After his second defeat by Tony Bellew, David Haye dodged questions about retirement but the 37-year-old is now a sitting duck for top fighters
Boxing accommodates no calumny, which is why David Haye should look back over his pronouncements before and after his devastating second defeat by Tony Bellew and consider doing what all fighters must eventually do: quit the day job.
Three days before the 37-year-old Londoner endured his what might prove to be his farewell nightmare, he confessed: “My only reason for being in boxing is to prove I’m the best on the planet. I need to prove I’m better than Tony before I can think about that.”
Haye, with bits of his chiselled body falling off him, dreamt still of winning back his world heavyweight title, of challenging the young behemoths, Anthony Joshua and Deontay Wilder.
“Even if I beat Tony,” he added, “I’ll have to watch the tape back and say, OK, is that person good enough to beat the Joshuas and Wilders of the world? If I’m getting caught with shots and missing … I’m not going to put myself in the ring with these guys. I’m not just going to get my head punched in. I’m not stupid. I’ll only do it if I genuinely believe I can win the fight. I’ve never gone into a fight I didn’t think I could win.”
Even an hour before the fight on Saturday night at the O2 Arena, he said: “If I can’t get Bellew out of there in good fashion, my aspirations of winning titles are down the drain. So I need to go out and really put on a good performance.”
It took Bellew less than a quarter of an hour to convince Haye his ambitions were illusory. Yet, having declared unequivocally beforehand he would need to win in style to carry on, Haye later dodged questions about retirement – far more efficiently than when he had attempted to avoid the head shots that had put him down twice in the third and once in the fifth, leading to the compassionate intervention of the referee.
“I dunno. I didn’t feel that great in there,” he said, “but I’ll have to review the tapes and see exactly what went wrong.” The tapes are a fighter’s comfort blanket – or hair shirt.
Without reference to them, he could say: “Tony Bellew boxed a great fight and I didn’t, plain and simple. Maybe after having these rounds, [I could] get back in there and keeping the momentum going, maybe I’ll put on a better performance. As of tonight, I was bettered by the better man.”
So, a confusing psychological mishmash of diversion and denial rounded out the saga. Haye, who endures pain in the ring without complaint, could not inflict more on his psyche in the aftermath of losing to his Liverpudlian tormentor for the second time. He might cut the umbilical cord to his sport in the next few days, or he might try to squeeze one or two more paydays out of it.
Haye, who has never lacked for swagger, is used to accusations that he is only in boxing now for the money but it is a curious slur on a professional fighter. It is, after all, what he does for a living. His dilemma is convincing customers to pay to watch him. His reflexes have dulled, his balance, composure and judgment have disintegrated to the point where his blows do not land with the force of old against someone as ring savvy as Bellew, and his fading punch resistance makes him a sitting duck at this level.
The promoter Eddie Hearn, lending professional distance to the debate, observes: “He came up to me at the end of the fight and he went: ‘I really enjoyed the atmosphere’ and I’m thinking … like, he enjoyed the walk! But he’s never been hurt like that before.
“He’s got a lot of heart. Fair play to him. And he boxed six rounds with a snapped achilles [in the first fight 14 months ago]. But, when people review his career, they will always see he lost to Tony Bellew, KO11, and he lost to Tony Bellew, KO5, as the last two. There’s no point in coming back. He’s not the same fighter. He can win. He can beat people but he can’t beat elite world-class fighters.
“He’s still a world-class fighter but he’s not the old David Haye. Still very dangerous. He hit Tony with a shot and I know when he’s hurt, because he starts going for a walk, and you could see his [unsteady] legs. That was a dangerous moment but he’s not the fighter he was.”
Was he still marketable?
“Not box office. Dillian Whyte would be a really big O2 fight. The only thing I will say is he spent quite a long time giving value for money on pay-per-view. I know the first fight was a bit weird but there was a lot of drama. And, even tonight, he put his bollocks on the line. He didn’t take a knee. He put it all on the line. He does go out like that. Even getting up from the last knockdown – he went down face first.”
It’s not the most dignified exit from a lifetime’s work but boxing is a job that rips away dignity like a stolen heart.
There is another pre-fight observation from Haye that is worth revisiting: “Some times you’ve got to knock a building down to rebuild it. If the foundations aren’t right, no matter how nice a building looks, it will crumble sooner or later. For me to challenge some of these giants in the division, I can’t have a weak foundation.”
When Bellew knocked the building down on Saturday, everyone knew Haye’s foundations were as likely to be put back together again as Humpty Dumpty.
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