When he was knocked out by Tony Bellew on Saturday night, many predicted that it was the end of David Haye as a professional boxer.
Seeing his record slip to 28-4 thanks to a stunning left hand from ‘The Bomber’, taking a second straight KO loss to the same opponent in the process, Haye was advised by many to hang up the gloves for good.
His long-time friend and former stablemate George Groves was amongst those advising Haye to walk away, while Bellew himself told Haye “please, stop now”, and walk away from the sport that delivered him a world title back in 2009.
But, if he chooses to take it, there’s still a road to the top of the game left for Haye to tread.
The thing about David Haye is that his biggest strength is not his speed, power, or ring intellect. It’s his mouth.
Haye is box office when he opens his mouth. He makes average-looking fights into must-watch bouts (remember Audley Harrison?) and love him or hate him, people tune in to see him fight.
Just look at his two scraps with Bellew – a career-long cruiserweight stepping up to heavyweight for a fight with a domestic rival which was nowhere near the top of the heavyweight rankings. It was essentially a prizefight, and it earned both men millions – so much in fact that Bellew has now tasted the money on offer in big fights, and has set about chasing retired super middleweight king Andre Ward for a scrap.
Bellew says “styles make fights”, and that’s exactly why Haye could continue his in-ring career for another couple of years.
The Liverpudlian was an awful style for Haye to contend with. Someone with more speed than most heavyweights (having been a cruiserweight for over 10 years), and a similar height and weight was never going to end well for a man who had only fought a couple of punchbags with legs in the past six years (I still haven’t worked out how Mark De Mori held an actual boxing licence).
If we think back to Haye’s glory days, when were they? His fight against Nikolai Valuev – the biggest, heaviest world champion in history – was his crowning moment, when David was literally up against Goliath, and was able to use his speed as his slingshot and down the giant Russian.
If he still has the appetite for the game, Haye could recreate those glory nights by challenging himself against anyone who isn’t quite in the heavyweight title picture just now. Forget Anthony Joshua and Deontay Wilder, as they seem close to putting all the belts on the line in a blockbuster later this year, but I’d back Haye to talk himself into a scrap with anyone else in the division.
Looking at the rankings of all the governing bodies, people like Charles Martin – who has had just two fights since Joshua dismantled him for the title back in 2016 – are still ranked in the top 10. Carlos Takam took AJ 10 rounds and is ranked #6 by the IBF. Bermane Stiverne stood and took punches from Wilder and was crushed within a round in his last fight – he’s ranked in the top 15 by the WBC.
However, there remains one man who Haye could easily wind-up enough to entice him into a fight should he fancy it – Dillian Whyte.
Whyte is on the verge of a world title shot, so it’d be a terrible move for him to risk it against someone like an unranked Haye, but anyone who has heard anything from Whyte since he burst onto the scene will know he’s hardly one to mind his own business and keep his head down in the heavyweight free-for-all.
He’s loud and mouthy, and while his skills may well be too much for Haye if they ever got it on in the ring, he should be Haye’s number one target to goad into a fight. It’d main event the o2 arena in London, earn both men a handsome cheque, and even though Whyte is now seen as the superior fighter, Haye would likely have a speed advantage over the bigger man (just like he did against Valuev).
Whyte is ranked in the top five by all governing bodies, so if Haye could entice him into a scrap and turn him over, he’d then be ranked handsomely, setting himself up for one last crack at the division he once ruled.
I’m not saying Haye is good enough to do this, and the likelihood is that he will retire and concentrate on his budding promotional career, but when you’ve got the hunger for the game (he said he “absolutely loved” the fight with Bellew), and the ability to talk enough shit that someone wants to punch you in the face for millions of pounds, why hang up the gloves just yet?