I’LL be totally honest, beating Junior [Ilunga] Makabu at Goodison Park was the greatest night of my career. I’d say the greatest night of my life but my wife would kill me. It’s crazy that my career is still going on because it won’t get any better than that. I’m over the moon. It was a dream fight at dream location against a nightmare opponent; I hate southpaws, particularly big-punching southpaws, I despise them with a passion. But I had to go in there as the underdog, and I made people eat humble pie again.
I should have arrived at Goodison two hours before the fight, but I arrived just under three hours before. I wanted to get a feel for it – not enjoy it – but soak it up, and get a feeling for what I’d achieved and how I got there. I got to the dressing room a bit early, and from there I got to the ground and I walked up the steps. I wanted to have a look at the ring while the lads were fighting in there [on the undercard]. As I went running up the stairs some lads came running over, ‘Tony, can we have a picture?’ The security did a good a job, and said, ‘Not now guys, after the fight you can do whatever you want.’ Then I just heard, ‘Dad.’ I froze. Bear in mind, my son had never been to one of my fights and he’ll never go to another one. It was just that I had to have him there on that night, because when my three boys get older and I wanted one of them to say they were there that night. He was 11, and I wanted him to experience it. He’d always begged me to go to fights and I’d always said no. I’ve boxed in arenas and that’s no place for a young child, dangerous and nasty things happen there sometimes, and he understands that.
So I’m at the top of the stairs when I heard him call me. No one was with me apart from security and even now, thinking back to when I heard his voice, it makes me feel like crying. I looked at my son’s face, he was saying, ‘Dad. Dad?’ I had no words for him, and I just started crying. I went back down the tunnel, back to the dressing room, and I thought, ‘What have I got myself into? What have I done?’ It hit me harder than anything has ever hit me in my life. I walked back to the dressing room and [my trainer] Dave [Coldwell] was in there and he didn’t know what to do. He was shocked. Everyone was taken out, I needed to get myself together, I was in tears and all I could think was, ‘I can’t believe my son is here at the boxing.’ I couldn’t believe that my little lad was going to see me go to f*****g war and do what I do. Because when I get into a fight, it isn’t a boxing match, I’m giving it everything I’ve got. In a fight I will never bitch, I will never sidetrack, I will fight it head-on. The night I went in with Makabu it was kill or be killed, and I don’t like talking about boxing like that, but that’s how it was. I’d have done anything and everything to win that night. That’s my mentality in every fight, which is a scary thing, but that night was different. The location, the title, the crowd, my son. Looking back, it is like a movie. I’d spent every other Saturday at that location since I was 10 years old, at Goodison Park, watching Everton Football Club; I’d dreamed of being a player but I’m not good enough! That was the closest I was ever gonna get. I struggle to put it into words. I hope when people say my name, I hope they also say Goodison Park.
It went by in a flash, but you can’t stay in the moment. I wish I could go back. Actually, no, I don’t. When he hit me in that first round he broke my nose and it hurt. It really f*****g hurt. But I do wish that it lasted longer, I wish instead of hours it had been days.
How did I feel the next morning? My nose was sore. I didn’t sleep that night. I remember getting home and just putting the tele on straight away and thinking, ‘Lad, what have you done?’ It was 7am, I was in the kitchen and I hadn’t slept. My missus come down and we were crying. I just said, ‘We’ve done it.’ I’ve been with my missus since she was 17 and I was 18, I’ve known her since we were nine years old, she’s been my mate for nearly 30 years, since we were kids. The two of us can’t believe where we’ve come from. We grew up a mile apart from each other.
I don’t care what happens now. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve got great nights ahead, I’m in the prime of my career right now, but it’s sad to say I’ve had my defining moment. It doesn’t matter what I achieve from here. I could knock David Haye out in 10 seconds, it won’t matter, I’ve had my night. I achieved my dream, and not many people can say that.
Six or eight months before that Haye put a Tweet out: ‘Who wants it can get it.’ I replied, ‘Listen bitch, I’ll have some of that.’ Then he said, ‘Do you guys want to see me knock out the mouthy Scouser?’
A bit later he asked me if I really wanted to fight him. Too right I did. He’s a cruiserweight really, it’s not like you were asking me to go in with Wladimir Klitschko. You’re asking me to go in with a former cruiserweight world champion, not a monster.
