had the capabilities to beat me if they’d have got it right themselves. But when I trained, like I did for the Mormeck fight, I trained for every eventuality. I trained for getting caught, for getting knocked down, for getting buzzed and being dizzy because I knew that’s what might happen in the fight. Now that’s not me accepting that I could be beaten, that’s just being prepared. It’s like putting a bulletproof vest on. By doing so, you’re not saying you’re definitely going to get shot, you’re preparing yourself for that should it happen. And in boxing anything can happen, you have to take precautions and tick as many boxes as you can in preparation. Think about it, if you haven’t prepared to be knocked down, then how do you know you can deal with it?
I always looked at my strengths and my weaknesses and based my strategy around both. I’d been knocked down before, I knew it could happen, so I had to have a plan for that. You’ve lost that round 10-8, it’s happened, don’t try and kid the crowd that you’re not hurt. That’s irrelevant, you’ve lost the round, let’s try and get to the end of it with as little damage done as possible, regroup in the corner, make a plan and come back.
Against Mormeck, I knew why I’d been knocked down. I had to keep my right hand a little higher so I kept it higher. Because I’d prepared for every eventuality, I was 100 per cent confident that I was going to win.
Not every fighter is that prepared. Some will only watch footage of their opponent’s weaknesses or films of the fights they’ve lost to give themselves some confidence. I was never like that. I did the opposite. I never watched their weaknesses because to do so would have put me in the frame of mind that my opponents were not that good. I only watched them on their best day, studied their strengths and formed a plan to fight that guy.
I knew that every time my opponents got in the ring with me, they knew they were up against it, they had that fear in their bellies that ‘The Hayemaker’ was going to hit them on the chin at some point. They know they’ve got to be able to weather the storm and come back like Carl Thompson did. But if they’ve only got their confidence from that then it’s not going to work out well for them. Everybody I fought after Thompson had the same plan: Get me tired, drag me into the later rounds and try and drown me. But I’d already learnt that lesson, I lived through it in 2004. From then I knew I had to be in shape for 12 rounds. So every person who came at me just looking to get to the second half of the fight all got knocked out. They got beaten up because they focused on the negative.
That was one of my biggest strengths: My opponents believed I would run out of steam. But that wasn’t the case. I had that stamina, even right at the end. Can you imagine me getting through to the 11th round against Tony Bellew, on one leg, if I wasn’t in shape? If I’d have been the version of David Haye who fought Carl Thompson, I wouldn’t have lasted until the 11th, I’d have been completely finished.That conditioning and that toughness isn’t built in one training camp, it’s built year upon year. It’s hard work. It’s built from one training camp to the next. I started to build that after the Thompson fight. By the time I fought Mormeck, I was ready.
That victory didn’t really get picked up by the media. You have to remember, no one knew who I was back then. I was European champion, I’d defended it three times, I was fighting at York Hall, Bracknell Leisure Centre, I didn’t have the following. The fight with Mormeck happened between Joe Calzaghe [against Mikkel Kessler] and Ricky Hatton [against Floyd Mayweather]. They were two of the biggest names in the world. Whereas I was having my first world title fight, and it hadn’t been promoted very well. In fact, it was only picked up 24 hours before the fight by Frank Warren and put on Setanta. No one knew it was happening, it generated no column inches. It got overshadowed and I understood that. But the real boxing fans knew the extent of what I achieved.
It was only when I came back and sold out the O2 Arena against Enzo Maccarinelli that it all really started. I was so confident before that fight. You can see it as I make my way to the ring. You can see it as I’m jumping up and down in the corner before the first bell. But I also felt that confident right at the end, strangely. I didn’t feel any less confident against Bellew in the rematch than I had against Enzo. Admittedly, I couldn’t do those jumps anymore!
The boxer is the last to realise when they’re done. The fighter is the last to see the penny drop and that was the case with me. But if you’d have talked to me on the day of the fight, I’d have told you that I was confident of winning the fight – because I was. Physically, I was in great shape. My nutrition was great. Everything was tip-top.
