If David Haye never fights again he will sadly be remembered for his broken toe which he revealed to the world after his painful defeat against Wladimir Klitschko last July.
Haye, who will be 31 tomorrow, has not renewed his licence to fight with the British Boxing Board of Control and at the same time has not stopped negotiating for one final fight against Vitali Klitschko, the slower but more lethal brother of Wladimir.
According to Haye and Adam Booth, his business and promotional partner, the pair first discussed retiring before the boxer reached the age of 31 a decade ago. "I've seen too many fighters go on too long and that is never going to happen with David," vowed Booth.
If Haye does walk away, he will leave behind a considerable set of achievements inside the ring, but he is unlikely to escape criticism for the Wladimir fight and the entertaining and lucrative fiasco that was the Audley Harrison contest last November. He is, in my opinion, innocent in the Harrison affair and misunderstood in the Wladimir beating.
The best British heavyweights in history all have blots on their records. Lennox Lewis, our best, was knocked out by two tough but not exceptional fighters, Henry Cooper lost to some average men, Frank Bruno was vulnerable in all difficult fights and Joe Bugner had some dreadful nights in the ring. Haye's perceived crimes are for some reasons judged far more harshly.
Haye turned professional in 2002 and went unbeaten until 2004 when he was stopped on his feet by Carl Thompson; it was a defeat that saved a career. Haye and Booth got serious about the business and mixed a combination of dietary advances and state-of-the-art gym equipment with a bit of old-fashioned quackery to rebuild the boxer's career.
A different fighter emerged from the setback and he won and defended the European title at cruiserweight in a series of entertaining slugfests.
In 2007, Haye travelled to Paris, to the outer zone of the city to be precise, and survived a brutal knockdown to finally knock out local idol Jean Marc Mormeck to win the WBC and WBA cruiserweight titles. A sell-out at the O2 against Enzo Maccarinelli ended in round two and Haye acquired the WBO version, but his days fighting the scales were over and he shifted to heavyweight in late 2008.
In 2009, Haye defeated the sad-eyed giant Nikolai Valuev to win the WBA heavyweight title. He conceded 11 inches in height and about six stone on the night. A quick and furious defence against former champion John Ruiz, a man the Klitschko brothers ignored, was an ideal first defence. Haye took him out in nine savage rounds. It was the next defence that started to turn some people against Haye and seemed to give his many critics great delight.
Haye agreed to give Harrison, a fallen Olympic idol, his chance at redemption. "It will be a massacre," warned Haye, two months before the fight. "It's only happening because people want to see it." He was right on both counts. Harrison folded the moment Haye connected but it was an enormous commercial success.
The fight with Wladimir, which was also for the German-based Ukrainian's IBO, IBF and WBO titles, took three years to turn from talk to hype to action. Haye never really got into the fight and took some tremendous punishment without once looking like going down. Wladimir, remember, had stopped or knocked out 49 men before meeting Haye.
The endgame was played out in farcical circumstances after the final bell when Haye put on display exhibit A: his broken little toe. Everybody had a good laugh, which is a pity because Haye deserved better. Lewis, Bruno, Bugner and Cooper were allowed their mishaps, but not it appears Haye.
Best of British: Bunce's top 5 heavyweights
1. Lennox Lewis (1989-2003)
Olympic, British and world champion. A gentleman outside the ropes, a savage inside. Best fight: Donovan "Razor" Ruddock (1992). Total fights: 44: 41-2-1.
2. Joe Bugner (1967-1999)
British champ at time of truly fantastic heavyweight boxers. He fought both Muhammad Ali and Joe Frazier when they were at their peaks. Best fight: Joe Frazier (1973): Total: 83: 69-13-1.
3. David Haye (2002-2011)
World champ in a division devoid of true glamour. Best fight: Enzo Maccarinelli (2008). Total: 27: 25-2-0
4. Henry Cooper (1954-1971)
He reigned through three decades and is remembered for his Muhammad Ali fights. Best fight: Ali (1963). Total: 55: 40-14-1.
5. Frank Bruno (1982-1996)
Won world title at fourth attempt, won hearts and minds of British fans a lot earlier. Best fight: Oliver McCall (1995). Total: 45: 40-5.Reuse content