The Black Eye
Born October 13, 1980 in Bermondsey, South London, David Deron Haye entered the world with a black eye and a clenched fist. He’d later be known as ‘The Hayemaker’.
It sounds like a punch line or some clever wordplay. It’s the truth. "My parents said I had the look of a boxer as soon as arrived," laughs Haye. "I had a black eye, clenched fists and looked like I’d just done 12 rounds with Mike Tyson."
Haye’s progression towards the combat sports was a natural one and one that was aided and encouraged by the input of his parents, Jane and Deron. Whereas most other kids of a similar age were learning numbers and words via Sesame Street, an eight-year-old Haye was learning punching and kicking routines via Bruce Lee films.
Throw in some boxing videos and some action movies and Haye’s thirst for combat was soon born. "I’d always be going around using my dad’s knees for punch bags," says Haye. "Whenever we had anyone round the house I’d always go up to them and start to punch away at their legs."
Sensing the wear and tear of his knees could be prevented, Haye, Sr. veered David towards martial arts – namely karate – in an attempt to direct his son’s fervour for combat. A fearless natural with his feet, it wasn’t long until Haye began to realise he could be even hotter with his fists.
At 10 years of age, Haye first stepped into the Fitzroy Lodge boxing gym and tried on a pair of leather gloves. A world away from karate lessons and watching Bruce Lee movies, a young Haye liked what he saw. He quickly caught the bug.
The Amateur Sensation
Over the years, London’s Fitzroy Lodge would become a home away from home for Haye. It would be his place to fully express himself in the way that came most natural to him.
Although an intelligent child, Haye only had so much use for school. He realised the importance of grades and learning, but was similarly aware of the riches and accolades that were commonly found at the end of the boxing rainbow.
Perhaps more physically gifted than he ever was intellectually gifted, Haye invested all his time into his boxing adventure – his boxing dream. With most kids his age still shedding baby fat and filling into their growing bodies, a teenage Haye was boasting a six-pack Bruce Lee would have been proud of.
"I’ve been very lucky with my genes," he says. "I had a pretty good six-pack from about the age of 13 and it’s stayed with me ever since – well most of the time anyway."
Already possessing the boxer look, Haye also carried a reputation for possessing the hook, too. Or right hand. Whatever the punch, Haye, even as a young, maturing boy was knocking out opponents left, right and centre. While other boys of his age were still developing their technique and commonly going the distance, Haye was conjuring Tyson-esque highlight reels. It was a scary proposition for most on the London boxing scene and many fight aficionados were talking about this long-armed puncher with ever-changing hair-dos (and don’ts) from Bermondsey.
By 1995, Haye was competing on the international amateur circuit as a light-heavyweight, knocking out foes from all across Europe. He soon got a call up to represent Young England in 1997 and, true to form, won his debut against Young Russia via first round knockout.
Selectors knew what they were getting when choosing Haye for England sides. A call-up to the England Seniors followed in ’98 and, despite the step-up in competition, Haye continued his run of first round knockouts against the Norwegian amateur team.
Injury hampered Haye’s bid for multi-nations gold in Liverpool in ’98. Despite advancing to the final, Haye was not fit to fight and settled for silver. 12 months later, Haye was fit to fight and not only compete but win the multi-nations gold medal that eluded him the year before.
Haye’s rampant success in the unpaid ranks was rewarded with a trip to Chicago in 1999 for the prestigious World Amateur Championships. Arguably the toughest amateur tournament of them all, Haye lost in the second round to Michael Simms – the American who eventually went on to win gold.
Believing his dazzling speed and reflexes could be better served a few pounds up, Haye turned his attention to the heavyweight division. Rather than slow up, Haye’s speed and collection of titles merely increased. First round knockouts continued to flow. Haye scored gold medal success in the Copenhagen Box-Cup multi-nations and the Croatian Pura Box-Cup multi-nations in 2001.
