The other side

Keeping up with Haye

Last updated: 23rd March 2010  

The other side

Haye: top of the world

He could have at least sent a text so we could have cancelled all of that, I'll just have to take the few grand we wasted out on his face...

David Haye
Quotes of the week

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WBA Heavyweight title
David Haye v John Ruiz
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Sky Sports Magazine spent five months with Britain's heavyweight champion of the world, and found out what it's really like to go from contender to defending your title

4 February 2010

A silver Mercedes slides through the streets of South London. David Haye, new heavyweight champion of the world, sits in the front passenger seat, reading emails on his BlackBerry. Behind him, his minder Danny Watts is doing the same. In the hand of Big Danny, a BlackBerry looks the size of a matchbox. Next to Danny is Haye's younger brother, James.

"You wanna do the Cherie Blair thing, yeah?" Watts asks. "And the Naomi Campbell thing?"

"Yeah, I wanna do them." Haye replies, not looking up from the small bright screen.

Watts' voice trails off. "I dunno if you can do both," he says, almost to himself. "I can't put them in the diary without talking to Adam. Nothing goes in the diary without talking to Adam..."

Watts, a former boxer and scaffolder from Peckham, is built on the scale required to mind the champ. He is 6ft 7in tall and weighs 21 stone. He took three months leave from the scaffolding business to help Haye prepare for his title fight with the 7ft 2in Russian Nikolai Valuev, and never went back.

Haye's phone rings. He hands it to Watts. Big Danny talks for a while before handing it back. "It's David Cameron's office," he says, and then laughs. "It wasn't like this with the scaffolding."

It wasn't always like this for David Haye, either. In sport, the margins between success and failure are proverbially fine, and in boxing they are finer than most. Depending on who you ask, the points win over Valuev that brought David Haye the WBCbelt, that currently resides in a shopworn carrier bag by Watts' giant feet, was either by six rounds or by none. It was clear-cut or non-existent. Yet it's the win that has opened the doors into the world in which Haye now resides - the world of Cherie Blair and David Cameron, Naomi Campbell and all of the others who call and email throughout the day, wanting a piece of his time.

He chats happily to Cameron's office, cheerily promising to look at some sports initiatives they are preparing.

"I thought you were New Labour..." his brother James says. Haye spins around in his seat. "Hey," he says, "I'm for the great British public." And his face splits into its movie-star grin.

Everyone laughs, not just at the line, but at the unlikeliness of their situation: boys from South Bermondsey being courted by Her Majesty's opposition.

Haye's team is knitted tightly together, by this adventure and by their shared background. In addition to Big Danny Watts and James Haye, there is Adam Booth, who manages and trains Haye; Jon Hill, who looks after publicity; and Yvonne Muller, a new arrival as events co-ordinator. They work out of a gym under the railway arches at Vauxhall, a place that was still being furnished with a functioning office when Haye moved into a nearby hotel to train for the first defence of his title, against the tough and rugged Puerto Rican John Ruiz on 3 April. Haye lives not far away with his wife Natasha and his son Cassius, but it's not the distance between hotel and home that matters. It's the separation that counts. As Haye has discovered, being heavyweight champion of the world is a state of mind.

Haye has craved that state of mind for as long as he can remember. Just like his hero Muhammad Ali, he was always cocky, always cheeky, always ready to tell the world how good he was, how good he could be. Right from the start, Adam Booth was with him, training and managing, fuelling the dream, pumping the know-how into Haye with every fight, with every win.

Adam was switched on and street smart, a strategist in the training camp and a solid negotiator out of it. They roared through the first10 fights; no one lasted more than four rounds against him. For their fifth pro bout, against Vance Winn, they'd agreed to fight at the Playboy Mansion. David had loved that, knocking Winn over in a round and then partying with the girls, lapping up the publicity. The rest of boxing looked at Haye and Booth and muttered, 'They've got it coming - they're too flash, too cocky.' And that was seven years ago.

2 September 2009

It's just over two months before David Haye is due to fight for the heavyweight championship of the world. Attempts to reach him at his training camp in Cyprus to arrange an interview have proven fruitless. Usually a request via a sport star's website meet with one of two fates: an automated response or no response at all. But needs must, and soon after our email, there is a phone call. It's Haye on his mobile.

He has taken his career and his destiny into his own hands, and he wants to talk about both. He tells tales of his new life, a life dedicated to one dream: to be the heavyweight champion of the world, whatever it takes. What it takes at the moment is a lot of effort. When he catches a train to do the fight promo, he travels standard class. No one asks him for an autograph during the journey.

9 November 2009

Haye is in the ring fighting Nikolai Valuev for the heavyweight championship. He is the underdog. Even the Brits are betting against him, with most money going on Valuev in the hours leading up to the fight. On the minds of some seasoned punters is the night in September 2004 when it happened, when the flash and cocky David Haye got what was coming. Wembley Arena, against 40-year-old Carl Thompson in Haye's first really big fight, he did what he usually did and started whacking Thompson around, hitting him at will with those big right hands.

But Carl was rock-hard, with a chin made of granite. He let David Haye blow himself out and then he took him down, forcing Booth to throw in the towel after five rounds. Some seasoned punters haven't forgotten that night, or the newspaper that reported that anyone who thought Haye might one day become champion 'would have been laughed out of London'.

