6ft 3 inch David Deron Haye was for a long while one of my favourite fighters. When he burst onto the national scene with a valiant defeat and a silver medal against hotly tipped Cuban, Odlanier Solis, in the final of the World Amateur Championships in 2001, he showed that mix of power and vulnerability that never fails to excite. Unusually quick for a man of his frame, with all the explosiveness that brought, he then embarked on a meteoric professional rise (only briefly slowed by Carl Thompson) before becoming, for a short time, the best cruiserweight on the planet. His title reign may have been brief, but the accolades were plenty, and deserved.
Those first seven years brought bags of entertainment and impressive stoppage wins against world class performers like Giaccobbe Fragomeni and Tomasz Bonin. Haye was never averse to taking chances. On several occasions he appeared hurt or in trouble, before recovering in spectacular fashion.
There then followed a four month golden spell in which he got off the floor to overpower the impressive Jean-Marc Mormeck in Paris, then absolutely brutalised Enzo Maccarinelli at the O2 in London, collecting three of the four major belts. Ring Magazine offered their crown too and at 200lbs, the world was truly at his feet.
We can only speculate as to how his story would have panned out had he stayed in that division. It is not impossible to conceive an alternate reality in which he bossed it for years, eventually becoming regarded on an equal footing with the likes of Evander Holyfield. Yet even before his bout with Big Mac, rumours circulated that he was struggling on the scales. Publically and financially, cruiserweight is often overlooked and the lure of heavyweight dollars must have played a part too. Like many big-but-not enormous men of the past he chose, like Lemuel Gulliver in Brobdingnag, to try his luck in the land of the giants.
At the time heavyweight boxing was in the doldrums, (some say it still is) but the challenge facing someone of Haye’s stature was severe. The world’s top heavyweight, Wladimir Klitschko had three and a half inches in height and three inches in reach on him, not to mention some 30 pounds in weight. Even the very limited WBA titlist Nikolay Valuev, while a vastly inferior technician, possessed enormous size. This is the world of 21st century heavyweight boxing, where the gargantuan freaks of yesteryear, Jess Willard (6ft 6½), Primo Carnera (6ft 5½) or Ernie Terrell (6ft 6) have become the norm. Regardless of ability or work ethic, if you’re not at least six and a half feet tall with an 80” wingspan, you are going to find life very difficult indeed.
That Haye prospered at all in this climate is a great credit to him and his victory over the 7ft tall Valuev in 2009 stands as perhaps the pinnacle of his career. Yes, the Russian offered little other than great size, but to overcome such huge natural disadvantage was both courageous and impressive. Rightful plaudits came thick and fast.
As at cruiser, the reign would be short however. Two uninspiring defences, one against a 38 year old, shopworn John Ruiz, the other his infamous non-fight with gun-shy Audley Harrison, failed to banish suspicions that the Hayemaker was cashing in. Was he really gunning for heavyweight glory or was he simply gatecrashing the weakest top ten in living memory for pay cheques? Question marks still remained over his real heavyweight credentials.
Those suspicions appeared confirmed in Hamburg in 2010 when he a lost a wide points decision and surrendered his belt to Klitschko. Toe excuses not withheld, he not only failed to beat the Ukrainian, but he failed to do anything throughout the twelve rounds to suggest he was capable of even bothering him. Unlike Valuev, Klitschko was a big man with technique and as a result Haye was left rushing in, pawing air, then circling aimlessly. There was nothing he could do.
A good big ‘un beats a good little ‘un…
Clichés become clichés because they are repeated so often, usually because they contain a fundamental truth. The fistic adage quoted above has survived for many years for a reason and that is why David Haye’s return to the heavyweight division does not ignite the imagination. Like Georges Carpentier, Archie Moore, Bob Foster and all the others before him, he was never really big enough to compete with the best heavyweights alive.
There is of course an argument that professional boxing should realign itself with modern human physiology and be restructured, with men up to say 215lbs regarded as heavyweight and anyone above, super-heavyweight. In such a scenario Haye would perhaps find himself duking it out with somebody like Steve USS Cunningham for the world no.1 spot. But that is not the reality he finds himself in.
Since dispatching Dereck Chisora in 2012, another whose height and reach disadvantages work against him with the elite, Haye very publicly withdrew from two dates with Tyson Fury, eventually requiring shoulder surgery. He is now 35 and therefore will be slowing down naturally. He has been inactive for three-and-a-half years and little is known about the long term effects of his injuries. The chances of him mounting a serious challenge to the real heavyweight elite are slim. Perhaps not even that. Would he get any closer to Klitschko than he did last time? What of Fury and Wilder, who are both taller and have longer arms than the Ukrainian?
If Haye’s strategy is to come in and nick the most devalued belt, likely to be the IBF version disappointingly stripped from Fury then use that as leverage to get a shot at one of the top three, it has to be said that the whole venture looks strikingly similar to what he did seven years ago. Namely, muscle his way into a heavyweight scene without much strength-in-depth in order to snaffle one of many titles and use his promotional skills to secure a massive payday. He’s always been a good talker.
And what of Mark de Mori, the Australian picked for Haye’s comeback on Saturday? On paper he looks tailor-made. An inch shorter than Haye, with a similar reach, physically he will give no indication as to how Haye will cope with the monsters that lie in wait. De Mori’s record, 30-1-2, with 26 KOs, looks impressive on paper, but the notable names on that record begin and end with Alex Leapai, with whom he drew on the Kiwi’s debut in 2004. His last opponent, Marcel Zeller, whom de Mori dispatched in the first last October, has lost five on the bounce and was KO’d by Tyson Fury in Fury’s second pro fight. This is the sort of company the Aussie has been mixing in.
YouTube evidence suggests Haye has selected a musclebound opponent with a reasonable jab but the elasticity and zip of a cross-channel ferry. It should be an easy night’s work. The David Haye who beat Valuev would destroy this guy in a round or two and that is the yardstick by which this fight should measured. That said, the move to show this on Dave, a freeview TV channel, has to be welcomed and applauded. The more free-to-air boxing the better and for that reason I will be tuning in.
Even at 75% of his best, David will beat his opponent this weekend and it is not inconceivable, if he plots the right path, he could box for the IBF title in the near future, but the feeling of this writer is that this comeback is not about sport, or a flame that burns within, but a pension fund.
The Bermondsey man cannot be blamed for that. He is approaching middle age and has a future to think of, like anybody else. But it does not provoke the passions in the way he once did.
My last book ‘Journeymen, the other side of the boxing business’ has been longlisted for the William Hill Sports book of the year award and named one of the sports books of the year by The Guardian. It is still available from all usual outlets.