More pivotally, 2001 marked Haye’s historic return to the World Amateur Championships – this time held in Belfast, Northern Ireland. Looking to make amends for his attempt in 1999, Haye went on to win a silver medal at the Championships, screened live on BBC. Haye’s final bout against Cuban great Odlanier Fonte Solis marked the first time a Briton had ever reached the final of the World Amateur Championships.
Haye’s gallant effort to win gold saw him rock Solis in the first round – forcing the Cuban to take a standing eight count – only to eventually succumb to the more experienced heavyweight on the ‘outclassed’ points ruling.
The medal colour didn’t matter. Whether gold or silver, Haye’s name was up in lights. He was a heavyweight hope to get excited about. Touted as the ‘new Lennox Lewis’ in some quarters, Haye’s professional career would not be far round the corner. There were too many people saying his name, too many amateur opponents avoiding him, and too many dreams to fulfil away from the vest and head guard.
The inevitable happened in December 2002. David Haye, Britain’s brightest boxing prospect for many years, turned professional as a go-getting cruiserweight.
The home of British boxing, Bethnal Green’s York Hall, aptly played host to Haye’s curtain raiser and, similarly fitting was the choice of veteran Tony Booth as Haye’s opponent.
The debut was screened by the BBC and Haye, kitted all out in black – similar to how his hero Nigel Benn used to dress – didn’t waste any time in disposing of Booth.
Following two torrid rounds of torment, Booth refused to come out for round three. He’d later go on to say Haye was the best fighter he’d shared a ring with.
Just as Haye didn’t hang about on his debut, a similar pattern emerged with his career path. Willing to fight in consecutive months – sometimes even weeks – Haye packed his gum shield and trunks and sought fights wherever he went.
He ventured to the USA twice, and toured the north and south of England in pursuit of staying busy and racking up fights. From as early as his first pro bout, Haye was targeting the top fighters in Britain.
"I didn’t see the point in padding my record against 20 or 30 bums," he recollects. "You never saw guys like Roy Jones, Oscar De La Hoya and Floyd Mayweather doing that. They were all great amateur talents with hundreds of amateur fights between them. They knew how to fight. There was never any point messing about with journeymen and just getting stuck on the domestic scene."
In November 2003, Haye snatched his first domestic title against the most ambitious foe of his career to that point. Again at the historic York Hall, Haye obliterated Lincoln’s Tony Dowling to lift the inaugural English cruiserweight title.
There was an intensity and a merciless streak to Haye that November night generated from a slip-up in his previous bout – a September duel with African wild man Lolenga Mock. In a thrilling battle, Haye found himself floored by Mock in the second round – the first time he’d ever tasted the canvas as a pro.
Shaking the cobwebs, Haye managed to eventually stop Mock in the fourth round thanks to a devastating right uppercut. Nevertheless, for a perfectionist like Haye, the Mock knockdown proved to be the first rude awakening – or shake-me-up – of his career so far.
Typical to form, no sense of danger would ever halt the progress – or risk-taking – of a fighter like Haye. In March 2005, in only his 10th bout, Haye signed to fight America’s former IBF cruiserweight champion ‘King’ Arthur Williams.
It was a fight many derided to begin with. Haye was deemed too inexperienced, too rough around the edges and too cocksure to deal with a veteran like Williams. Three rounds later and Haye, having just stopped Williams in frighteningly one-sided fashion, had the last laugh.
Williams, a man who’d shared rings with some of the best cruiserweights and heavyweights in the world, was as impressed as he was stunned.
"I think he’s going to be one of the greatest fighters in the future," admitted Williams afterwards. "He’s an up-and-coming fighter, but not just any ordinary fighter. I’d been hearing a lot about him (before they fought) in the States, and a lot of people said it was a really dangerous fight for me. I’ve now seen it with my own eyes. He’s real fast and slick, and I don’t think anybody’s going to beat him."
That was one of the more reserved accolades sent Haye’s direction in the aftermath. Most were already touting Haye as a champion in waiting - the man who could demolish world-class cruiserweights with only a handful of pro bouts to his name. Then onto heavyweight. Then onto Canastota. The hype went into overdrive.
