Ostensibly there to promote the new Rocky Blu-Ray boxed set, former world heavyweight boxing champion David Haye faced an audience in London that was divided like a split decision. Film and boxing fans talked across each other: would Londoner Haye be in the next Expendables sequel? (Haye hoped so, just as long as he didn’t have to throw a right-handed punch.) If they were from the same era, who would win out of Ali and Tyson? (Ali on points, thought Haye.) TalkSport’s Steve Bunce kept both types of talk flowing, while finding time for his tongue-in-cheek theory that Rocky Balboa is a boxer who plays actor Sylvester Stallone in his spare time.
Having last fought in July 2012, beating fellow Brit Dereck Chisora in something of a grudge match, the big question was not going away: would Haye be fit again to fight for the world heavyweight championship this year? Damage to his shoulder makes it 50-50 whether he’ll ever be back, says Haye. Combining training with keeping pressure off the right shoulder bores him. Sceptical remarks from the camp of Tyson Fury – another British rival whose fight against Haye has been postponed twice because of Haye’s injury problems - bore him; the Klitschko brothers barely get a mention. Yet with no opponent in sight, the usual pre-match abuse goes on hold. Away from the press conference and the need for grumpy antics at the weigh-in, Haye is charming and avuncular, encouraging everyone – literally people of all ages – to become an amateur boxer.
Pressed on his favourite Rocky films, Haye awarded a split decision between IV and VI (aka Rocky Balboa), both praised for their realism. He’d like to delete Rocky V from the canon (probably not what event sponsors MGM wanted to hear, what with all those boxed sets to sell). He couldn’t remember for a moment which film featured Mr T as Clubber Lang, and in a strangely postmodern turn, was asked about whether he could defeat Rocky Balboa. Considering Haye was born in 1980, the promoters were making some tenuous links between boxer and product. Haye admitted as a teenager to timing his running to a compilation cassette in his Walkman that ended with the Rocky theme. Bunce tried hard to get everyone to admit to having a similar Rocky moment.
Asked about the state of world boxing, Haye notes the tragedy of the never-scheduled Floyd Mayweather/Manny Pacquiao welterweight fight that, even if it happened now, would feature fighters – especially Pacquiao – past their prime. In public at least, Haye does not extend this observation to the politics of his own heavyweight division and its multiple ‘world’ boxing titles. Subject to successful rehabilitation, Haye says he is willing to go up against anyone. A bit like Rocky Balboa himself.
Graham Barnfield blogs at The Loneliest Jukebox.