David Haye: Demolition Man
Luke G. Williams
David Haye isn’t taking Tony Bellew lightly but, he tells Luke G. Williams, the only doubt about Saturday night's heavyweight grudge match is how long his opponent is going to remain standing...
British and world boxing is certainly livelier and more exciting when David Haye is on the scene.
The former unified cruiserweight king and ex-WBA heavyweight champion has fought only three times since his July 2011 loss against Wladimir Klitschko, but the Bermondsey-born banger remains one of the smoothest talkers and hardest hitters in the business.
He’s also that rarity in modern-day boxing — a mainstream superstar who would be recognised by the average man or woman in the street.
Haye was in typically bullish mood when he spoke to Boxing Monthly by telephone from his winter training camp in Miami, where he was preparing for his 4 March showdown with Tony Bellew.
“The [winter] weather’s quite horrendous in the UK,” Haye said. “I don’t do my best training in that sort of environment. It doesn’t assist me in terms of going out for my morning runs and stuff.
“I was in shape anyway. After my last fight on 21 May [against Arnold Gjergjaj] we had pencilled in a September date for Shannon Briggs. Once that fight didn’t materialise, we looked at a December date and that didn’t work out either, so the whole time I was still training — I was in shape for September, I was in shape for December.
“After the [Bellew] fight was announced, I took a couple of weeks off and stepped down the level of intensity in training, but I’ve ramped that up now.
“I’m training at the 5th Street Gym down here. Angelo Dundee trained the late, great Muhammad Ali here, so it’s steeped in history. That provides inspiration for sure. Ali’s my favourite fighter and if South Beach Miami was good enough for him, it’s good enough for me.”
Haye scaled career-high weights of 227¼lbs (against Mark de Mori) and 224lbs (against Gjergjaj) in his last two appearances and says he doesn’t plan to come in lighter against Bellew. “It’s a heavyweight fight,” Haye said. “There’s no benefit in trying to get down to cruiser. I’m going to come in the same weight as if I was fighting Anthony Joshua. It makes no difference to me. That’s the good thing about heavyweight, there’s no weight stipulation whatsoever. The Bellew camp didn’t require one. So I’m going to train hard and eat healthily, like I always do.
“I’m not too fussed — I might be heavier, I might be lighter. My weight is never a measuring stick of any kind. I do my measuring by how fast I feel in the ring, my punch evasion, my reaction times and my running times. Recognising when I’m in optimum shape is done in the gym as opposed to on the scales.”
As for Bellew, Haye, 36, slowly exhaled and paused before giving his assessment. “What does he do well?” Haye pondered. “… He’s a trier. He comes out and has a go. He doesn’t have the best defence, which is imperative if he’s looking to get out of the first round against me.
“He’s got decent punch power at cruiserweight. Whether he transfers that up at heavyweight I don’t know. That’s unknown. I assume he punches harder at heavyweight than he did at cruiserweight. It would be foolish of me to think he’s going to punch worse at heavyweight.
“His endurance and his capability to fight at a half-decent pace over 12 rounds at cruiserweight seems OK. He’s not got the highest pace and doesn’t throw the most amount of punches but he’s done a few 12-rounders recently.”
Haye believes that Bellew will not weigh significantly more than the 199¼lbs he scaled for his October defence of his title against Haye’s friend BJ Flores. “I’m assuming he is going to come in around the cruiserweight limit,” Haye said. “It would be foolish to put on an additional 10 or 15lbs for his first fight at heavyweight.
“But, you know, he’s a bit of an idiot, and he really doesn’t have a nutritionist who knows what he’s doing. If you look at his body shape, you soon realise that he’s not someone who takes diet and nutrition seriously.
“He’s probably one of those fighters who eats pie and mash every day or Big Mac and fries — I can imagine that’s his training schedule now he’s at heavyweight.”
Warming to his theme, and in keeping with the heated tone that has characterised the pre-fight rhetoric between the pair, Haye then fires an extra verbal blow or two in Bellew’s direction. “I’ve never really liked his personality,” he said. “He sounds very passionate until it actually comes to the crunch and then he just sort of falls apart.
“If you listen to him before every one of his fights, he always says he’s willing to die in the ring, he’s willing to go further than every other man — blah, blah, blah!”
Haye’s tone of voice remains calm, underlining his assertion that the Bomber’s ceaseless verbal assaults on his own character, career — and even his hair style — have left him unconcerned and unmoved.
“Everything that he says I take with a pinch of salt,” Haye said. “There is nothing he can say with words that’s going to bother me. The bottom line is I know I am going to get into the ring with him with 10oz gloves on and I’m going to knock him unconscious.