Haye - his own biggest fan, advocate and critic - took the assault to the next level in September 2004. Looking to crank the shock-factor one notch further from the Williams bout, Haye decided to square off against the evergreen and ever-dangerous puncher Carl Thompson in an IBO title fight.
Despite being close to 40 in age, Thompson was coming off a spine-chilling knockout of former champion Sebastian Rothmann and had always boasted incredible heart and recuperative powers.
A heavy favourite going in – on account of his youth, speed and equally explosive power – Haye was all set to do a similar job on Thompson as he did to Williams four months previous. It was seen as a given by many people. Not by Thompson, however.
In a candidate for British Fight of the Year, Haye and Thompson slugged it out for five rounds at London’s Wembley Arena. Haye dominated the early going before folding and eventually being outlasted by the cagey and vastly more experienced Thompson.
Haye was stopped on his feet in the fifth round. Despite looking out on his feet for the majority of the fight, Thompson called on another one of his nine lives to retain his title. Wake up call number two had hit Haye flush in the face like a Thompson right hand. Now was the time to get serious.
"I don’t feel like I need to start all over again just because I lost one fight," said Haye in the immediate aftermath to the Thompson loss.
"I feel I belong at this level. I don’t want to cheat myself or the fans by just going away and fooling everyone by taking easy fights. I’m here to take risks and test myself. That’s what I tried to do against Thompson. It didn’t work out for me tonight, but I’m sure I’ll have better nights ahead of me. Maybe one day I’ll look back on this loss and thank Carl Thompson for kicking my arse."
Haye’s run back to the top figured to be a short and explosive one. Though only having 11 bouts to his name, Haye’s confidence, even in defeat, was unwavering. There was never any self-doubt. Never any second thoughts. Never any Plan B. Haye knew the destination and he knew what roads to take in order to get there.
Following a routine ‘gimme’ comeback bout against Valery Semishkur, Haye got back on that treacherous road to title contention against the World Boxing Council’s (WBC) number 9-ranked cruiserweight Glen Kelly in March 2005.
In another risk – the kind frowned upon by many within British boxing – Haye ridiculed any pre-fight doubt by icing Kelly in two brutal rounds, ending the fight with the kind of right hand Thomas Hearns would have approved of.
The next step was a logical one for Haye. Focusing on the WBC’s top 10 rankings, Haye planned to strategically pick off each and every cruiserweight from the list in the eventual hope of landing a world title shot. A genius idea on paper. Haye’s next step on the road to title glory was in the form of awkward Italian Vincenzo Rossitto.
In spite of Rossitto’s experience and no.8 ranking with the WBC, the podgy Italian lasted no longer than previous foe Kelly. In October ’05, Haye bombed Rossitto out in two rounds, barely breaking sweat in the process.
Up ahead of Haye at this point was a 6’6 Ukrainian southpaw with a coveted European (EBU) title to his name. The man was Alexander Gurov, a widely-respected champion who had previously challenged for the cruiserweight world title. He’d been in Haye’s sights ever since the pair shared a sparring session years before.
Still very much inexperienced – and with only 15 fights under his belt – Haye was awarded a European title shot in December 2005. Perhaps an even bigger step up than Thompson was on paper, Haye, once again, had his back against the wall. It was a position he enjoyed being in – one that attracted the kind of pressure he thrived on.
On December 16, 2005, Haye destroyed Gurov in 45 seconds of the first round, live on Sky Sports. He picked up the European cruiserweight title and a lofty WBC ranking in the process. There wasn’t a better or swifter knockout all year. Merely 15 months on from the Thompson setback and Haye was back to risk-taking and title-taking.
It was around this time that the notion of ‘The Hayemaker’ was born. Having never before been officially attached to a nickname, Haye felt the time was right to sum up his style, attitude and threat in a single phrase. ‘The Hayemaker’ was a single-minded fighter with dynamite in either fist, hell-bent on becoming world cruiserweight and heavyweight champion. Haye was no longer merely a fighter. He’d created a monster.
