The last words that David Haye heard as a boxer are never far from his thoughts: "You will always be a loser." It was Wladimir Klitschko talking and it was inevitable that Haye's retirement last October would not last.
In July 2011, Haye was limping away from a press conference, his damaged toe an angry reminder of his failure in the ring, when world heavyweight champion Klitschko uttered the footnote – excuse the pun – to a career that fell short.
This Saturday's fight against Dereck Chisora at Upton Park is about redemption for Haye in a business that saw him flirt with greatness before the awful night last summer in Hamburg. It was back in Germany in February that the pair grappled at a post-fight conference. It was a vicious sideshow but it is not the sole reason for Saturday's contest, a fight so wrapped in excessive nonsense about its legality that people have forgotten it is a terrific match. It is legal, it is valid and the fans want it.
Haye (pictured nearest, facing Chisora) needed to fight to clear his name, which is something he denies, and in Chisora, a fighter who has divided experts and casuals like no fighter since Joe Bugner in the Seventies, he found an equally desperate participant in the redemption stakes. The pair had their scuffle on 18 February, Saturday's fight was announced on 8 May and it strikes me Haye has been euphoric ever since.
Back in February, an hour after Chisora arrived on the world scene by pushing Vitali Klitschko for 12 furious rounds, it was the toe that started the chain of events that will end on Saturday night. "David," Chisora asked Haye at the conference. "How is your toe?" It gave a few people a cheap chuckle but there was nothing that Haye could say, nowhere he could go. Chisora had been brilliant against Vitali and Haye, with his swollen toe memory still raw was fuming. The rest has been heavily documented; 40 million have seen images online of the flashbulb chaos.
"David is a drama queen," said Chisora at the start of this week. "He is sounding desperate and he will never be able to get over the fact that he used a toe as an excuse for losing a world heavyweight title."
Chisora has a crazy side and his funny and offensive antics are impressive. He once weighed in wearing just his underpants and, as eyebrows were raised, he removed a large pair of socks from his pants. He likes weigh-ins, having kissed one fighter on the lips and slapped Vitali at another. He was fined for biting a boxer – he was bored and it was a joke – during a fight and he spat at Wladimir. However, he can fight, something that is being ignored in the build-up, with Haye simply dismissing him as "stupid".
Since Haye last fought, Chisora has been in the ring four times. One was an easy, six-round win against a roly-poly journeyman but the other three tell the real story; it is a story that the cabal of the overly defensive – some might say paranoid – men and women surrounding Haye appear to have overlooked.
Chisora has fought 36 rounds in a trio of very different title fights in just 12 months, developing rapidly from a novice with just 14 fights, a bit of spare flesh and an acknowledged lack of focus into a man capable of giving Vitali his toughest fight for a decade. In the same 12 months, Haye has floated from red carpet to first-class lounge, never far from some wag asking him about his toe; the memory of his glory nights fading with every quip.
Haye won world titles at two weights, made millions, did it his way and can be thrilling to watch. Chisora defied the odds against Vitali Klitschko and has the style to beat Haye. They hate each other and the winner will make millions against one of the Klitschko brothers. How is this not a great fight?
* Amir Khan has been reinstated as World Boxing Association light-welterweight champion following his controversial loss to Lamont Peterson in December. He fights WBC champion Danny Garcia in Las Vegas on Saturday.
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