Whatever David Haye is getting paid by Triller for his Saturday bout with friend and temporary rival Joe Fournier is not nearly enough.
Simply put, the former cruiserweight and heavyweight champion, who has always been gifted at selling a fight, is in promotional overdrive for this card, which is headlined by a matchup pitting 58-year-old Evander Holyfield against former UFC champion Vitor Belfort and a clash of two more former UFC stars in Anderson Silva and Tito Ortiz.
As for Haye, he may be in “sell, sell, sell” mode, but what he does say about his own fight and the card in general makes a lot of sense, even if the hardcores don’t – and won’t – buy in.
“I believe these types of shows stimulate the boxing economy,” said the 40-year-old Haye, who last competed in 2018 against Tony Bellew. “I understand the purists may not see it that way. They may see it as taking the headlines away from young talent but, at the moment, the ones who have the headlines are the big names who have the biggest followings, and it's either these YouTube sensations or it's fighters like Oscar De La Hoya, like Evander Holyfield, like Vitor Belfort, like Tito Ortiz, like myself. And the fact that it looks like I'm making a comeback, that in itself is getting headlines and it's getting people excited, and I get an opportunity to silence a friend of mine who is very vocal about him believing he can beat me.
That friendly disagreement over a recent holiday led to Haye agreeing to lace up the gloves against his 38-year-old buddy, who has a 9-0 pro record against a horrific level of competition, but to be fair, this isn’t Fournier’s day job. Instead, he’s a very successful businessman whose bank account doesn’t need the purse from an eight-round fight with Haye. As for “The Haymaker,” he wasn’t exactly chomping at the bit to make a comeback or even a one-off after his pair of stoppage losses to Bellew, fights that left his body battered and his mind saying that he had enough of the sport after 32 trips up those four steps.
“After my last fight against Tony Bellew, I was fully, wholeheartedly happy with my lot,” he said. “I gave it all I could, I realized there was nothing left to give, I trained as hard as I could, I cut no corners and realized that my best was no longer good enough.”
Luckily for Haye, he didn’t need to stick around. The Londoner has always been sharp in and out of the ring, and his personality and business acumen guaranteed that an ill-advised comeback wouldn’t be part of his story. Even while working closely as the manager of heavyweight contender Dereck Chisora, Haye didn’t get the itch.
“I've been around boxing,” he said. “I was managing Dereck Chisora's campaigns on pay-per-view, at O2 Arena, I was walking to the ring with him, I was in the gym when he was sparring. I was involved with boxing, but I never missed it. I never wished I was in the ring instead of Dereck.”
Then came this fight with Fournier and Haye realized that the hour a day, four to five times a week in the gym to stay in shape wasn’t going to be enough to get ready for a prizefight. And once he began that training again, well, you know what happens next.
“Once the juices started flowing, once my body started aching, once I started doing stuff in the gym that I couldn't do prior to my comeback back in 2016, it got me excited, it really did,” he said. “But I'm not gonna get too excited just yet. We gotta get past Saturday, but I'm excited about the future and I'm looking forward to putting on a good show.”
Haye has kept his future plans close to the vest, and good for him for that. He is still just 40 years old, soon to be 41 next month, and he could conceivably get in a couple big fights if he looks good this weekend, albeit against a relative novice like Fournier. Haye knows that as well, so he’s likely not going to put too much stock into the end result, but more on how he feels after his first training camp in years, even if it was only a few weeks long.
“I've had a nice month of consistent training like I did in the good ol' days,” he said. “I've had three years of no boxing training. I've never had that. Since the age of 10 years old, I've never had a three-year - I've never had one year where I wasn't training with the mindset of getting back into the ring. I just trained an hour a day, four or five times a week, more for aesthetic reasons and health reasons, but not to compete as a boxer. And as a result, I stopped putting the pressure and the trauma through my body that boxing training requires, and three years later, when this opportunity to jump in the ring and have a little fight against my friend presented itself, four weeks later, my body is significantly feeling better than it did for many, many years.”
Haye then recites the issues he had with injuries over the years. Hearing it in one sentence makes you wonder why he would even want to do this again, but as the saying goes, once a fighter, always a fighter.
“I've had well-documented issues with my Achilles, my hamstrings, my lower back, shoulders, both my biceps detached off the bone and I had them both reattached - any one of those injuries are theoretically career ending injuries for an athlete in his prime,” he said. “I've allowed all of these now to recover without the intent of getting back to fight. I'm sitting here today, on the Tuesday before fight night on a Saturday and I've only done a month's worth of training and I feel very, very, very good.”
I’ll be honest. I’m interested in seeing what Haye looks like on Saturday night, just like there are those who want see Holyfield once again or see how some UFC icons perform in the boxing ring. Then there’s the intriguing Jono Carroll versus Andy Vences bout, which is clearly the star of the show for the hardcore fanbase. And just like that, Haye’s defense of a card that many have attacked isn’t as far-fetched anymore.
“The way I see what Triller is doing with legends is like The Expendables,” said Haye of the action-movie franchise. “I've watched all The Expendable movies and I love Dolph Lundgren, I love Arnie, I love Jet Li, love the whole crew. And I wasn't watching that thinking, 'Ah, 30 years ago Arnold Schwarzenegger's body fat percentage would be five percent lower than it currently is.’ (Laughs) It's irrelevant. It's still Arnie, he's still dropping ‘I'll be back’ lyrics, and that's it. And that's how I see this evolution of boxing. You got Carroll fighting on the undercard, and without this show, that WBC super featherweight eliminator might not be happening, and they wouldn't be getting paid what they're getting paid.”
In other words, these shows could be a gateway drug for a sport that can use all the young fans it can get. Draw them in with recognizable names, throw in some music, and maybe watching Carroll-Vences will keep them around for the cards that don’t have the big names. Do we need to watch Evander Holyfield fighting at 58? No. But don’t tell that to Haye.
“Evander Holyfield is my idol,” said Haye of Holyfield, who stepped in on short notice to face Belfort after De La Hoya tested positive for COVID-19 and was forced to withdraw from the weekend’s main event. “He showed me it could be done. He is the Godfather of boxing, and no heavyweight out there can say otherwise. The fact that I'm even fighting on a card that Evander Holyfield is gracing our presence with, I've won. I'd love to move around with him one day, whether it's sparring, whether it's an exhibition, I'd love for him to punch me in the head to say I was punched by ‘The Real Deal.’”
Haye laughs, but in a bizarre year in boxing to put it mildly, is it really that crazy of a notion? That’s a question for another day. For now, this show is going on this Saturday in Florida, and David Haye couldn’t be more excited to be back, even if it’s for one night only.
“I understand the purists out there might not be interested, but if they're not, they don't have to tune in, they don't have to pay for it,” he said. “They can stay on the internet writing sh!t about things. But if you are interested, you've got yourself a night of entertainment. It's a new world out there, and I'm really looking forward to this spectacle.”