Dubai: At just 1.91 metres tall and weighing 90kg, Britain’s former World Boxing Association (WBA) heavyweight world champion David Haye has had to throw all he has into a career into the sport.
Whether that be insults as well as right hooks, every last percentage gain has gone into holding his own against bigger opposition.
His 2009 WBA heavyweight world title win against Russia’s Nikolai Valuev — boxing’s tallest and heaviest ever world champion at 2.16 metres and 145kg — defined Haye’s career as a spirited underdog capable of dissecting his opponents both mentally and physically.
However, he became just as renowned for courting controversy, donning T-shirts with mock pictures of the Klitschko brothers, Wladimir and Vitali, decapitated in 2011 and pledged that his 2010 fight against fellow Briton Audley Harrison would be “more one sided than a gang rape”.
He certainly added character to an otherwise bland era in boxing, but this notoriety also accelerated his downfall in 2011 when Wladimir Klitschko finally silenced one of sport’s most unfettered egos by beating Haye on points.
In the process of setting up the Hayemaker Gym in Downtown Dubai while recovering from a career-threatening shoulder injury, Haye, 33, remains coy on whether he will fight again and is quick to distance himself from his divisive ringside persona.
“Obviously I can’t walk around like I would before a fight because I’d end up getting shot,” said Haye, of his trash-talking past in an exclusive interview with Gulf News. “Once I’m in the zone and I’m ready to fight, I act and speak in a certain way because I’m getting ready to do battle. The rest of the time I’m just regular old David.
“The aggro is genuine,” he added of his public spats with the Klitschko brothers and Dereck Chisora (Haye allegedly bottled his opponent and Chisora threatened to shoot him before they had even stepped foot in the ring in 2012).
“There’s no use sitting there thinking how great someone is, that’s not going to motivate you enough to whip yourself into shape. You have to have a bit of beef with whoever you are going to fight — plus it makes it more entertaining. Nobody wants to see a love fest between two guys that are meant to be fighting each other; you want a bit of genuine needle.”
That said, despite all the apparent ill-feeling, Haye says he professes a healthy respect for all his rivals.
“With the Klitschkos or Chisoras there may seem like there’s been a lot of beef,” he added. “But deep down, I know these guys have worked hard behind closed doors, they’ve dedicated their life to something and they deserve everything they get. I respect every fighter I’ve fought against. To get into the ring and give a good account of yourself takes so much heart and dedication and years of hard work.”
Of the Valuev fight, which embodied triumph over adversity and marked his arrival on the heavyweight scene, he added: “I’m always going to be the small guy. I’m never going to be fighting anyone smaller than me. I’m a cruiserweight that has pumped up to heavyweight. But if you have got skill and desire and the will to win, you can do extraordinary things.
“Fans like to see the little guy come through and beat the big guy, and to have the opportunity to do that against the biggest ever heavyweight boxer really did capture the public’s imagination.”
But of his fall from grace and subsequent desire for a rematch against Wladimir Klitschko, he remains philosophical.
“People always end up getting beat if they stick around long enough, even the greatest fighters. I know fighters who have never lived down a certain performance. But you’ve just got to move on and realise what you did wrong, and if you ever get the chance to do it again, do it right next time. By moaning about the past you’ll just mess up the future.
“I could go crazy worrying about the Klitschko fight, thinking I should have tried this or I should have tried that. But I could have tried something completely different and got knocked spark out. I could have been killed by trying something different. I gave the best I could on the night and it wasn’t enough, that’s it really.”
With only the prospect of a Klitschko rematch tempting him back into the ring, Haye’s future looks uncertain. So does he think there’s any chance of a rematch?
“I genuinely don’t. But boxing is a funny game sometimes, you think you have no chance of getting a certain situation and all of a sudden it falls on your lap. But I don’t want to focus too much on anything at the moment other than my gym and getting back to full fitness.”
Asked if he had a message for Wladimir, Haye replied: “Good luck for his fight, he’s fighting someone I’ve never heard of [Australia’s Alex Leapai, on April]. I hope he wins and keeps healthy and stays fighting for many years to come until my arm heals up and hopefully I can get a rematch.”
If it should all end now he’s unrepentant, however.
The Londoner said: “Every decision I’ve made in boxing has been the one I thought right at the time. I’ve never said to myself I shouldn’t have said that. You can’t go through life regretting what you’ve said or done.
“You’ve got to make the best decisions at the time and live with them. If I could do it all over again I’m sure there would be different paths, but I’d never do my head worrying about things because I’m here today and everything seems hunky dory.”