When David Haye steps into the ring on Saturday night, he will return to a different age in British heavyweight boxing. It will be three and a half years since his last fight against Derek Chisora and he will find that the hierarchy has changed significantly.
Tyson Fury rules the roost as the self-confessed Gypsy King, complete with a Klitschko scalp, a swathe of world title belts and the title of Ring Magazine Fighter of the Year. Meanwhile, David Price - once touted as a future world champion – suffered back-to-back losses against a 41 year-old Tony Thompson, which left the Liverpool man considering his future in the sport. Then you have Anthony Joshua - the nation’s Great Hope - whose own professional career didn’t begin until over a year after Haye took leave of the ring. The 26 year-old has already established himself as a world title hope by dispatching all 15 of his opponents well within the allocated distance. In being so clinical inside the ring and so level-headed and self-deprecating outside of it, Joshua has captured the hearts of the general public, most of whom witnessed his rise to stardom when he claimed super heavyweight gold at London 2012. Hughie Fury – Tyson’s 21 year-old cousin – is an exciting young prospect that has also made his presence felt to the 18 opponents he’s beaten – again, all of which have been carried out during Haye’s lengthy sabbatical.
It is not just the heavyweight division that has seen a renaissance: Britain has no fewer than twelve world champions at the time of writing. British boxing as a whole has been busy while Haye’s been away. This begs the question: is Haye still relevant in 2016 as he was when he beat Nikolai Valuev in 2009? The heavyweight division already has a rising star and a champion in Anthony Joshua and Tyson Fury respectively. With two big men occupying so much space and so much of a wider public consciousness, would three be a crowd?
Even after a career as a two-weight world champion, the boxing community remains ambivalent about David Haye. Few can doubt his exceptional ability within the ring, but for every success, a controversy has lurked just around the corner. For every career high, there’s a toe-gate or a press conference brawl to remind us that the London man has a penchant for controversy. And it is because of this that David Haye reminds us of the best and worst of times in British boxing.
David Haye’s career can be separated into three acts: the first act saw him climb the ranks of the cruiserweight division, proving a dominant, undisputed force when he unified it. His second act was a much shorter one in which he stepped up to heavyweight and went on to win the WBA version of the heavyweight title before losing it to Wladimir Klitschko three fights later. As for the third act, that is yet to be written. If Haye wants to secure the sort of legacy his talent and ability within the ring deserves, he will finish his career having secured a world heavyweight title for the second time. Anything less will be considered a failure. And in reclaiming a world title, all the other heavyweights will have to shuffle over a little bit to make space.