I’m sitting in David Haye’s Vauxhall gym when news breaks that Wladimir Klitschko will come to the UK to fight Tyson Fury. “Klitschko’s just tweeted: ‘On July 9th at Manchester Arena I’ll have my revenge’,” yells Shane McGuigan, Haye’s trainer and son of legendary featherweight champion Barry, from the ring, where he is sparring with a young gloved hopeful.
“That’s mental,” shouts Haye in reply. “I cannot believe he has agreed to come over here to fight. He must be supremely confident.” His voice booms around the cylindrical space as he strides towards me to begin the interview.
“I got that one wrong,” he mutters under his breath.
“Hey man, what’s going on?” he says enthusiastically, crunching into the chair opposite me with that distinctively warm smile so often seen on camera during post-fight interviews, his opponent usually still seeing stars and budgies. He’s friendly, sure – in fact, he belies the fact he has had a few hours of media interviews prior to my slot – but make no mistake, David Haye is unnerving in stature, built like a brick fridge. Broad shoulders, arms like oak trunks and a handshake that swallows mine.
“Why’s that such a surprise?” I inject, encouraging him to continue on his train of thought.
“Well I just couldn’t see Klitschko coming over to the UK. He’s never done it before. Wladimir is not a stupid guy – he’s taken this fight because in his mind he will be victorious.”
Indeed Klitschko has a lot to prove, having lost his WBA, IBF, WBO and IBO titles in particularly unspectacular style to the outspoken Gypsy King back in November in Dusseldorf, Germany. Dr Steelhammer, the man who was unbeaten for 20 years, barely threw a meaningful punch, allowing the lumbering man mountain Fury to claim his belts.
“Klitschko is a shell of the man he used to be…”
…continues Haye, playing with his beard. “But Fury will need to be better than he was for the first fight. He looked in decent nick, like he trained properly, like he really wanted the world title. I hope he hasn’t taken that for granted this time around and thinks he can turn up out of shape and do the same.” [Fury has been recently shouting his mouth off about his sizeable weight gain (an extra 6 stone), saying that Klitschko only needs to beat ‘a fat man’ to reclaim his title, seemingly giving himself an excuse if he fails to reassert his unexpected prominence.]
“Hopefully it’ll be a lot more entertaining than the first fight – as impressive as it was in terms of the result, it was equally as unimpressive in terms of a performance. Not sure I could stomach watching another 12 rounds of that.”
Slouched casually, in a t-shirt and tracksuit, 35-year-old Haye oozes confidence, saying that he feels better than ever, which, given his glittering career prior to retirement – in which he marched through 26 opponents (24 by KO), including making the 7ft giant Valuev dance a dizzy jig, before falling short to Wladimir “in his prime” – is fighting talk. “I think I’m a more complete boxer than I was before,” he asserts. “But it’s all good and well saying it. I need to prove it in the ring.”
He did just that on his much-publicised return to the limelight in January against Mark De Mori after a three and a half year hiatus from the sport, in which he underwent shoulder surgery. Haye treated De Mori much like he does a punchbag in his gym, brutally sending the Australian fighter sprawling to the canvas in just 130 seconds. His next challenge comes from the unbeaten Arnold Gjerjaj on May 21. Haye is currently in the intensive period of his build up, training twice a day, six times a week, rehearsing every aspect of what happens on the night, right down to the vaseline and tape he’ll use. He even has the airflow in his bedroom monitored.
“It’ll be an interesting fight. While it lasts. Well, while he’s conscious.”
He isn’t joking. And there are few who would argue that he won’t do just that. Such is his speed, accuracy and “freakish, god-given power”, he has garnered a reputation for being a “one-punch concussive knock-out specialist”, much like Mike Tyson in his heyday.
“Not everyone wants to see a 12-round technical fight. Some people just want to see crash, whack, wallop. That’s why people are attracted to the heavyweight division – one good shot and it’s over, so the anticipation is there from the very first bell.”
Surely then, despite a respectable record, Gjerjaj is no real contender to the Hayemaker, but a mere speed bump to the man Haye really wants to face in the ring: Anthony Joshua.
“I’d love to fight him this year, but I understand that he’s got other business to take care of. His team are smart enough to know that fighting me would be a big risk right now, so they’ll try and give him that world-class experience in the interim, so when we do fight, hopefully next year, he’ll have had another two or three fights under his belt to call on if it gets tough.”
So, who will win this British showdown between two of the most exciting boxers in a generation?
“The one thing that will be his downfall is his lack of world-class fighting experience. He’s had 16 fights to date, and arguably not one of those opponents has been proven world class.
“It’s crazy to think that the world champion can have got there when none of his opponents have beaten a top 10 fighter.”
“That’s where my instant advantage would be, as I’ve had that experience for many years now. I was the heavyweight champion before he even started boxing.”
It would be a wasted opportunity if I didn’t ask about the chance of a meeting with the loud-mouthed elephant in the ring, Tyson Fury. The mere mention of his name is enough to raise Haye’s hackles.
“I just can’t be bothered to fight him,” says Haye instantly. “There is so much negativity that surrounds him – I don’t really want to be associated with that. Sometimes the fighter becomes bigger than the titles he holds. He says a lot of controversial things and I’d prefer to fight a clean, young fighter with a good image, like Joshua. It’s better for the sport. Plus, I don’t think Fury could handle Joshua. If they were to fight, I’d hugely back AJ.
“People want to see me and Joshua. And if the fans want to see it, that counts for a lot.”
In closing, I ask after David’s petition to award the legendary Muhammad Ali with an honorary knighthood. “Ali is my biggest inspiration and I probably wouldn’t be boxing if it wasn’t for him. He’s done a huge amount for the sport, and I can’t think of a reason why he shouldn’t be awarded a knighthood.”
It is patent to see that Haye cares about the cause in the way his eyes widen – it’s that look he has in the ring when his opponent is on the ropes showing weakness. And given that David Haye doesn’t do things by half, having resurrected his boxing career in sensational fashion when many had written him off, there’s little reason to think we won’t be referring to Ali as Sir Muhammad Ali before long.
David Haye takes on Arnold ‘The Cobra’ Gjerjaj at The O2 on May 21. For tickets to #HayeDay visit theo2.co.uk