This is David Haye’s last chance at the big time — and he knows it.
The former two-weight world champion entered the opening press conference for his rematch with Tony Bellew first, and just six minutes late. Last time, he arrived when he felt like it. Straight away his attitude appeared different which is the first change required if his revenge is to materialise.
Bellew is not an easy touch, which is something Haye clearly thought nearly 12 months ago in the build-up to the first fight. The Liverpool boxer sat at the top table, relaxed, listening to the conference go by with little reaction besides the slight smile and odd eyebrow raise when talk of securing the financial future for his family arose. He appeared so tranquil that he actually looked disinterested.
“I’m honoured that so many people have turned out to listen to me talk nonsense,” he announced, leaning forward into the microphone. And he’s right, for the seriousness of what boxing is and can be, a lot of this prefight talk is spiel that the public have heard thousands of times before.
While Bellew announced his view that “this is just another fight,” Haye sat perched at the opposite end obviously agitated. Moving his head side-to-side, repeatedly taking deep breathes with his eyes unable to fix on anything for longer than three seconds. He looked bored, anxious and very wary that distractions — such as this media day — were not going to help him in the ring.
It may be just another fight to Bellew but to Haye it is so much more: his career is on the line.
“I’m not looking that far ahead,” Haye reluctantly told ESPN when asked what 2018 looks like for him career-wise. What about Luis Ortiz’s failed drug test? “I don’t know anything about that,” he added. Joshua-Pulev? “Joshua knocks him out.” He did, however, want to talk about Rio Ferdinand’s decision to enter boxing in far more detail. His unwillingness to talk matters related to him suggested an uneasiness. He acted like he learned his lesson from last time. He did, in fairness, seem focused on the job at hand.
But it’s not just David who needs a David Haye win. Anthony Joshua does too.
The current IBF-WBA heavyweight world champion believes his legacy depends on the opponents he faces and right now it’s something which is at risk, despite his upcoming fight against Kubrat Pulev.
Tyson Fury’s situation remains a mystery, with him recently stating he no longer wants the British Board to reinstate his licence. This mega-fight between the pair remains a very distant possibility, if one at all.
One other credible opponent — of which there are very few on paper — is Luis Ortiz. But he’s out of the frame now with his latest failed drugs test fiasco. Another is WBO champion Joseph Parker, who is a decent fighter but one who lost a lot of stock in his controversial points win over Hughie Fury. While it remains a sell-able unification fight, the potential spectacle of it has gone from appealing to average.
Wladimir Klitschko opted to retire after their enthralling fight in April earlier this year, rejecting the possibility of a much-desired rematch. Options of competitive challenges for AJ remain few and far between, which is no fault of his own.
“There is no chance of that fight happening ever,” Eddie Hearn stated to ESPN when asked of a potential Bellew clash with Joshua. “Both are good friends of mine and I don’t want that fight.” Bellew, 34, joins the mentioned group of boxers unlikely to face Joshua for one reason or another.
Deontay Wilder remains the only realistic ‘great’ fight that could be made with the London boxer right now. Apart from that, opponents like Dillian Whyte start cropping up again. He’s improving but is also someone Joshua has already beaten in emphatic style.
There are very slim pickings if people want to see the London 2012 gold medallist in more competitive fights, but an impressive winning performance from Haye on Dec. 17 would propel him back into the mix and definitely supply one of those.
For Bellew, it’s just more of the same. “I love punching you in the face,” he said. “I love getting punched in the face. I admit, I’ve got a screw loose.” He made no extra significance of the importance of this fight, or that it was any different to his last. For Haye’s tension, Bellew portrayed stillness and the image of a man just doing his day-to-day job. “David is just another guy I’m going to beat.”
Behind the laidback persona he gives off, he cares about this fight a lot. However, Bellew clearly doesn’t want to be involved in boxing for much longer and often speaks of his exit strategy from boxing.
No such thing currently exists in Haye’s world but he could have one unwillingly thrust upon him if he loses. He didn’t envisage this scenario for a second one year ago and right now he’s not only fighting Bellew but also for his own legacy. He will be 37 when the fight comes around and time is against him.
Dec. 17 could be the defining day in Haye’s career. Defeat, and it’s all over.