But David Haye hasn't forgotten, either. He hasn't forgotten how it bound him and Adam together even more tightly, as they overcame the mental scars and the embarrassment. How he now listens to Adam and only Adam while he sits on his stool between rounds with Valuev: "He was telling me I was winning the fight," Haye says. "If you were listening to other people, they had me losing. I trusted Adam's opinion, and if I hadn't, I might have changed my game plan. He was confident he knew what the scores were and what I needed to do at what stage in the fight. I listened to the right man. He knows his boxing. I trust him with my life."

Despite reports that say he partied long into the night, he didn't. Haye and Adam, plus a small group of people including his family, went back to the hotel and cherished the moment, savouring the feeling that their lives had just changed forever.

16 December 2009

It's the launch party for Rio Ferdinand's Live The Dream Foundation. Haye has been friends with Ferdinand since their school days, and now the boxer can share equal billing with the footballer.

In fact, Haye is the one guest who turns up that every member of the media wants to talk to. As JLS are performing on stage, a throng gathers round Haye, desperately trying to grab his attention and congratulate him on his success. Later we talk about his new-found fame.

As Haye acknowledges: "Normally after a fight you get boxing fans and sports fans in general pick up on the fight. This time it was front page and back page news. It was quite surreal because you don't normally get that for a boxing match.

"I've had old grannies coming up to me saying that was a great fight, and I'm like, 'Oh, so you're a boxing fan?' And they'll say, 'Not usually, but I went to the pub and watched it with my old fella.' It's great to see, and the more people realising that boxing is a great entertaining sport, the better. That's what I'm here for."

26 January 2010

Adam Booth sits on a train from Manchester to London, so exhausted he's barely able to open his eyes. He and the rest of the Hayemaker team have blagged their way into first class for the trip home. Haye is still buzzing from the press conference earlier in the day, at which he had announced the fight against John Ruiz at the MEN Arena, and unveiled a poster that mimicked the famous Welcome To Manchester shot of Carlos Tevez. While Haye happily googles himself on his new silver MacBook, and does yet more interviews on his mobile, Booth sighs and offers someone - anyone- a fiver if they'll go and get him a bottle of water from the buffet car.

As usual, Haye has been a hit at the press conference, but Booth is still frustrated and annoyed by John Ruiz, who failed to show.

They paid £15,000 for two first class flights from Las Vegas, and he didn't turn up to catch the plane. "He could have at least sent a text so we could have cancelled all of that," says Haye. "I'll just have to take the few grand we wasted out on his face..."

Booth smiles, and he's soon buzzing himself, despite the tiredness, firing off emails about prospective fighters for the undercard, working out complicated finances in his head. He is a completely hands-on guy, nothing under his eye is left to chance. When he was training Haye for the giant Valuev, he bought a ridiculous pair of platform boots from a gothic fashion shop in Germany and used them to elevate himself while Haye did his padwork ("He only gets to wear them before training now," Haye smirks). He carefully inspects all of Team Hayemaker's clothing - from his own even through to Big Danny's. Nothing goes in the diary without Adam's say so. As the Ruiz training camp begins in earnest, less and less requests get through. A lot rests on this fight.

America is just waking up to Haye's charisma; those in the know are beginning to sense a buzz about a heavyweight division that has been moribund since the retirement of Lennox Lewis almost a decade ago. Haye's punching power, and his willingness to take risks in and out of the ring, have pointed the way to a glittering future at the top of the sport.

"I feel a massive responsibility because it's been pretty boring lately," Haye says, looking up from his screen. "You've got fighters fighting dull and boring fights. All you've got to do is look at my record and look at the fights I've taken. A lot of people wouldn't go into the lion's den and take on the champion, but I'm not afraid to do that. I went straight into the heavyweight division and a lot of people didn't think I had what it took to go up there. People were saying I didn't have the pedigree, I didn't have the minerals to get to the top. But I have proved everybody wrong."

As the train pulls into London, some news comes through that puts a smile firmly back on Adam Booth's face: Haye-Ruiz has shifted 5,500 tickets in its first 24 hours on sale.

4 February 2010

The silver Mercedes crosses the river and arrives at a photographer's studio near King's Cross railway station. Haye, his brother and Big Danny disembark. James bursts through the studio door and yells, "No one minds Rottweilers, do they?" It gets a laugh, and Haye walks in to shake hands with the man who will be taking his picture - David Bailey.

Bailey, iconic photographer and spirit of '60s London, tells Haye that he has shot more than 400 covers of Vogue but just one boxer during his storied career: Frank Bruno.

"You'll be alright, though," he says. "Good looking boy..." Haye smiles. If he needs any more confirmation of the company he's now keeping, Bailey reveals the contents of his diary for the week. "It was Ricky Gervais yesterday," he says. "And it's Tom Ford tomorrow..."

If there is a question over Haye's career, it has nothing to do with ability. Instead it's a query over the cost of the fame and wealth he is acquiring, and how quickly they will accumulate if things go to plan. It is, after all, boxing's classic career curve: success usually lasts as long as the hunger. As the great Marvin Hagler once said, "It's hard to get up at 6am when you're wearing silk pyjamas."

"I've made sure my life hasn't changed, to be honest - I don't want it to change," Haye says. "When you get hit, you can be discombobulated. The last thing you're thinking about is houses or money - you're thinking about winning the fight."

He pauses, considering the road he's travelled, as well as the one ahead. "As long as there is a fight going on, the only thing in my mind that matters is winning the fight. How many cars, or whatever, is totally irrelevant..."

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