David Haye found some of the old rocket fuel that originally propelled him into boxing stardom Saturday on Epix, downing Dereck Chisora in a grubby British grudge match that lived up to the sordid hype and ended in an explosive combination from Haye that reminded you why you cared in the first place.
The last time we saw Haye in the ring, he was hiding in every corner from the contact of heavyweight kingpin Wladimir Klitschko, making something of a laughingstock of himself by blaming a broken pinkie toe for his skittish performance. Haye had talked awfully big before the fight, and came up awfully small. His reputation was left in tatters afterward.
You could be forgiven for wondering whether Haye’s return to boxing against Chisora was an attempt to pull the same trick twice, with classless pre-fight antics followed by a meek performance. Not this time.
Instead, Haye started quickly, lobbing jabs and a whole kitchen sink full of other punches at Chisora in the very 1st round. Chisora helped him in that one and the next by stalking forward without throwing punches, other than an overhand right meant to take Haye’s head off.
Things changed in the 3rd and 4th when Chisora began throwing punches of any volume, sometimes a very effective jab, other times hooks as he trapped Haye along the ropes. They traded well in those rounds, with Chisora landing damaging shots in both but Haye still controlling the action and beginning to damage Chisora himself; in the 3rd, the round ended early during a heated exchange thanks to referee Luis Pabon’s confusion, and in the 4th, Chisora began to back up a little, apparently hurt for a stretch. Haye, too, appeared to slow down a little. What had been a virtuoso display against a sluggish opponent had become an authentically enjoyable contest.
Chisora kept coming forward in the 5th, and it would be his undoing. As a heavyweight, Haye hasn’t demonstrated the same finishing power as he did at cruiserweight. Rather, he has shocking speed, the kind that can lead to a lot of knockdowns and referee stoppages from all those knockdowns accumulating. In this fight, in this round, Haye had some of the killer back. He knocked down the usually iron-chinned Chisora with a left-right combination, then, once Chisora rose, connected on a four-punch combo of frightening accuracy and intensity. Chisora rose, but just barely. Another ref might’ve let the fight go on, but Pabon waved it off just as the round ended. Chisora didn’t much protest, though, and Pabon saved him from more severe damage.
It’s tempting to write this fight off to Chisora’s limitations. But those limitiations hadn’t kept Chisora from two consecutive performances where he made a good impression. First was the ripoff loss against Robert Helenius, himself arguably a top five heavyweight right now. Then Chisora gave Vitali Klitschko his hardest fight in years. In the modern heavyweight division, those two performances add up to something. Additionally, Vitali couldn’t do to Chisora what Haye did.
Nor can you write off the difference between Haye’s last two performances entirely on the difference between those two opponents. Sure, Wladimir has a way of making everyone look bad. That certainly helped Haye look as bad as he did. But Haye started off anemic in that fight and finished it that way, too. This was a different Haye, in terms of his mentality. Haye hasn’t even been this aggressive and focused against other heavyweights besides Chisora.
You couldn’t help but roll your eyes when, in a post-fight interview, Haye went back into his “I’m exciting, the Klitschkos suck, Vitali’s scared of me” thing. You couldn’t be blamed if you were turned off by some aspects of how this fight came to be. But you also can’t deny that Haye is one of the world’s best remaining heavyweights, both in resume and talent; I say he’s right behind the Klitschkos. I would gladly watch Vitali-Haye, so long as we skip over the long, frustrating dance Haye did with both men before he finally took the Wladimir fight. There’s no guarantee Vitali’s iron chin wouldn’t revert Haye to a bomb shelter mentality, but Haye’s style has an argument for being better for the older brother than it was for the younger.
Time will tell if Vitali, with one foot out the door toward retirement, wants to put up with Haye’s antics. If this is how Haye’s career ends, it’s a more positive note than his first retirement, at minimum. This is the kind of thing we always wanted from Haye.