David Haye interview: I want as many people to watch me as possible, it's hard to do that on pay-per-view

Joe Hall
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Boxing at The O2 Arena
Back in business: Haye's comeback fight was a success inside and outside the ring (Source: Getty)

Gowns, suits, and Eton-educated actors. For David Haye, such trappings will become as synonymous with the boxing as the Baftas by the time he’s finished with the sport.

The former heavyweight champion of the world has already ripped up the rulebook following his return to the ring in January, bypassing the big sports channels and opting for free-to-air broadcaster Dave, usually filled with quiz show reruns, to air his first fight in more than three years.

Inside the ropes, Haye put on a typically brutal demonstration of his seriousness about unifying the world title with a first round knockout of Australian Mark De Mori.

Outside, the South Londoner, who promotes all of his own fights, put on the kind of star-studded production he hopes will become the signature of his “Haye Day” brand; a more well-heeled crowd that includes Hollywood A-listers.

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Haye blew away De Mori in 130 seconds (Source: Getty)

“I want that big event feel,” Haye told City A.M. with trademark braggadocio. “We’re going to put big time boxing on, giving people great entertainment.

“When I’ve been in Vegas for [American superstar Floyd] Mayweather fights - that’s the vibe I want. You didn’t see anyone with ripped jeans and a stupid t-shirt, a fighter t-shirt on [at the De Mori fight]. Everyone’s looking slick, everyone’s sharp.

“We had Idris Elba and Benedict Cumberbatch. You’ve got some good quality people there and people want to be in amongst that, it’s become the hottest ticket in town now. It’s a really nice atmosphere, everyone who paid money said it was amazing.

“If you see the crowd that is there - for my fights specifically - it’s a very nice, very female-orientated crowd. All the tickets were sold, 16,000 tickets. The VIP tickets, ringside seats were £1200. They all went. It’s a real, nice high class audience that comes to the shows. Everyone was dressed up in suits and ball gowns. It was a real classy, classy affair.

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“We’re still finding our feet but next time it’s going to be bigger: bigger acts, bigger opponents, bigger undercard, bigger production.”

Fortunately for Haye, he has re-entered the game at an opportune moment to put on a show of sufficient size.

Ukrainian Wladimir Klitschko’s iron-like grip on the heavyweight division - never more tightly clasped than when Haye came up against him in 2011 - was finally broken by Tyson Fury last year, while the rise of Anthony Joshua has left mouths watering at the prospects of an all-British superfight between the exciting youngster and re-emerging veteran superfight between the exciting youngster and re-emerging veteran Haye.

Yet despite Fury’s current status and the hype surrounding Joshua, Haye is arguably already as big a draw as either fighter thanks to a presence in the public consciousness built up over years spent juggling reality TV show appearances with his work in the ring.

Benedict Cumberbatch was in the crowd for Haye's comeback fight (Source: Getty)

Joshua’s biggest fights to date have been locked behind a £17 fee on the pay-per-view Sky Sports Box Office, amassing fewer than 500,000 viewers.

By contrast, a peak audience of more than 3m watched Haye on Dave, a record for the channel, while a further 100,000 outside Britain watched for free on YouTube.

“For them to break the record for viewing figures lets Dave know that boxing, and me specifically, gets ratings,” said the 35-year-old.

Haye may want his fights to feel like “Money” Mayweather’s glitzy shows for those in the arena, but his aspirations for as wide an audience as possible couldn’t differ more from the little-loved but cash-rich pay-per-view king.

He cites an era started in the early 1990s when middleweight rivals Chris Eubank and Nigel Benn dominated the back pages and terrestrial TV ratings as a more fan-friendly approach.

“I’ve heard people complaining that it was on Dave,” said Haye. “But it’s free? They were like: ‘It’s the home of witty banter, why are they putting it on that?’ Would you rather it was on pay-per-view?”

Haye is due to return to the O2 Arena in May to fight as yet unnamed opponent and while a broadcaster has yet to have been decided, the Bermondsey man is keen to capture another big audience.

“I want as many people to watch me as possible, I do,” he said. “To reach out in this next fight which hopefully can also be on a free-to-air platform so everyone gets to see, gets to follow the journey. It’s hard to follow the journey when you’re telling people to pay for it.

“All my heroes, Mike Tyson, Frank Bruno it was all on free to air. Nigel Benn, Chris Eubank, Barry McGuigan. The biggest names in boxing were all on free-to-air television. That’s how you get the numbers and that’s what I want to do.”

Tickets for Haye Day, Saturday 21st May at The O2 , are available now bit.ly/HayeDay2

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