Any consideration of David Haye’s career is usually accompanied by a track from my internal Jukebox. It isn’t McFadden and Whitehead’s Aint No Stopping Us Now; his entrance tune, nor is it From Russia with Love, primarily because his nemesis was Ukrainian, I tend to hear the chorus from Natalie Imbruglia’s Torn representing as is does the conflict between his achievements and failings.
He has copious amounts of both and the succeeding summary is usually dependent on which criteria I am tallying against. He does, after all, retire healthy and wealthy having fought the best fighter of his era. The non-negotiable aspiration I wish more fighters would clamour for. Tradition ensures there is always a but.
His career has entertained, few could compile an argument that suggested Haye wasn’t an aggressive, exciting fighter. True, his two toughest fights against Valuev and Klitschko were soporific. Particularly, as the strategy employed differed so wildly from Haye’s own pre-fight assurance of fireworks, damage and destruction. On both occasions he employed caution and precision. Despite winning the Valuev fight to a flood of jingoistic and sycophantic hysteria, often from previously shrewd judges, there was plenty of shy and retiring dissenters willing, if pushed, to suggest Haye hadn’t done anywhere near enough to emerge victorious. I for one had Valuev by two rounds.
I was there the night he lost to Carl Thompson too. A night he employed the bombast in the ring and came unstuck. In many ways, that defeat afforded Haye a lesson in application it was impossible to learn in anything other than a public humbling. His dedication after that night is without challenge and for that he deserves enormous credit. He adapted his lifestyle and became diligent in his preparation. This rebirth culminated in a knockout defeat of consensus Cruiserweight champion Jean Marc Mormeck and then a victory over Enzo Maccarinelli. At this point he was anointed as the undisputed Cruiserweight champion, which rankles a little with me. Dismissing as it does the credentials of the far more qualified Steve Cunningham and Tomasz Adamek who were defending and contesting the IBF belt at the time.
Perhaps history will acknowledge he was a fine fighter and a better promoter. He defeated some very good men in Mormeck, Valuev and Ruiz and it would be churlish to demean those victories with accusations of decline or contention. However, the inescapable fact about any summary of his career by anyone other than those boxing devotees willing to explore the various arguments to and fro, will be that his last fight will be the one people remember.
As a fighter who tried to put the show back into boxing, who turned himself into a ticket-selling phenomenon and broke pay per view records in the UK, he may live in retirement haunted, or not, by the old show business adage; “You’re only as good as your last performance”.
And his last performance was standing on a trestle table in flip-fops and sunglasses.
For this writer, he never did have the footwear to walk the walk.