BIG INTERVIEW: David Haye's proudest moment in boxing
David Haye only has to look down at his hand to be reminded of the greatest moment of his boxing career.
Just over nine years have passed since his incredible ‘David versus Goliath” effort saw him reach the pinnacle of his sport.
His incredible victory over the 7ft 2in Russian Nikolai Valuev in Nuremberg, Germany, was arguably one of boxing’s greatest ever upsets.
Standing at 6ft 3in himself, Haye was giving away almost a foot in height and nearly 100 pounds in weight when he stepped in the ring to challenge the reigning WBA champion.
Giving away so much physically, not many gave the man from Bermondsey much hope prior to the first bell ringing.
But thanks to a brilliant display of elusiveness, combined with clever forays forward, Haye – who was 29 at the time – stole the Russian’s belt from him on points after 12 compelling rounds.
The Englishman almost capped his night with a final round stoppage when he sent Valuev stumbling towards the ropes. Haye smashed his hand while throwing a punch during the fight – his deformed knuckle a happy reminder of his greatest night.
“I busted my hand on Valuev’s giant head, but it was worthwhile and this knuckle is permanently damaged as a result of that fight,” he said.
“But every time I look at the knuckle now – I go, ‘Yes...ha ha’! It represents me putting my name – the Haye name – in the history books forever.
“Without a doubt that was the highlight of my career.
“There were other achievements like winning the European Championship and defending it three times at cruiserweight That was big.
“Unifying the cruiserweight division, that was another big achievement.
“But the heavyweight championship is a different matter.
“To hold the same belt as Mike Tyson, Muhammad Ali, Lennox Lewis once held. It certainly has a different ring to it.
“ To think that at one stage in history, you were once the heavyweight champion of the world, that to me is something very, very special.
“There are very few people in the world who can say that they have done that.”
Haye had only recently moved up to heavyweight having unified the cruiserweight division two years earlier thanks to a famous victory over Frenchman Jean-Marc Mormeck in Paris.
“My memories of the Valuev fight is what a crazy, crazy day,” he said.
“At the time you don’t really understand the gravity of what you are walking into.
“I am walking into Nuremberg Arena, in Germany, to fight the biggest heavyweight champion in the history of boxing.
“I had just moved up a weight division only two fights previously.
“I had only had one fight from unifying the cruiserweight division to challenging for the heavyweight championship of the world.
“That fight was against someone who was 6ft 3in, this guy Valuev was 7ft 2in and weighed something like 100 pounds more than me.
“So to say I was at a physical disadvantage would be an understatement.
“But I managed to implement a solid gameplan and it went perfectly.”
Haye went on to defend his crown two times – against John Ruiz and Audley Harrison – before coming unstuck against the legendary world champion Wladimir Klitschko. Haye was kept at arm’s length by the great Ukrainian, who secured a comfortable win on points.
“I gave it the best I could on the night. I trained super hard for it. I was fighting a very good, prime Wladimir Klitschko. He came with a very good coach in Emmanuel Steward.
“They formulated the perfect plan to beat me, which was to keep me at the end of the jab and any time I wanted to go in and fight, he held me, put his weight on me and drained me and made his physical advantage count.
“It was not the most entertaining of fights but from their point of view, it was a workmanlike performance by him and he fought a good fight.
“He won it fair and square. I did the best I could do under the circumstances.
“That’s life and that’s the thing about life.
“It’s all well and good being a good winner, but you have to learn to be a good loser as well.
“The Klitschko fight was the first time I really felt lost, but I learned a lot from that period and moving forward it helped me cope with other subsequent losses.
“It was all about growing up, learning and evolving as a human being.”
Haye retired from the sport earlier this year after losing for the second time to Tony Bellew.
He is now pursuing a different type of challenge – trying to make it as a poker player.
The heavyweight great was in North West last month playing in a competition at the Grosvenor Casino, in Blackpool.
“Poker is a bit like boxing,” he said. “You have got to hold your nerve and not let your opponent see you show weakness.
“In boxing, you can be hit in the solar plexus, be in absolute agony, but you can’t let your opponent see that else he will go there again.
“I have had to bluff in boxing loads of times – most times.”