Haye’s tenure as European champion brought about three defences of the belt – each one offering different situations, predicaments and endings. They were learning fights - tough, often-gruelling contests, against well-equipped European-level operators.
First up to test Haye was Danish hard man Lasse Johansen, unbeaten in 14 pro bouts and a former nemesis from Haye’s amateur days. Haye got the better of Johansen in the unpaid ranks and Johansen was determined to gain revenge in the pros – snatching Haye’s European title in the process.
At a sweltering York Hall in March 2006, Haye and Johansen put it all on the line for eight competitive and entertaining rounds. Following some intriguing ebb-and-flow action, Haye gutted out the win in the eighth – with Johansen turning his back and waving the contest over.
The seven and a half completed rounds marked the furthest Haye had travelled as a boxer. That would change four months later when Haye eyed up Belgian tough nut Ismail Abdoul for his second title defence.
Renowned for being cagey and sometimes negative, Abdoul was an opponent made to take fighters the distance rather than make them look particularly explosive.
Even Haye, always explosive, was anticipating a long night. Haye’s assumptions were proved correct following 12 rounds in Altrincham that excited neither the crowd nor Haye’s thirst for knockouts.
Limiting himself to only three right hands per round, the nature of the Abdoul win was a tactic constructed by both Haye and trainer Adam Booth. Haye retained his title on points, winning by scores of 120-108 on all three cards.
Far more competitive and far more meaningful was Haye’s third and final EBU title defence against Italy’s rugged and ambitious challenger Giacobbe Fragomeni, unbeaten in 21 pro bouts.
Just as with Johansen, Haye and Fragomeni had history, dating back to their amateur days. In this instance, Fragomeni had got the better of Haye in the unpaid game – beating the Londoner in an Olympic Games qualifier. Haye was incensed with the result at the time and set about putting the record straight as pros.
In an added coup, Haye’s bout with Fragomeni also doubled up as a WBC title eliminator – meaning the winner would be next in line for a world title shot. All was to fight for.
At a sold-out York Hall in November ‘06, Haye and Fragomeni traded punches and rounds in a wonderfully-poised fight. Haye, a trademark fast starter, was took slick and dynamic over the early rounds. Fragomeni, bull-like and squat, was then starting to suss Haye through the middle rounds. A horrendous cut opened over Haye’s eye in the seventh round. The tables appeared to be turning. Fragomeni found another gear. The crowd fell silent. The David Haye of old may have folded in the circumstances.
‘The Hayemaker’ had other ideas. Digging deep and calling upon all his reserves of strength and power, Haye drilled Fragomeni to the floor and inevitable defeat in a thrilling ninth round. Fragomeni’s experienced corner men had seen enough – waving the white towel in a sign of surrender. Haye had retained his belt for the third time. A WBC title shot would soon follow.
Such is the nature of boxing and its accompanying politics, Haye would have to wait exactly 12 months for his promised world title shot. In the interim, such is the way with Haye, things never stopped moving.
Rather than sitting on the sidelines, Haye took another challenge - this time up at heavyweight. His world title shot was imminent at cruiserweight and yet Haye, never one to do things the easy way, decided to pack on the pounds and fight a heavyweight.
The man he chose was WBC no.11-ranked heavyweight Tomasz Bonin and the date was April 26. Bonin had lost only once in 38 bouts. He was ambitious, live and dangerous. Similar in style to ex-Haye opponent Fragomeni, Bonin appeared to present a genuine threat to Haye’s world title aspirations as a cruiserweight. A defeat to Bonin would have scuppered any title shot at cruiserweight.
Weighing 17 pounds above the cruiserweight limit, Haye stunned onlookers by blitzing Bonin in merely 105 seconds of the first round. With many predictions hinting at the latter rounds or even points, Haye had done the unthinkable.