“If you strip away his mouth, if you strip away all the crap he’s been saying, it’s just a fight where he’s going to end up unconscious. This fight is basically about how long is he going to be able to stay conscious for, and is he going to leave the ring on a stretcher or is he going to leave of his own devices?
“These are the questions people are asking, not can he actually win the fight, because I think that everyone who knows anything about boxing knows that he’s got no chance.”
Although supremely confident, Haye strongly rejects any notion that he may slip into complacency. “I’ve learned the lesson about not being complacent many years ago, about not underestimating my opponents’ abilities,” he said. “I don’t do that any more. Whether my opinion of him is that he’s not that good is irrelevant — what is important is the fact that I train the same regardless of who I am fighting, that’s what I do.
“I know I’m going to smash him, I know he’s got no chance, but still I’m going to train as though it is the fight of my life. Honestly, I’m not exaggerating, I could turn up for this fight completely and utterly out of shape, having not sparred one round, having not done one run, and I’d still knock him out in one round.
“But although I know that, I’m not going to do that because it wouldn’t be good preparation for the fight afterwards. They say don’t look too far ahead. And I’m not. I’m focused on him and I’m not training any less hard than if I was fighting for the heavyweight title.”
Although Bellew has had one more professional fight than Haye, the Londoner believes that his lengthier tenure in the pro ranks in terms of years, having debuted in 2002, is key.
“When he was having his first professional fight [in 2007], I was having world title fights,”Haye pointed out. “I was number one in the world about the same time he had his first pro fight. I’ve been in the game a lot longer than he has, I’ve seen a lot more, I’ve sparred with better people, I’ve fought better people, bigger people.”
Indeed, in Haye’s opinion, the gulf in class and power between himself and Bellew is such that his opponent is putting himself in danger by getting into the same ring as the Hayemaker.
“I think if you tally all these different elements up then it looks really detrimental to his health,” he said. “It really does. I know it’s a sport and you’re not in it to hurt anybody, but he’s put himself in probably one of the most dangerous positions any British fighter has put themselves in.
“It’s a shame for him but the fans will get to see what they’re looking for. I hope it doesn’t shock the fans how brutally he’s going to be knocked out. They’re the ones who have called for it. If it wasn’t for the general public demanding this fight it wouldn’t be happening, I’d be doing something else.
“As it gets closer to the fight, people will start thinking he’s got a chance. He might look good in training or weigh a certain amount or whatever. But once the reality dawns of my right hand connecting on his chin — it’s good night.”
Since his comeback bout against De Mori in January last year brought to an end a near three-and-a-half year absence from the ring, a period during which he underwent reconstructive surgery on his right shoulder, some have raised doubts about Haye’s fitness and hunger, but his ripostes are convincing.
“Yes, I’m 36 years old but if you tally up the number of clean punches I’ve taken as a heavyweight, it’s not many at all,” he said. “Most fighters take that in their first round of a fight. I feel tip top. My shoulder’s rock solid now. I’m happy with how I am. [It’s] onwards and upwards.”
Haye is effusive in his praise of his new trainer Shane McGuigan, who has overseen preparations for his two comeback bouts since the parting of the ways with long-time trainer Adam Booth.
“He [Shane] has rejuvenated me,” Haye said. “I probably do three or four times as much boxing training as I used to do. In the past, it was a lot more about getting in shape to fight and my skills were what they were, and that was enough.
“Shane understands that I’m a very skilled heavyweight, probably the most skilled heavyweight out there, if you look at punch evasion, if you look at ring generalship, clean punches received — I don’t think there’s another heavyweight on the planet who’s slipped as many shots as me.
“Shane always wants me to improve. He wants me to be the very best version of myself I can be. He’s not sitting on his laurels. He wants me to be even better technically.”
Looking beyond Bellew, the aim for Haye remains the same as it was when, as a youngster, he first laced up a pair of boxing gloves at Fitzroy Lodge Boxing Club: to be recognised as the number one heavyweight in the world.
“I’d like people to recognise me at heavyweight as ‘the man’, like they did at cruiserweight,” he said. “I had a version of the heavyweight title, but I want to be considered number one in the division.
“This is going to be the last phase of my career and I see myself as the biggest fight out there for every fighter on the planet. If Joshua wins the fight against Klitschko, which I believe he will, a fight against myself would eclipse that.
“If I was to beat the winner of Klitschko vs Joshua and then if Tyson Fury, fingers crossed, gets out of his depression and decides to put his gloves back on, a fight between him and me would be more than enough for people to recognise me as the best heavyweight on the planet.
“Once people recognise me as that, that’s my mission done. It’s not like I have to aim for a specific belt. People are picking up belts left right and centre, and although it’s nice to have that strap across your waist I’d like to be the lineal champion, or as close as I can possibly get to that.”