Then it went quiet. And then in December last year, he wanted me to pull out of the Mateusz Masternak fight. He told me to fight on his bill in January instead, on the comedy channel, Dave. He asked me what I was getting [paid] and I told him it was none of his business. He said, ‘Pull out, I’ll double your money. Fight against a no mark heavyweight and then fight me.’ So the plan was for him to fight Mark de Mori and instead of ‘The Cobra’ [Arnold Gjergjaj] or should I say ‘The Maggot.’ I told him I was with Eddie [Hearn]. He asked if I’d got a promotional contract with him. I don’t need a contract, he’s got my word and I’ve got his, and that’s how we go. And then Haye knew I was serious.
We didn’t talk though. But after I beat Makabu, he realised I was a big name on my own. I’d done a stadium fight and he probably thought, ‘There’s money in him.’
I sat down with Eddie to work out my first defence and I wanted Dmytro Kucher. I wanted a hard fight, but Eddie told me to put my business head on, and spoke of BJ Flores. The bitch’s [Haye’s] best mate. That got my attention, the two of them are f*****g nightclub buddies. When Haye passed a comment that he thought Flores would beat me, that was it, I decided I wanted Flores. Haye got Flores a payday, and an arse-whooping. I bounced Flores off the floor.
Then the fight with Haye was set. People criticise me for causing a scene, for starting trouble, but I’m never the one to initiate things. Look back at the Nathan Cleverly press conference. He said he would take me in the car park. I reacted. It’s very similar to the Haye situation. During the BJ Flores fight, Haye had removed himself from Sky Sports, come round the ring post corner, and he’s giving me verbals while I’m dropping his mate. I’d dropped him three times, and it’s in the second round. While the referee is counting over Flores I looked at Haye. ‘Listen bitch, you’re gonna get it.’ And he’s engaging me. Everyone thought it was planned, it wasn’t planned, at least not from my point of view. When it got to the end, I kicked the f*****g toblerone at him and said, ‘We can do it right now you tart.’ In all honesty, I had no intention of belting him. I would never hit a fighter that hasn’t got gloves on. But I wanted to let him know I wasn’t just here for a payday. I acted that way because I knew it would secure me the fight, and that’s what I wanted.
I could lose control. I hope to God it never happens, but I could lose control if I was touched. The luckiest thing for him at the press conference was they grabbed hold of me as soon as he hit me on the side of the head. If they hadn’t, trust me, I’d have manhandled him to the floor. He can look as big as he wants but I’m a different person on the street than I am in the boxing ring. The things that make me tick don’t make him tick, I’ll rip the nose off his face. When I flip a switch, it’s over. You only have to watch me fight; I got dropped flat on my face by Ovill McKenzie [in 2010] and the referee has counted to six, and I’m telling him to move out of the f*****g way. That’s the kind of person I am.
The crazy thing in this fight is I’m being written off by absolutely everyone. Yes, Haye is a fantastic athlete. Yes, he has massive power and aesthetically, he looks fantastic. But now the negatives. Is he that good technically? No. Is he hard to hit? No. When was the last time he was in a hard fight? When was the last time he even sparred hard? When was the last time he asked questions of himself? I’m not calling his last two fights ‘fights’. They were exhibitions. He wouldn’t even spar with those guys.
People have suggested this has all been scripted. I swear on my kids’ lives that this rivalry is not scripted, the press conference wasn’t scripted. I’ll be honest, he’d have liked to have scripted it and the minute the contract was signed, the warning shot was sent straight to him: ‘Don’t think this is a f*****g game. Do not think that I am f*****g about. Don’t ever try and tell me what to say. I’m going to put it on you when I see you.’ His reaction was, ‘We’ll see about that you Scouse c**t.’ And that was the last conversation we ever had. We don’t speak no more and I’m going to punch his f*****g head in. He’s no friend of mine. It was purely business, but, after he’s thrown a punch without gloves on, it’s now personal. He better hope he doesn’t see me when there isn’t cameras there.
Look, I’ll be honest. The David Haye that knocked out Jean Marc Mormeck [in 2007] might have been a task too far for me. I admit that. But this version of David Haye? A bit slower, heavier, a step behind? He’s perfect for me. Don’t get me wrong, this will be a killer for me for four rounds. It’s 50-50. Maybe even 60-40 in his favour because he’s a frontrunner. But after four rounds, believe me, he is f****d. He’s absolutely f****d. No one understands that. I’m going to hit him everywhere I can get my hands on him, whether it’s the body, the neck, that stupid haircut, his chin.
Don’t think for one minute I’m going to run. I did that once, against Adonis Stevenson, and it’s the biggest regret of my career. I should have just gone out in that fight and traded with him, because I had the power to do him like he did me. That is my biggest regret, and I will never make that mistake again. I’d rather go in one [round], than go in the sixth trying to box. The pressure for me has gone. I always had the pressure I put on myself to be world champion, but I’ve done it. The pressure is all on him.