Current WBA world heavyweight champion David Haye has made no secret of his plan to retire by the age of 31, which falls on October 31 of this year. He takes on Wladimir Klitschko in Hamburg on July 2 which, assuming he wins, may leave him enough time to step into the ring with Vitali Klitschko before his planned retirement date.
Haye is adamant that he will retire at 31, regardless of the outcome in the Klitschko fight. Many fighters have made this promise before.
I remember Frank Bruno saying that he would retire as soon as he won a world title. When he defeated Oliver McCall at Wembley Arena in 1994 to win the WBC heavyweight title, it transpired that he was to make one defence of his title before retirement, against Mike Tyson, which he subsequently lost.
So what lies in store for a retired world champion?
The boxer who has fallen from grace is commonplace in Hollywood with The Champ (1931 and 1979), Fat City (1972) and Raging Bull (1980) among the most famous. But how close are these cinematic portrayals to reality? The fact is boxing is an incredibly difficult sport to walk away from. The commitment involved, the routine, and the mentality of the successful boxer is something that is often developed over decades and when they wake up, not required to run several miles before the sun rises, many of them feel lost.
In Britain we’ve seen great boxers fall on very difficult times after they’ve retired, often financial or legal problems, with Herol Graham, Scott Harrison, Frank Bruno, Chris Eubank and Naseem Hamed being among them.
Fortunately, none of these former champions have suffered in the same way New Yorker Iran Barkley has. Barkley won world titles at middleweight, super middleweight, light heavyweight and heavyweight, and he had reportedly earned in excess of $5m during his sixty three fight career. In November 2010, however, Barkley was homeless, penniless and had sold two of his championship belts. His most prized possession, the middleweight title for which he beat Thomas ‘Hitman’ Hearns, was either lost or stolen. And, as is often the case with retirees from the sport, Barkley has hinted that he wants to make a comeback, aged fifty one and eleven years after his last professional bout.
But it’s not all doom and gloom and there are, of course, retirement success stories. The promotions industry is one which some boxers will venture in to. Oscar De La Hoya formed Golden Boy Promotions in 2001, well before he officially retired, and it has gone from strength to strength, listing the likes of Amir Khan, Victor Ortiz and Bernard Hopkins among its fighters. David Haye has already set up Hayemaker Promotions, which would suggest this is a route he is going to go down. Haye, like De La Hoya, is in the luxurious position that he is a well-known professional fighter, which could prove a distinct advantage in the promotions game in the coming years. The temptation to be lured back into the ring will be heavy on David Haye.
Lennox Lewis was bombarded with requests to make a comeback after he retired in 2003, so much so that he felt the need to publish on his website that he had no intentions of ever returning to boxing. Lewis is in a minority, in which we can presently include Ricky Hatton and Joe Calzaghe, but the appeal of a return to the ring, and another pay day, is one that many fighters simply can’t resist. Ricky Hatton has not yet officially retired, and said after his defeat to Floyd Mayweather Jr. that he would not retire on a loss, so further bouts are a real possibility for the Mancunian. Having ignored the verbal challenges from Carl Froch, Calzaghe seems to have taken the sensible option of sticking to his retirement. Interestingly, promoting is also a route that Calzaghe has gone down, establishing Calzaghe Promotions in 2009.
Again, assuming Haye defeats Klitschko, or if he loses it is not in any way controversial, it doesn’t appear that Haye will take any bitterness into his retirement. One of the greatest feuds in boxing history, between Muhammad Ali and Joe Frazier, continued decades after they both retired and, some would argue, continues to this day. A 2008 documentary about the Thrilla in Manila showed Joe Frazier living above his gym in Philadelphia harbouring a deep hatred for Muhammad Ali. It was not until May 2009 that Smokin’ Joe publicly declared that he no longer possessed ill feeling towards Ali, but it is a classic example of just how committed some boxers are mentally to their sport that some will carry with them feelings from their active boxing days well into their futures.
Another well-trodden route for former professional boxers is the media, and Haye certainly possesses the charisma to go into punditry, having already appeared on both the BBC and Sky Sports. Television always likes to have ex-professionals on board to cast their opinions on the fights, news, and events in the world of boxing, but there is very limited space in this arena for a regular contributor. One thing is certain, as his career to date has shown, whatever David Haye does go on to do next he will not go about it quietly, and we will all hear directly from the horse’s mouth how it is going.
With the superb work that the various unions do, including the Professional Boxing Association, hopefully the Hollywood image of a former world champion propping up the bar in some dingy establishment reminiscing about a decision that didn’t go his way decades earlier is well and truly in the past. The song Mr Bojangles (the Sammy Davis Jr. version, obviously) always reminds me of the spectacular fall from grace that some people unfortunately suffer.
Haye is unlikely to fall into this category of former boxers because during his career he has always been proactive in the business side of the sport, and there is absolutely no reason why Hayemaker Promotions can’t match the more established promoters in the future. We will all wait with anticipation to see where David Haye goes after October 31 2011.