Bonin, a legitimate heavyweight threat, was chewed up and spat out before the card girls had time to prepare the ‘Round 2’ card. Haye was deadly serious about his threat as both a cruiserweight and then, perhaps even more enticingly, a heavyweight.
Originally scheduled for September 2007, Haye’s shot at world cruiserweight champion Jean-Marc Mormeck didn’t materialise until November of that year. It was a delay that annoyed, yet ultimately helped, Haye and his attempts to make the increasingly problematic cruiserweight limit of 14 stone 4 lbs.
"The weight has been getting tougher and tougher to make," admitted Haye before the bout. "This will most certainly be my last fight as a cruiserweight. Even though it’s dangerous to my health to be taking this fight I cannot leave the cruiserweight division without becoming world champion. This is a goal I set myself when I first turned pro and I will not give up until I’ve achieved it."
In order to aid Haye’s weight-making, ‘The Hayemaker’ set up camp in the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus (T.R.N.C) alongside trainer Adam Booth. A man of Mormeck’s stature and danger required perfect preparation.
A long-standing world champion, Mormeck was widely considered one of the best cruiserweight champions of all time. He held wins over cruiserweight luminaries O’Neil Bell, Wayne Braithwaite, Virgil Hill, Alexander Gurov and Dale Brown. He was an aggressive, hard-to-hit slugger with a Joe Frazier-esque intensity when he let his hands go. Haye had to be better than ever to steal Mormeck’s titles and he knew it.
"Mormeck has the perfect style to give me problems," confessed the always-honest Haye. "It’s the style I’ve always had to work extra hard to beat. There’s never an easy way round it. You won’t ever just hit the guy and he’ll fold. Mormeck has never done that before and he’s not about to do it now."
Nevertheless, Haye was confident. Boasting he’d beat the Frenchman "like Rodney King" in the lead up to the fight, Haye revelled in his time under the spotlight.
On the night of November 10, 2007, in Levallois, Paris, France, Haye’s time finally arrived. He’d had to wait 12 months to get here. He’d had to travel to the champion’s backyard. He’d taken risks from day one and no bigger one presented itself than Mormeck in Paris. It was the kind of fight lesser men would’ve turned down without being asked twice.
Haye’s confidence would prove to be well-founded, however. In a fast-paced chess-match, Haye managed to overcome adversity in the fourth round – when dropped for the third time in his career – to eventually grind down and knock out the champion in the seventh.
The result marked the changing of the guard in the cruiserweight division and the birth of a new world superpower from Bermondsey, England. Just like he promised, Haye was on top of the world and thanking Carl Thompson for kicking his arse.
Having emulated the great Evander Holyfield in rising to the top of the cruiserweight division, questions were quickly asked of Haye’s ability to transfer his success to the heavyweight stage. It was deemed a natural progression. Even before the Mormeck battle, Haye had insisted his weight-making horrors were too much and that his night in France would be his last as a 200-pound fighter.
Never an easy fighter to predict – inside and outside the ring – Haye completed an astonishing turnaround in early 2008 as he agreed to a domestic mega fight with Wales’ WBO cruiserweight titleholder Enzo Maccarinelli.
It was a fight that had been discussed since the pair had turned pro and one that was commonly touted as the most potentially explosive fight in world boxing. Both men were 27, both hit like jackhammers, and both were world titleholders in the cruiserweight division. A natural if there ever was one. The biggest domestic showdown since Nigel Benn and Chris Eubank went head-to-head in 1993.
The lure of such a fight was too much for Haye. Despite the difficulties making weight ahead of the Mormeck bout, Haye prepared to face the same demons one last time. Maccarinelli, he felt, was more than worth it. Always maintaining his slaying of Maccarinelli would be swift and brutal, Haye’s confidence never diminished. The pains of weight-making would be irrelevant as soon as his right hand landed.
"Enzo has no chance in this fight," boasted an animated Haye in the days leading up to the fight. "I have an answer for every single thing he tries and he knows it. I’ve seen his style a million times before. I don’t need to do anything different. I don’t need to be extra wary of Enzo. All I have to do is punch and I’ll knock him out. It’s as simple as that.
