Twilight zone: David Haye interview
David Haye acknowledges that he has no more than two or three fights left in him but, he tells Paul Zanon, he wants to go out in a blaze of glory — with a world title challenge...
David Haye went into the ring against Tony Bellew in March last year as the bookies’ favourite. He was the more natural heavyweight, a harder puncher with a far more accomplished CV. Just when it looked like he was on his way to winning, he snapped his Achilles tendon in the sixth round, which completely changed the dynamic of the fight.
“I didn’t feel myself, even before the injury,” Haye told Boxing Monthly. “I thought I was boxing way below par, but I was winning the rounds on the official scorecards. I lost the first but won the second, third, fourth and fifth rounds.
“And bear in mind, that’s with me missing wildly and getting counter punched, which is something that has rarely, rarely happened in my career. As the fight continued, I felt I was getting into my flow. Each round got better. First round was terrible, second round a little less terrible, third round was kind of OK-ish, by the fifth I was starting to get my flow. Then the rest is history. I always say, in a 12-round fight, no matter what’s happening, I’ll always find a way to somehow get it together, but on this occasion, it was not meant to be.”
You’d think that Haye would bring up power, boxing ability or perhaps speed when paying tribute to Bellew’s strengths. But the south Londoner saw it from a different perspective. “His best asset was his mindset,” Haye said. “His positivity and belief in his game plan and how adamant he was before the fight that I’d break down physically. And he was right. Even though he knew he was losing the early rounds, he knew if he stuck in there, he’d get the chance to pounce. He was confident and stuck in there, so you have to give him credit for that.
“As for myself, I was really disappointed with my performance. He took decent punches, but the ones I was throwing early on were very wide and he could see them coming. There was nothing clever about my work. I don’t believe I did anything that was world class in the first five rounds. I didn’t seem to have a world-class jab, or head movement. It looked pretty average and European level at the best. That’s how it felt in there and that’s how it looked when I reviewed it. I didn’t resemble me. I’ve watched many of my fights and that didn’t look like me in the ring. Physically it was me, but that wasn’t me, David Haye the boxer.
“The whole plan for this next fight is getting back to being me. Back to being the David Haye that was explosive, fast and had a good defence. Get back to what I do best. Because whatever I was doing that night wasn’t good enough to beat someone like Tony Bellew. To have any aspirations to challenge for titles, that version of me that turned up needs to be buried forever and never see the light of day again.”
By the time Haye steps into the ring on Saturday, over a year will have elapsed since the first fight. Yet there are going to be those who wonder if his Achilles, injured in the last fight, or his bicep, injured before the original December 2017-scheduled rematch date, will stand the strain.
Haye says there won’t be a problem. “It’s gone very well — all of the markers I’ve had to meet in terms of the rehabilitation have been hit,” he said.
“I had the operation [on the Achilles] the day after the fight, on the Sunday, and I was in the gym training the next day. I obviously had my foot in a cast, but I was still working my upper body, working my core.
“I was just making sure that when my foot did catch up with my upper body, I wasn’t in a mad situation of trying to get the whole body in shape. As soon as the foot was fit, the rest of my body was already in tip-top condition. Physically, I feel good and very confident. The old me is gonna return, not that version that turned up on 4 March.”
Haye will have a new trainer in his corner, the Cuban maestro Ismael Salas having replaced Shane McGuigan. “I did some work for a few months in 2014 with [Salas] in Las Vegas,” Haye said. “Then he came over to the UK, around the time I was looking to make my comeback. At the time, he had to focus on some other fighters he had back in Vegas and besides, I wasn’t in the condition to fight any time soon.
“Then, after the Bellew fight, Salas gave me a shout and said: ‘Do you want to talk about the future?’ This was at a time when everybody wrote me off. He decided to touch base with me. He understood why I put on the performance I did and believed that he knew how I could become the number one in the division. He told me that he believed I still had what it takes, not to listen to the critics and don’t be too hard on myself. From what we’d worked on previously, he understands my movement pattern, my head movement.
“He came over, we started to work and he explained to me how I’d adapted and changed my style for the worse. He believed I had all the attributes to be the best in the world. I just needed someone to fine-tune that. He started with my boxing from ground zero when we started.
“I couldn’t walk at the time and was punching while sitting, concentrating on head movement, my core, my neck, my shoulders — all the things that had been overlooked for a while — instead of just focusing on landing power punches. He’s not worried about power, but everything that would allow my punches to flow smoother. Since day one with him, I’ve been enjoying coming to the gym and learning every day.”
Under the guidance of Salas, there’s also been a shift in the sparring pattern. “This time I’ve been in against fighters you probably don’t really know. The focus is not on me getting big-name sparring partners and beating them up.
“In the past I’ve sparred Deontay Wilder, Carlos Takam, Mariusz Wach, Alexander Dimitrenko and then I never made the fight, because I got injured. The most important thing for him [Salas] is that I manage to get in the ring in one piece. All the methods I used to train when I was 27 are just too dangerous now, so we’ve come up with training that suits my age and body. Instead, we’re using a lot of Cuban ground work and footwork drills, adding over 40 years of experience [from Salas] into my training to make sure I improve every day, get fitter faster, but in a less destructive way on my body.
“I’m now training without the muscle tears and aches and pains, which often take two or three days to recover from. Now I train at 80 per cent and I’m ready to go the day after and the day after that, whereas before I’d have to have more days off in between, because I was smashing my body. So it works out that the 80 per cent I’m now doing in a session works out to be more effective than the 100 per cent I was previously doing, over time.”
Haye now divides his time between fighting and promoting through his collaboration with Richard Schaefer. The latter is where Haye sees himself long term. “My professional competitive boxing career is in the twilight now and I’ve probably got two or three fights in me,” he said. “I just need to get past Bellew in good fashion. Realistically, we’re looking at a year, 18 months tops, as a professional boxer. The stable of fighters I have [including Olympic silver medallist Joe Joyce], their careers will go on for many years to come. When I hang up the gloves, I relish the opportunity to guide the next generation of champions as a promoter.”
Guidance and mindset are important aspects of Haye’s outlook for his new recruits, but he’s the first to admit he went against his own beliefs when he let Bellew get the better of him. “My best performances have been when I’ve been very calm and calculated in the build-ups. Whenever I’ve been thinking about going out there and doing damage to my opponent, I’ve lost the fight or boxed terribly. It’s a mindset. I give Tony credit the first time round, because I thought it was impossible for a fighter to get in my head, but he certainly did. These are lessons to pass on to my fighters.”
Haye left this message for his fans. “You’re going to see the old Hayemaker and not the version that turned up on 4 March. But I’m not thinking so far ahead that he’s [Bellew] beaten. That’s a dangerous mentality to have, underestimating your opponent. I’m just focused on this fight for the moment. If I win, then there’s obviously lots of options. However, if I get knocked down or struggle in any way, shape or form, or win the fight on a split decision, that means it was a competitive fight, which means I’m not the fighter I believe I am. In which case I’d happily bow out of the game. I’m in the sport because I have aspirations to win world titles and entertain crowds. I don’t want to be the guy who just turns up and gets punched in the face.
“I think you’re going to see a lot of things I used to do in terms of movement and mobility. And if the fight goes to points, I see that as being a failure. All of the top 10 heavyweights in the world should be able to stop Tony Bellew on his best day. I believe I’m a top 10-heavyweight and if the best me turns up it’s not going the distance. I’m getting Tony Bellew out of there. Not just get him out of there, but get him out in good fashion as well.”