Former world heavyweight champion David Haye has announced his retirement from boxing.
The 37-year-old said prior to his defeat to Tony Bellew for the second time on May 5 that he would quit the sport if he lost and he has stuck to his word, calling time on a 32-fight career that spanned 16 years
Haye first announced his retirement in October 2011 on his 31st birthday, before a lucrative grudge match with Dereck Chisora the following summer tempted him to return.
He was also advised to retire following surgery on his right shoulder in November 2013, but returned in January 2016 to secure two unremarkable victories and then suffer his third and fourth professional defeats, both against Bellew.
He exits the ring with a record of 28 wins, including 26 knockouts, from his 32 bouts and leaves fans with memories of his rivalries with the likes of Wladimir Klitschko, Chisora and most recently Bellew.
At one stage the Londoner was the dominant force at both cruiserweight and heavyweight, and made history by becoming the first British boxer to unify the cruiserweight division back in 2008.
Then in 2009 he beat the Russian Nikolay Valuev to claim the WBA heavyweight crown and became just the second boxer ever to unify the cruiserweight division and win a world heavyweight title – Evander Holyfield was the first.
Injuries limited his impact in the second half of his professional career however and Haye reflected on the two stages to his boxing life.
“On reflection, my 16-year, 32-fight professional career was one of two halves,” Haye said in a statement on his website.
“In the first eight years, everything ran smoothly. I had 25 fights and became the first ever British boxer to unify the cruiserweight division (WBA, WBC and WBO World Championships).
“I then achieved my childhood dream when I beat WBA Heavyweight Champion of the World Nikolay Valuev, the seven-foot-two, 150-kilogram ‘Beast from the East’, in a real life ‘David and Goliath’ match.”
He continued: “Lifting that World Heavyweight Championship meant I’d fulfilled a promise I’d made to my mum, Jane, at the age of three.
“It also meant I was the second boxer in history – after Evander Holyfield – to win world titles at cruiserweight and heavyweight. That was an incredibly proud moment for me and my family and friends.
“Yet it was in the second half of my career where I really discovered what it meant to fight and be a fighter.
“If I had it my way, I would have fought as many as 16 times in the second half, the last eight years. But, unfortunately, during this time my faulty body only allowed me to step through the ropes on seven occasions – four wins, three losses – and often it was a fight just getting to the ring in one piece.
“In the past five years I have snapped (fully ruptured) both biceps, my rotator cuff and my Achilles tendon. All four injuries were potentially career-ending and each of them required operations with months of intense rehabilitation.”
Whilst those injuries were well publicised, Haye has now revealed that he had to have spinal surgery three years ago and had two metal rods inserted into his back.
He continued: “The biggest physical challenge I had to face, however, was a spinal surgery in March 2015. I herniated a disc in my lower back 10 years ago and years of intense training wore this disc away.
“This caused fragments of disc to push into my spinal nerve passage, resulting in chronic pain and loss of function in both legs, and an operation was required to put a two-centimetre metal cage between two vertebrae and implant two metal rods with screws and bone grafts to fuse it all together.
“I went into surgery 191 centimetres tall and came out 193 – not a bad silver lining! – but literally had to learn to walk again.
“This made my comeback fight against Mark de Mori (in January 2016) all the more meaningful, as it was only 10 months after such intrusive spinal surgery (as well as being my first fight in four-and-a-half years).
“Ultimately, this was one battle I had to fight in private, and it’s only because the process was recorded for a documentary that people will one day be able to grasp the severity of the situation.”
The final two years of Haye’s pro career were dominated by his fierce rivalry with Tony Bellew, although there may always be a regret that he was never able to fight Tyson Fury, having pulled out of the scheduled fight in 2013 due to injury.
Insults were exchanged regularly between Bellew and Haye in interviews and on social media as the duo fought twice, with Bellew winning both of the bouts.
He was quick to pay respect to the Evertonian in his lengthy statement though.
“Ahead of my final two fights with Tony Bellew, we publicly showed each other little respect. But this was just two veterans giving the crowd what they wanted: a grudge match,” he added.
“Despite the pre-fight hype, I can assure you I have a huge amount of respect and admiration for Tony.
“Whenever I traded punches with him, and whenever I was in his presence, I felt the inner warrior. I saw a man who would take the battle as far as necessary to get victory; a man who, like myself, would rather die than give up or quit; a man I’d want on my side of the battlefield if going to war.”
Haye has already embraced the celebrity lifestyle, appearing on ITV’s I’m A Celebrity, Get Me Out Of Here in 2012, and will not be short of media work in the aftermath of his career.
And having spent the past 16 years emering to McFadden and Whitehead’s hit song Ain’t no stopping us now, he signed off in typical style.
“Since October 1990, I have been a boxer. That’s nearly 10,000 days of eating and sleeping boxing, and now I’m ready to close this chapter in my life,” he explained.
“This is not the end of my story. It’s simply the start of something new. Ain’t No Stoppin’ Us Now.”