"So long as I turn up sober and on time, the fight’s a foregone conclusion. Deep down, Enzo knows that, too. This will be exactly like Lennox Lewis against Michael Grant. Don’t believe the hype."
In April 2000, Lewis, then world heavyweight champion, crushed the dreams of US hope and hype job Grant in two clinically one-sided rounds. On March 8 at Greenwich’s beautiful O2 Arena, Haye unleashed ‘The Hayemaker’ on a bemused and out-of-his-depth Enzo Maccarinelli to the delight of over 20,000 feverish fans.
The Welshman was felled in the second round, just as Haye had predicted beforehand. It was both the most significant and straightforward win of Haye’s five-and-a-half year career. As Maccarinelli tumbled to the floor following a savage right-handed ‘Hayemaker’, David kissed goodbye to the Welshman’s deluded claims of superiority and the cruiserweight division as a whole. Just like that.
Sat at ringside as Haye toyed with Maccarinelli was former cruiserweight and heavyweight legend Evander Holyfield.
Nicknamed ‘The Real Deal’, Holyfield is the only man to hold undisputed and linear world titles at both cruiserweight and heavyweight. Not only is the famed American an inspiration to Haye, he’s also the template. The career path. The boxing A-to-Z.
With sights set on emulating his idol Holyfield’s successful move to heavyweight, Haye officially moved up to the marquee division in November 2008. His five-round demolition of contender Monte ‘Two Gunz’ Barrett signalled not only his punch-power, but also the undiluted excitement Haye brings to a flagging heavyweight scene.
With momentum behind him, it would be less than a year before Haye received his shot at the world heavyweight title. Last November in Nuremberg, Germany, Haye faced up to the challenge of 7-feet-2-inch, 23-stone Russian champion Nikolai Valuev. Nicknamed ‘The Beast From The East’, Valuev was the WBA world heavyweight titleholder and a man never stopped, dropped, wobbled or hurt inside the ring.
In a true ‘David vs. Goliath’ showdown, Haye conceded a staggering foot in height and seven stone in weight. Yet, despite his physical disadvantages, Haye used brainpower to box-and-move his way to a comfortable decision victory after 12 rounds. Wobbling the immovable giant in the very last round, Haye befuddled and rocked ‘The Beast’, snaring the WBA world heavyweight title in the process.
This newly-acquired belt would be put on the line twice in 2010, as the champion engaged in title defences against John Ruiz, in April, and then fellow Briton Audley Harrison, in November. Punching harder than ever, Haye came through both challenges unscathed, stopping Ruiz in nine rounds, and then destroying Harrison in three. Alas, by the time 2010 came to an end, the division saviour had moved two steps closer to one day unifying the heavyweight titles.
This opportunity arrived in July 2011, when finally, after years of talk and counter-talk, Haye and Wladimir Klitschko put their differences aside and, more importantly, put a plethora of belts on the line in a ballyhooed unification clash. In total, the victor stood to walk home with the WBA, IBF, WBO and IBO world titles. The division rejoiced at the prospect of crowning a division number one.
Alas, following twelve rounds of intriguing action, it was Klitschko, not Haye, who left Hamburg's Imtech Arena clad in gold. He used all of his physical advantages to control Haye for the majority of the bout and, though wary of ever committing, did enough in the eyes of the judges to warrant a unanimous decision victory.
In the aftermath, Haye, now title-less, licked his wounds and decided to take a year out. Then, the following summer, he traded heavy punches with British brawler Dereck Chisora at West Ham's Upton Park stadium. The fight was inspired by an unsightly press conference brawl in February, and was tainted by widespread condemnation, yet nobody had any complaints following Haye's stunning fifth round knockout win. An ideal conclusion to a thrilling fight, the boy from Bermondsey scored one of the best knockouts of 2012 and again re-announced himself on the world heavyweight stage.