Should Haye Stay or Should He Go?
12 November 2017 – Matchroom Boxing promoter Eddie Hearn is forced to deny the perpetual rumours that David Haye’s much anticipated rematch with Tony Bellew is off due to the Hayemaker suffering an injury in his training camp.
20 November 2017 – It is confirmed that said rematch (to strictly be called Bellew-Haye II after the former’s victory in the original match up – although neither fighter cares about such trivial matters of course) is off, following a freak bicep injury suffered by Haye.
20 November 2017 onwards – Twitter/the online world/the entire universe as we currently know it, goes into meltdown. That Haye would have the audacity to suffer yet another injury is crime enough to be branded boxing’s supervillain, a terminal blow to his reputation in the eyes of many and any talk of ‘postponement’ for an indefinite future date is treated with disdain or disinterest. Bloodthirsty fans get very temperamental when their early Christmas present is swiped from under their noses.
5 December 2017 – The Cold War-styled race between Matchroom and Hayemaker to be first to release information culminates in the announcement that Bellew-Haye II will take place on 5 May 2018 and we finally have our rearranged date confirmed. It’s hard to get as excited for a fight that we do not know when, or even if, will be happening - but 3 o’clock after school, by the gates and watch us flock there.
A question still remains however, and it is one that has plagued this event since the injury was announced - and lingers even now we have a new date in our diaries. At 37 years old, with the physical gifts that sculpted his career slowly being eroded by Father Time and injury, should Haye be getting in there at all? Many onlookers (myself included) proclaimed that seeing him limp around the ring was one of the saddest sights seen in a boxing match for many a year and we do not want to see the extended version of that particular disaster. Sure there is widespread excitement for what promises to be a colourful build up and an intriguing fight, but are we intrigued for the right reasons any more? It remains unclear if Haye’s body can even make it through a full training camp, and his chances of making it to fight night without at least a niggle or two can be described as unlikely at best. The same statement could probably have been made before the first bout, particularly when looking at Haye’s timing and movement even before the ankle injury occurred in the 6th round, but time and another significant injury (torn bicep this time, just to add to the checklist) will have done nothing to aid Haye’s chances of maintaining full fitness up to fight night. Indeed, as captivating viewing as it would undoubtedly be, if this knife-edge balance of Haye’s fitness is the chief interest on 5 May 2018, has a bout that was never designed as a purists dream just become more car crash TV in the reality-based time warp we have found ourselves in?
Aside from the obvious potential physical repercussions of fighting on, we must also question what this fight truly means. Bellew by his own admission is a Cruiserweight masquerading as a Heavyweight and this was a fight borne out of social media ‘beef’ that looked genuine enough to belong in a Big Mac at first – although some mutual goading and a spicy press conference were seemingly more than enough to stir genuine hatred between two men that know their way around selling a fight. By taking the fight in the first place Haye’s plan appeared clear - take another PPV payday, shut up the yappy Cruiserweight that was calling him out and use this profile boost to call out the golden goose, Anthony Joshua.
Now the path is unclear. The Bellew rematch has become a fight in isolation; a chance to avenge a defeat, restore some pride and hopefully look impressive in doing so, (and get paid a bucket load once again in the process). But aside from this, where does the fight propel him? The landscape has changed and Haye’s place in the heavyweight division is unclear, his relevancy questioned by unprecedented numbers. Joshua reigns supreme, the ultimate pot of gold at the end of the boxing rainbow for all comers. Stadiums fill and PPV’s sell at his whim and it is clear his targets are unification clashes, as well as the returning Tyson Fury. Does a win over Bellew, even an emphatic one, justify a shot at the Heavyweight Championship of the World? If anywhere near his best, Haye represents a risk to Joshua without the credibility (in the eyes of many) that Joshua’s other options possess. WBO Champion Joseph Parker would seem to be next up in the AJ sweepstakes and this represents a very real opportunity for Joshua to hold three of the division’s four titles (no Regular belts here thank you). Deontay Wilder remains the brash, loud voice from across the pond with the knockout power and WBC belt to back up his showmanship and that mouth-watering bout has fans and pundits alike purring at the possibility of a trans-Atlantic clash for supremacy. Meanwhile Tyson Fury’s return, while sure to be colourful, also represents the return of the Lineal Champion – the man who beat the man, and comfortably as well. He is yet to taste defeat himself and his ‘what you see is what you get’ persona seemingly plays the Yin to AJ’s Yang; a star crossed partnership sure to sell enough PPV’s to leave Eddie Hearn buying enough boxes of Kleenex that he may as well buy shares in the company. This is to say nothing about any ropey mandatories that may be called in the meantime – and nothing would characterise the WBA more than interrupting a British stadium fight by loosening the rigor mortis of Fres Oquendo’s career to make him an immediate mandatory challenger for their belt.
