London Evening Standard
David Haye is sitting in a studio in New Broadcasting House, a half-eaten tray of tuna salad in front of him. The Londoner is busy promoting his fight against Mark de Mori on January 16. This is Haye’s first fight after three-and-a-half years out of the ring and normally the talk would be about how the former cruiserweight and heavyweight world champion will fare against the Australian, who is ranked 10th by the WBA.
However, the one topic that overshadows everything is Tyson Fury after Britain’s new heavyweight world champion made it clear he has no appetite to fight Haye.
Fury, who secured the WBA, IBF and WBO belts with his shock victory over Wladimir Klitschko on Saturday, insists he would rather square up to his cousin, Hughie, than Haye. “At least Hughie would throw some punches back,” said Fury.
Such abuse between boxers is an intrinsic part of a sport which is based on making the public believe that two strangers hate each other. However, Fury and Haye have a history of bitterness which seems more than the type so often manufactured. Two years ago Haye twice pulled out of fights with Fury, which the 27-year-old said caused him “mental and physical torture”.
As I mention this to Haye, he has another spoonful of tuna and says: “I have caused him mental and physical torture outside of the ring so far. And if I were ever to get into the ring with him I would cause him some more mental and physical torture. Tyson Fury has the right to fight whoever he wants to fight. He doesn’t have to fight me. He’s said even if I work myself up to the mandatory position that he would rather relinquish the battle than fight me in a similar way that Riddick Bowe relinquished the belt when Lennox Lewis was the mandatory for his WBC title. If that’s the way he wants to go then he will lose a lot of respect.”
Fury has done what Haye could not do, the 35-year-old having lost against Klitschko in 2011, which he admits “left a bitter taste in my mouth”.
Despite this, his praise for Fury is so grudging as to be almost a put down. “Fury deserved the title. He wasn’t lucky. The fact Wladimir Klitschko had his worst performance wasn’t his fault. It wasn’t exciting. It wasn’t fun to watch. Fury won the fight but Wladimir Klitschko didn’t throw punches. He was hugging. Was it like a love match? I don’t know. They refused to throw clean punches at each other. Wladimir Klitschko was afraid to let his hands go against a big guy.”
Haye then has another dig at Fury by rating him below Anthony Joshua even though the latter, while a huge talent, only holds the second-tier WBC International heavyweight belt.
“I fancy Anthony Joshua at this stage. Anthony Joshua throws punches. He is not afraid to let his hands go. If they were to fight and I were a betting man I would put my money on Anthony Joshua to beat Tyson Fury.”
By Haye’s previous standards of rubbishing opponents, this hardly registers. But then, says Haye, his retirement from the ring has “definitely mellowed” him. And, surprisingly, his experiences in I’m A Celebrity…Get Me Out Of Here!, where he finished third in 2012, played a part.
“It was quite therapeutic. Being somewhere where there is no link to the outside world, no phones, no TV, no newspapers. It gave me some nice perspective. It was close to meditating. I have found it so hard to meditate. To be somewhere where there is nothing other than nature is nice.”
Haye has changed so much that he even admits: “Looking back at my prior interviews made me cringe a little bit. I haven’t said anything controversial leading up to this fight against De Mori. I don’t need to hype up the fights any longer because everybody knows who I am. Back when I was saying controversial things, it was to be noticed. Saying controversial things from time to time gets you column inches.”
Indeed he is even ready to praise De Mori, saying: “He is a very strong guy. He is an absolute monster. A guy who hasn’t lost in 11 years.”
And, unlike his pre-retirement fights when he was always bullish about his chances, he says: “I have never been out of the ring for three-and-a-half years so it is hard to make predictions. I believe I’ll be fine but I don’t know.
“However, I feel I am in better condition now than when I was competing regularly. Maybe because it is me being older. Maybe because of me having a new coach [Shane McGuigan]. Maybe it is a new training routine. My whole emphasis now is on injury prevention. I am trying to do shorter sessions: more high intensity, same result, or even better result.”
What has not changed is his reliance on the wisdom of the Chinese military strategist Sun Tzu. “A lot of people look at people’s weaknesses,” says Haye. “I think, if I can handle all of his strengths, his weaknesses will be easier to deal with. So, if in a fight he throws on average 20 left hooks per round, I will get my sparring partner to throw 50 left hooks a round.”
Should Haye triumph on January 16, then this will be a first step on his long held dream of unifying the heavyweight division.
Haye says: “The heavyweight division is all a bit messy. It will be nice to consolidate all of these titles. I don’t need any more money.
“However, being the unified heavyweight champion, where everybody says you are No1, is something money can’t buy. I believe 35 is the perfect age to do it. Maybe I wasn’t physically and mentally ready when I was 30. Maybe that wasn’t the time for me. Bigger guys mature later. Maybe I am one of those guys. I am hoping that I really am.”
Haye has given himself three years to fulfil his dream and, whether Fury fights him or not, he says: “I believe I am the best in the planet. If I feel as good as I feel now, three years is a realistic time frame to get the job done.”