There were too many miles on the clock and I wasn’t able to implement the game plan that I wanted to. I couldn’t see Tony Bellew’s punches coming. My reflexes had dropped by only a fraction of a second but that’s what makes all the difference in boxing. That’s the difference between slipping a shot and taking it clean in the face. That’s what changes the outcome. The shots that would never hit me clean were hitting me clean and they were hard and shaking me to my boots. Before that, even at heavyweight, I wasn’t getting hurt that badly.
I know that Tony Bellew has got some punch power but they shouldn’t have had that effect on me. In the first fight he hit me with some good shots but I do remember thinking, ‘I’m glad I’m not in with a real heavyweight.’ I would have really got hurt. But in the next fight, it felt like I was getting hit by a real heavyweight! His punch power felt completely different from the first fight to the second but of course it was the same. The difference was I’d changed, I’d deteriorated. Perhaps the last of my punch resistance was used up in that first fight.
It happens to us all. I remember seeing Roy Jones Jnr lose to some fighters that I didn’t believe were good enough to be his sparring partners. But that wasn’t the Roy Jones Jnr, it was Roy Jones Jnr in his late thirties. I’d seen it happen so many times. It happened to Shane Mosley. It happened to Muhammad Ali. But I didn’t realise it had happened to me until the first round of my last fight.
I remember thinking, ‘This is different, I’m not working properly.’ I had never felt that way before. I didn’t like it. It’s not a nice feeling to get in a fight. But it was only in the rematch, not the first fight. I could see what I wanted to do but it wasn’t happening, I couldn’t do it. Maybe I’m not giving Tony Bellew enough credit because he had a fantastic game plan. The counterpunches he was throwing were top-notch. He had a great day. It sounds crazy, but I’m glad it was Tony who got that opportunity to do that.
The hard feeling between us was never genuine, at least not on my part. It was fun to have a nemesis. I always wanted that. I wanted the Chris Eubank that Nigel Benn had. We became a rivalry that people enjoyed. But you don’t want that beef to carry on forever.
Dereck Chisora was another rival. I shake my head when I look back at the footage of how that all started, the brawl at the press conference. But that person is always bubbling under the surface. He’s always there. For as long as I can remember I’ve been punching people, that’s what I’ve always done, that’s how I made my name and made my money. I got into that situation because of who I am. It’s not normal for an average man to start attacking a crowd of people but there are people, like boxers, who go past that point when the average man would stop or walk away. So when it kicks off, it kicks off.
As you get older, you have to stop all that crazy stuff but it’s still in you. It’s your instinct. I’ve known ex-boxers who’ve become bouncers get in some awful situations: Someone has thrown a punch at them, they’ve slipped it and countered with a punch of their own and knocked the guy out. It’s not like they meant to do it. It comes down to instinct and what you’ve been trained all your life to do. It’s like having a pit-bull and keep flicking its nuts. It’s going to bite you.
We live in a society where we want fighters to entertain us in the ring yet we criticise them for following their instincts outside of it. It’s like telling Usain Bolt he’s never allowed to run unless he’s on a track. So when you had Dereck and I coming together in that situation, it all went off. It wasn’t planned. It was silly. But we were both acting instinctively.
It was after that fight when the injuries came. That was hard. But I can’t regret that part of my career because I know I did absolutely everything I possibly could to get in shape. Things kept going wrong, I was getting cut, I had to have shoulder surgery. It was one thing after another and looking back, I realise my body was trying to tell me something. For every good thing that happens in your life, something else happens that’s the opposite. My explosivity and my power were gifts, they allowed me to knock people out, but the repercussions of that was I couldn’t be explosive forever. I put my body under immense pressure to be that explosive; it was inevitable that it would snap.
That’s life. But how can I complain about that? I’m fortunate that I was able to take part in pay-per-view events and even do that when I was in my twilight years against Tony Bellew. We did great numbers and entertained everybody. Obviously I would have preferred to win those fights but it still gives me pride to know that I was doing what I was born to do for as long as I possibly could.
No boxing career is perfect. There’s always ups and downs. There’s always politics. There’s always mandatory contenders that get in the way of the big fights. There’s rival networks and promoters. There are injures. So many things get in the way of that perfect career that you may strive for at the start of it all.