Haye’s two-way path from here then is clear when looking into the abyss and a cluttered, chaotic trail when peering behind the curtain that victory would provide. A defeat, (or even anything but a knockout win in his own words) and it is retirement. Win and the queue ahead of him is littered with legitimate contenders that are either bigger than him, younger than him, more active or all of the above. Those at the top of the division are not struggling for sellable opponents in the same manner that Wladimir Klitschko was when Haye burst onto the Heavyweight scene and crucially, he is unable to diminish their credibility as contenders in the same manner as he was able to back then, (remember Wlad was coming off wins against Eddie Chambers and Samuel Peter before he took on Haye, for all we love the Ukrainian). Yet six years later one feature, albeit one that has appeared fleetingly, remains the same in this ever-changing Heavyweight landscape. Whether you love him or loathe him, Haye remains a contender who’s only ever potentially one win away from another tilt at glory – a VIP that is able to queue jump in necessary circumstances.
It is this reason above all that means his career continues. Tickets for Bellew-Haye II sold out in minutes and the fight will undoubtedly produce spectacular box office numbers once again, meaning those who question his relevancy need to analyse their conclusion. In a sport that is epitomised by the mantra that ‘if it makes dollars it makes sense’ someone with the pulling power that Haye possesses (yes, still) will always remain an attraction. One of few genuine ‘celebrities’ within the fight game, Haye still pulls in a wider audience than anyone in Britain not named Anthony Joshua. We’re still reading and writing about him (thanks for making it this far), so he remains a relevant contender and if he is physically even close to his capacity, then his skills and power make him a legitimate threat.
There’s also a feeling that the above questions being asked of him, not only fuels Haye, but he actually gets off on the idea of people questioning him, as if reading through such scepticism would be his own answer to erotic literature. The glint that perennially appears in his eye has always hinted at a man who had all the answers to your questions and enjoyed knowing something you didn’t, particularly when seeing the concern held by others in contrast to his own unquestioning confidence in himself. This is not a confidence borne out of delusion either; Haye has always been an intelligent man, who knows the business inside out. He also knows his body better than anyone and has shown tremendous determination to come back from each significant injury, (and perhaps now we can acknowledge these have been genuine injuries rather than some cloak and dagger plot on Haye’s part – from getting Adam Booth to cut him pre-Fury fight, to faking a hospital picture for the shoulder surgery, you could be forgiven for thinking the conspiracy theories could stretch to him purposely rupturing his Achilles in the first Bellew fight). Each comeback has been marked by the assertion that he will once again be Heavyweight Champion of the World, not merely just talking about big paydays, which he has frequently been accused of idolising, but the biggest fights available and the ultimate prize.
And whether we like to admit it or not, there are few things that attract us more than a man whose back is against the wall, with one chance left. In no other field than boxing does defeat feel so terminal and we must reluctantly admit that gets the juices flowing. If there had been a ‘last chance saloon’ element to the first bout that necessitated Haye making it to fight night, regardless of physical condition, then he can now be considered to be in an after-hours lock-in at aforementioned saloon – one last, last chance. In the mother of all ironic twists his old enemy (injuries) have in fact dealt him one more hand, one last roll of the dice as we question whether the Bellew defeat was down to injury or some deeper-rooted problems. On 5 May 2018, we will find out, and for all the issues debated in this article, we won’t be able to take our eyes off it.