TIMES were tough. David Haye was missing boxing and despite that feeling perhaps being reciprocated by the sport, he could not see a light at the end of a long tunnel. Despite shoulder surgery, rest and rehabilitation, for a long period of his three-and-a-half-year hiatus from the ring, Haye was unsure if he would ever come back. It became a struggle to stay positive and even now, still riding the high of a one-round blowout of Mark de Mori in January, Haye is unsure exactly what got him through the dark days, although “The Greatest” Muhammad Ali played a key role.

“Just myself, my mindset and my experience in life,” he told Boxing News. “Knowing people have had it worse than me. I was out of the ring because I had an injury; I had no option. There are other fighters who’ve made the choice, like Muhammad Ali refusing to be drafted into the Vietnam war. They stripped him of his belts! Now that would have been bad, making a stand about something you truly believed in and as a result the system says you’re no longer the world boxing champion, even though you won it legitimately. His prime years were take away from him, from us, to punish him for not going to kill someone he didn’t think deserved to be killed. If Ali can come back from that – which he did and it wasn’t an easy first fight back…”

“Certainly not as easy as your fight with de Mori,” I venture, somewhat impertinently I must confess.

“I learnt from that Joe Frazier fight you’ve got to be careful you don’t jump in too deep too soon,” he laughs, taking the jibe in good grace. “I think George Foreman took it a little far, although he was out for 10 years. He had a good few warm-up fights but they weren’t televised or big events. I think somewhere in the middle of what those two did, I took confidence from their returns from absences. It showed you can come back at a good level with success. Even Vitali Klitschko had a knee operation, was out for four years and come straight back and regained the title, although he was fighting Sam Peter he was still the champion at the time and had nearly knocked his brother out; he was a handful. As long as you look after yourself in the time out – I’m not an unhealthy person, I have a bit of fatty food from time to time but I’m not an abuser of anything. A lot of fighters go down the wrong tracks and end up messing up because of substance abuse issues, missing the limelight, needing that artificial high. I made sure during my time out I did no irreparable damage to myself.”

#HayeDay returns to The O2 on May 21, tickets are available on general sale now via AXS.com.