It seems like professional boxing and the idea of mounting a comeback will forever be inter-twined. All throughout its history our sport is littered with examples of fighters getting back in the ring after apparently hanging up their gloves. Many of these comebacks are ill advised and are undertaken in the desperate pursuit of banking some money.
One modern boxer who has this year returned to the ring after a three and a half year hiatus is Londoner David “Hayemaker” Haye. Two fights into his comeback campaign, if that is what this is, it is difficult to ascertain exactly what Haye is aiming for – another run at the undisputed Heavyweight crown or just a few easy paydays while hearing the roar of the crowd several more times.
One thing that is clear is that Haye's name still carries a fair amount of clout and boxing fans, indeed sports fans in general are still interested in watching him perform.
The reason for this is no doubt due to his success in the previous stages of his professional journey. 19 of his first 20 fights were contested at Cruiserweight and his campaign in that division ended with Haye holding the WBA, WBO and WBC titles. Part Two of Haye's career saw him step up to Heavyweight and he captured the WBA title in his second outing north of 200lbs. Two defences followed although he fluffed his lines on the biggest stage, losing timidly by UD to Wladimir Klitschko in 2011 when attempting to become unified champion. After easing himself into Act Three we await to see what comes next.
It has been well reported recently that Haye is currently going through a divorce so it is unlikely that he will glove up again this year. Perhaps then, this is a good time to look at his comeback and to attempt to work out exactly where this ring return is leading.
Turning 36 in October, Haye has fought twice this year so far. He launched his return against unheralded Mark de Mori in January, defeating the Croatia based Australian via 1st round stoppage. Haye followed this up by stopping Arnold Gjergjaj in the 2nd round of their encounter in May. Despite his dangerous sounding nickname of “The Cobra” and unbeaten record Gjergjaj was a similar standard to de Mori: many levels below the standard we are used to seeing on TV in top of the bill professional bouts.
Speaking of television, the two fights aired on a free to view platform normally associated with comedy programming. Leaving any smart remarks about this aside it seemed like the usual subscription networks that broadcast boxing here in the UK were unwilling to make any sort of commitment to showing Haye. This may have been due to him twice withdrawing injured in 2013 when due to face Tyson Fury after large PPV TV contracts had been signed. The positive side to this broadcasting situation was that upwards of two million people over here tuned in to watch these mismatches.
As well as large TV ratings business was brisk at the box office and London's large O2 arena was very well populated for both of the slightly farcical fights – something which surprised this observer.
A further arguably surprising development is that the four major sanctioning bodies have now installed Haye very high up in their rankings. “Hayemaker” is rated at 6 by the WBC, the WBA have him at 5, WBO at number 4 and the IBF put him third in their list. This is perhaps stunning due to his lengthy break from the sport and the standard of opponents he has faced since returning. It shows though that if he desires it the big meaningful fights are only just around the corner for Haye. We temper our surprise when we recall or comprehend that name recognition is often more important than skills in the eyes of the rankings boards.
After the Gjergjaj knockout Haye told the assembled media, “I truly believe I am the future. I am looking forward to big fights. Anthony Joshua – that is a fight I'd relish.” This suggests that Haye is serious about his comeback but that he is also well aware which fight would bank him the most money. A bout with Joshua would do huge numbers in the UK and generate plenty of interest around the globe.
A decision taken by Haye that indicates he means business is joining up with highly regarded young trainer Shane McGuigan. McGuigan, best known for being at the helm for Carl Frampton's professional career, always has his fighters well prepared, entering the ring armed with a game plan to get the job done. McGuigan can also be relied on to stay calm in the corner when his boxer is under pressure. By employing McGuigan, Haye has shown that he's open to adopting new methods and willing to listen to a young, fresh voice in order to help attain his goals.
Another aspect to consider is the condition Haye has been in for his comeback fights. Back in July 2012 he was lean and quick for his clash with Dereck Chisora, weighing in at 210lbs. A more muscular and bulky looking Haye tipped the scales at 227lbs for de Mori and 224lbs for Gjergjaj. Could it be that Haye and his team have decided that the best way to challenge the big men holding the belts is to get closer to them in terms of muscle mass and weight? Whether or not this costs him in the speed and athleticism department will only be revealed when he is in with better opponents.
The plan after Gjergjaj was for Haye to face American veteran Shannon Briggs, again at the O2, in September. It seems like this is now on the back burner possibly due to Haye's earlier referred to personal issues. I think that fans would tolerate the Briggs bout as the brash New Yorker is at least a known name and brings entertainment to the fight promotion. After this though, if Haye is serious he needs to step up his level of competition before facing any of the current title holders. Names such as Jarrell Miller, Kubrat Pulev or even Luis Ortiz should be considered as possible opponents if the final chapter of his career is to take on any semblance of seriousness.
In conclusion, it is clear that Haye still has large numbers of fans who want to see him fight and with his engaging personality and ability to help sell a promotion his presence back in the Heavyweight division could be very positive for the sport. Assuming he is serious about going after titles there could be some interesting match-ups ahead in boxing's traditional glamour division. If Haye steps up the quality of his opponents and makes a run at a title it will help generate even more interest in the current Heavyweight scene but if he is only interested in knocking over cannon fodder like de Mori and Gjergjaj then Act Three for “Hayemaker” will be remembered as nothing but a time wasting exercise, an insignificant footnote in the history of the Heavyweight division.
Introduced to boxing by watching as a teenager with his Dad, Morrison really began to appreciate the sport during the Lennox Lewis era from the mid 1990s. Since those days he has developed into a passionate boxing fan, enjoying all styles of the fight game. His favourite fight is Barrera-Morales 1 and when time allows he enjoys travelling to attend big fights. Morrison began writing about the sport in July 2016. He hails from Scotland, United Kingdom where he lives with his wife and two children and can be found on Twitter @Morrie1981.