David Haye deserves his share of the blame for supposedly damaging British boxing in the last few years. (Photo by Alexander Hassenstein/Bongarts/Getty Images)
Amidst the chaos and clamour of Saturday night's now infamous press conference, one sentence of searing clarity rang out aloud through the packed Munich press room. Moments before Dereck Chisora would confront David Haye over his screaming and squealing from the corner of the room, Don Charles, a man of few words, dismissively gestured towards the purported saviour of heavyweight boxing and labelled him a ‘salesman.'
Four years since the commencement of his heavyweight campaign: four title fights, many millions of PPVs sold and a much-anticipated retirement later, this is the ineffable impression that Haye has left us with. A man of much sound, much fury - signifying nothing.
In the aftermath of their Munich brawl, the British press has - surprise, surprise - lambasted the behaviour of its two premier heavyweights. The Munich melee can only damage British boxing, explained the BBC's Ben Dirs, while popular British fighters such as Ricky Hatton, Tony Bellew and Carl Froch spoke over the airwaves, typed over Twitter, all in condemnation of the unseemly scenes of Saturday night.
Yet the underlying impression persists, at least to this observer, that the damage was done long before Chisora and Haye swore a few times, threw a tripod and had a quick wrestle on the floor.
Of David Haye's five fights in the heavyweight division, each came at considerable expense to the everyday viewer. The Monte Barrett showcase came only with a costly subscription to the now-defunct Setanta Sports; the Nikolai Valuev feinting contest was priced at £15 on Sky PPV. So too the fight with an old John Ruiz; the pitiful three rounds with Audley Harrison; the excruciating anti-climax against Wladimir Klitschko.
Preceding each fight came the bluster of the Haye hype machine: Barrett was setting him up to ‘conquer the world'; against Valuev, he would rescue the heavyweight division from the clutches of the ‘cure for insomnia'. Ruiz, he was a mandatory to set up the Klitschko fight; Harrison, well, he was something, I guess. Having successfully tricked millions of the British public into shelling out over £60 to reach what Haye promised to be his great climactic victory, the former WBA titlist subsequently delivered more gusto in lamenting his broken toe than he had done over twelve dull, listless rounds against Wladimir.
Sky no longer sell PPVs after the Haye experiment. They might have made their fair share of money off the Bermondsey fighter's loud mouth, but, along the way, they damaged the integrity of the network in actively selling patently bad fights as "transcendent" sporting events. Haye-Harrison was the biggest British heavyweight clash since Lewis-Bruno, we were urged, before what will almost certainly go down as the feeblest Box Office fight of all time. At least Valuev threw punches when he fought Haye.
Haye retired in October 2011, the result of an oft-mentioned promise to his mother to quit the sport upon his 31st birthday. Having earned no endearing legacy as a heavyweight fighter other than that of an underwhelming motormouth, Haye promised to slip off into the world of celebrity and opulence; to find pastures new; perhaps, even, to act, his last defining image as a boxer clutching a broken toe.
Yet on Saturday night, there Haye was, still espousing much of the same disingenuous trash of the previous four years. Chisora had no chance unless Vitali Klitschko broke a leg or a shoulder, Haye told us. No, he promised - the only being who stood a chance of vanquishing the older Klitschko brother was him, the mighty David Haye.
Once again, the sales pitch was launched. After Chisora had delivered the toughest fight for a Klitschko brother since the Ukrainians achieved total dominance of the heavyweight division, all Haye could remark was that he, in his searing wisdom and fistic brilliance, had seen the gaps in Vitali's armoury; that he, above all others, could defeat the elder brother.
Now launched, the sales pitch would only continue. Haye hadn't fought, yet as usual, in a trend that has dominated the last four years of his career, the press conference was all about him. Standing in a corner of the room, Haye squealed abuse at the brothers, at Bernd Boente, at Chisora. Perhaps in a different world, at a different time, we would have applauded Chisora for standing up to the inane insults of a motormouth like Haye. Yet the consequent results of their confrontation - the curses, the punching, the blood - have seen nothing but angry promises of recriminations.
Robert Smith, the chairman of the BBBoC, perhaps realising that his beleaguered institution could escape any potential criticism over the handwrapping saga that had Frank Warren so infuriated, declared that Chisora could be hit with a life ban for his part. Carl Froch branded the Finchley-based heavyweight a ‘disgrace' and stated that he had no future in the sport; Matthew Syed of The Times, meanwhile, claimed that these ‘neanderthals' had landed ‘another low blow' for the ‘noble art'.
To say that Chisora's actions over the past week - the slapping, the spitting, the brawling - have irreparably damaged British boxing is, to this observer, an astonishing over-reaction. Dissociating the slap and the spit from the spat, while now seemingly impossible, is nonetheless of importance, here, in delivering a measured response.
Slapping and spitting are certainly not graceful actions - certainly, at least, they are not befitting of a gentleman. Yet who exactly expected Dereck Chisora to be a gentleman? Chisora set out with the aim of defeating Vitali Klitschko: he consequently behaved in such a way to drag the serene Klitschko brothers out of their secure, controlling comfort zone. Had he been more active in a few of the fight's decisive rounds, the result might have been a victory after a close bout scored far too widely by the judges.
When later faced with the insults of a non-contender in the boxing world, a man who flopped so decisively on the grandest stage of them all, Chisora had every right to be furious. Again, the results might not have been gentlemanly and they might not have been noble - but why, and whom, demanded Dereck Chisora to behave as a gentleman? The idea that Chisora is representing British boxing smacks of sanctimonious hypocrisy, the work of a press corps that shows no enthusiasm to cover the noble aspects of British boxing, that offers no column space to tremendous fights like Walsh-Appleby or Hall-McDonnell. Right now, people are talking about boxing again. It might not be for all the right reasons, but they sure are talking.
Dereck Chisora did no further damage to British boxing on Saturday night. Not only did he prove the stiffest challenge to the Klitschko brothers in the ring, but he also created a buzz among the wider throngs of society.
If British boxing is irreparably damaged now, then the damage was already done: the casual fan already turned off. Not because of the brawl, the spit or the slap. But because of a tale, told by an idiot, full of sound and fury - which, in the end, signified nothing. This is David Haye's legacy: that of a salesman, still spinning the same old lies. Except this time, who's listening?