Talking Boxing

Interviews, opinions, features and news from the greatest sport in the world!

February 2, 2017

Dangerous: A column by Ian Probert

David Haye: The almost-but-not-quite-a-boxer

by Ian Probert

When I was a kid if your dad earned as little as mine did an Action Man was completely out of the question. We’re talking early-1970s here: pre-gripping hands, pre-nylon hair/beard, pre-winking eyes and pre-drawstring that made your Action Man talk. The real Dark Ages. 

Unfortunately for those of us forced to wear hand-me-down shoes, however, there existed alternatives at the time.

You could usually get them in the corner shop: An Almost-but-not-quite-An-Action-Man that looked just a teeny weeny bit like a real Action Man. They cost less than fifty pence and were constructed from a type of low grade plastic that usually fell to pieces the moment you’d opened the flimsy polythene packet that housed your new toy. Once that leg had come out of the hinge you could never quite manage to get it back in.

Their heads invariably looked a little bit like those of an Action Man but their eyes were somehow completely dead. Their complexions were of an indeterminate ethnicity. Where they Caucasian? Where they of African origin? Where they Oriental? It was difficult to say – not to mention irrelevant – but the writing on the back of the packet often provided some form of clue. ‘Made In Hong Kong’ it would usually proclaim.

Maybe my Almost-but-not-quite-an-Action-Man was Jewish? Certainly if you pulled down his trousers and had a little ferret around this was what all available evidence appeared to point towards. Because there were never any bollocks present.

It’s when I think back to those Almost-but-not-quite-an-Action-Men and those absent bollocks that never failed to be a youthful disappointment that my mind always tends to wander in the direction of David Haye. The-almost-but-not-quite-a-boxer.

Don’t get me wrong: I have nothing personally against the heavyweight… (What do you call him? Ex-world champion? Perennial contender? Celebrity with muscles? Who knows?) …ex-champion-perennial-contender-celebrity-quiz-show-attendant-reality-star. On face value he seems like a perfectly reasonable chap, giving every indication of being intelligent, personable, good looking, quick of wit, sweet of breath, bad of haircut. All those kind of things. There’s just something about his deportment that takes me back to those pre-Thatcher days of counterfeit plastic dolls that pretended to be something which they were not.

I’ve never met David Haye. I’m glad I haven’t and probably never will. I’d hate to find myself in a press conference situation in which I am under pressure to add credence to blatant subterfuge.

For me Haye represents a breed of animal that has carefully evolved over time to suffocate the modern boxing ecosystem. He’s a boxer – sure he’s a boxer. But he’s only a boxer in the sense that he occasionally pulls on a pair of gloves, throws punches and usually manages to successfully avoid any that are hurled back in his direction. To describe him as a real, authentic boxer would be akin to describing Wolfgang Beltracchi as a real, authentic painter. In boxing, as in any other notable discipline of value, it’s simply not enough to be able to do it, you have to be able to DO it. REALLY DO IT.

By this I mean take chances, dangle your toes over the precipice and stare into infinity (sorry about the toe reference, Dave). Run the very real risk of losing so that winning is so much sweeter. Place your soul on the line and bare its contents for the world to see. It’s not enough to just win fights. To just win fights that are not really fights at all (it’s been mentioned before but it’s no coincidence at all that Haye’s last two outings have been aired on the comedy channel Dave (although it has to be said that neither contest elicited much in the way of laughter). Ultimately, however, it’s all down to what David Haye wants from boxing.

If he wants money then he has every right to use everything in his means to earn money. And who can blame him? I’d certainly like to earn the kind of paycheque that he does, even if it means writing about something I don't believe in. After all, boxing is all about hitting while not being hit and getting out with senses and wallet intact. Let’s not try to kid ourselves that it’s anything but.

But if not money then what else?

I look at David Haye and I see a man struggling to cast aside the Made In Hong Kong label on the packet. You only have to take one look at his body and consider the effort that goes into its manufacture to realise that there is a degree of authentic seriousness to what David Haye is trying to achieve. 

And this is why it is a profound pity that after two laughably inadequate warm-ups fights against people who were not even household names in their own households (warm-up? I didn’t even have time to put the kettle on) he is choosing to meet the current WBC cruiserweight champion early in March in a contest that can only have any real meaning if you happen to sit behind a computer screen at the TSB.

In the past I’ve consistently come unstuck with my predictions but to my meagre mind there can only be one conclusion to this encounter. In this case the Liverpool-born champion’s bellow is doomed to be worse than his bite. The size discrepancy between Haye and opponent Tony Bellew is such that it reminds me of those occasions when an adult plays football with a toddler in the park. Look for Haye to perform dazzling Cruyff Turns and fluid step overs while the noble but outmatched Bellew dribbles enthusiastically before exchanging hugs at the conclusion of the evening and admitting that all the pre-fight bad blood was only really about selling tickets (although I have to admit that I do like the Sideshow Bob reference).

A real tragedy then that a gifted physical specimen such as Haye is content to do just enough to keep the gravy train rolling on. Because he’s talented, he’s fast, he’s elusive and he can hit harder than a man of his stature should be able to. 

Indeed, here’s still enough left of Haye’s career to turn cynicism into pride; to transform someone destined to be a well-paid footnote in the era of Fury and Joshua into a boxer with a legacy that will last longer than any bank statement.

Make no mistake there are real fights out there for him if Haye is genuinely interested in extending himself. Big money fights that would stretch him as far as he can be taken and turn the Almost-But-Not-Quite-A-Boxer into a real Action Man.