David Haye started the year sitting with a cap in his hand at negotiating tables in London and Berlin before a clandestine meeting at the Grosvenor Hotel in Park Lane set in motion a deal that changed his life for ever.
Haye had been due to fight Wladimir Klitschko for his three world titles in June, then he was expected to fight Vitali Klitschko in September for his title. It being boxing and Haye being the World Boxing Association heavyweight champion, there were always going to be a few secret twists and turns along the way, and close observers speak in terms more suited to George Smiley than Don King, but in the end a different deal was done by Haye's business partner Adam Booth during the last days of July, and Haye ended up sharing the ring with Nikolai Valuev in November and winning the WBA belt.
"It was all happening when I was in Northern Cyprus," remembers Haye. "Adam was in London talking to different people, waiting for different contracts and talking to me all the time. We knew that it was never going to be easy."
Haye was ticking over at his luxury gym near Girne, on the island's Turkish side, which the pair had built and opened in 2008. For Haye, this was a waiting game, keeping in shape while his future slowly become clearer. It was a frustrating time and the pressure was on both the boxer and Booth – as manager, promoter and friend – to deliver. The truth is that Haye had been in the gym since January preparing for a potential March fight with Wladimir, the younger of the Klitschko brothers, and then finally for the 20th June fight. But heavyweights can easily go stale during the often-tortuous wait for definite dates.
"I have to admit that it was not easy sitting about and going to the gym day after day," continues Haye. "Adam had given the Klitschko team a deadline and the deadline had passed. Then the meeting with Kalle Sauerland took place and then the contract arrived for the Vitali fight. There was a lot of pressure, it was a crazy few days but I knew it was the chance to change my life."
In London Booth spent three intense days putting together the Valuev fight, and hours and hours going over the contracts with Haye on the phone. "David had the WBA contract read out to him. He was fully aware of both," says Booth himself, also with us and rightly so, as he played no small role in Haye's remarkable year. "In the end the Valuev deal was done and dusted in three days from the original meeting. Three days and then all that he had to do was get in the ring and win it!"
Just under four months later and Haye was in the ring. An evening's work later and his life was changed. After 12 solid rounds based on an impeccable preparation, he had become boxing's most desired fighter. "I knew that I had to stay calm in the last round and not lose my head and certainly not go looking for glory," says Haye.
Haye did find glory, in a fight that was tactically brilliant, but not a slugfest or a great fight in the traditional sense. However, Haye's victory was far more than just a masterclass in defensive ring work because the south London fighter managed to fight for a world title, win it and still retain control of his career, by not being legally contracted with one of the more famous, and infamous, promoters. He is also reported to have sold as many as 800,000 pay-per-view subscriptions on Sky and cleared as much as £4m for his night's work.
"I'm finally where I've always wanted to be. I'm heavyweight champion of the world and I'm in control, I can pick and chose what I do. This is where all fighters want to be and I'm here now at the start and not after a few years as the champion," insisted Haye.
"If I had done a deal with a promoter I would still be the champion now," continues Haye. "Instead, I'm a success story, a great British boxing success story, a great British sporting story – it is just Adam and me."
Haye ends 2009 having joined his idol Lennox Lewis as a world heavyweight champion, he made the BBC's shortlist of Sports Personality of the Year and made a brief and breathless appearance on the Jonathan Ross show. The same show that a few weeks earlier had asked: "Dave Who?" His tiny entourage has remained the same, and when Haye went out to Las Vegas after the Valuev win, there were just three or four faithful in his secret company. Haye, like Booth, is a private men with wife and children well out of the neon. They have, it has to said, been clinical in their decision-making during 2009.
"It's impossible not to get on the wrong side of people in boxing, but I've said it from the very start and it's worth repeating: I'm not in the game to make friends inside or outside the ring," says Haye. "I've got enough friends and now that I've got the belt I don't need any new ones!
"The game is simple – not easy, but simple for a fighter. This is the game: win titles, make as much money as possible and get out with as many faculties as possible. That's it."
The plan now is to fight a reliable old tough guy called John Ruiz in April, possibly at the O2 in London, which is not far from the streets where Haye, who was born in London Bridge, grew up. It is a classic first defence and should provide Haye with a nice night out, because Ruiz is both credible and made for him. However, the real fight is still a meeting with a Klitschko, which is a promise that even has the Americans mildly excited once again about a division that they have collectively deserted as fight fans.
"It will happen – forget about what they keep saying and telling the press in Germany," states Haye confidently. "I'm telling you that there has been no contact with the Klitschko brothers. Not one phone call, not a text and not a single word for a very long time.
"I want to fight both of them in 2010 if that can be arranged, but things are very different now that I'm champion. I'm no longer at their table having to listen to their rubbish and their terms, I can sit down now and I've got some power," added Haye.
When Haye originally agreed to fight Wladimir, part of the contract was his silence and that was something that was instantly ignored by Haye, who retains far too much of his south London childhood than is wise for putting together multi-million pound deals. Booth, another south London boy, does the deals. "He can be a bit headstrong," admits Booth about his lifelong friend. He certainly can.
"The Klitschkos both hate me and it's not just the T-shirt," says Haye, referring to a typically confident confrontation in March, when Haye showed up at conference in Germany with a cartoon picture on a T-shirt of him holding the severed heads of the Klitschko brothers, one in each fist. "It worked," he adds of that stunt. "Three hours later 25,000 tickets had sold for the June fight!" he says, referring to the Wladimir Klitschko fight that was called off when Haye picked up a back injury.
"The Klitschkos can tell I'm not scared of them. They try and laugh it off, but I can tell when a fighter is concerned and thinking about what would happen in the ring," continues Haye. "They both looked at me and they could see straight away that I was not joking, that I was not getting in the ring with them for a payday – they could tell that I wanted to beat them. The T-shirt was just an excuse for them to get angry with me, but their real problem is that they know I'm not scared of them. You know, where I grew up it was not wise to be scared of anybody and I'm not going to start now."
And why should he?
Haye shaker: David's year of ducking and diving
David Haye's manager Adam Booth secures a deal for Haye to fight Wladimir Klitschko for his world heavyweight titles in June. Haye sports a T-shirt portraying him holding aloft the severed heads of the vanquished Klitschko brothers.
Haye pulls out of the fight with Wladimir Klitschko due to a back injury, accusing the Klitschko brothers of attempting to get him to sign a contract which made him 'a slave fighter'.
Haye agrees to fight Nikolai Valuev – the tallest, heaviest world champion of all time – in a contest billed as 'David v Goliath'. 'David only needed a slingshot and stone to flatten Goliath,' Haye said. 'I'm convinced my right hand generates more power than a stone.' He also labels Valuev 'a big, ugly, sweaty and hairy man from the Eastern bloc'.
Haye produces a superb performance to defeat Valuev by a majority decision and become only the third Briton to win a world heavyweight title. 'His head is solid, the hardest thing I've ever hit,' Haye says. 'It's like hitting a brick wall. I'm pretty sure my hand is broken, but it's a small price to pay.'
Haye states aim to fight both Klitschko brothers in 2010: 'The Klitschkos don't care about being great fighters, whereas I do. They may be big in Switzerland, but so are yodellers, and no one wants to watch them fight.' He also predicts 2010 to be 'massive for British boxing'.