If this fight was about making a statement, David Haye took just two minutes to oblige. Only 125 seconds were required for him to fell the hapless and hopeless Mark de Mori with a blizzard of punches, winning his comeback fight with a first-round knockout.
Despite his primal howls of triumph, a little context is required; against hand-picked, patently inferior opposition, this particular statement should be viewed as little more than Haye coughing politely, ting-tinging on his glass and announcing his return to the heavyweight ranks after an absence of three and a half years. But that was all that was required on an evening when the 35-year-old former world champion, who had last fought in July 2012, claimed the shoulder issues that once threatened to derail any hopes he had of a return to the ring have been put behind him.
“The shoulder feels better than it has before,” he said. “I have spent two years rehabbing this shoulder. I feel this new and improved version of me will go on and win heavyweight championships.” His shoulder certainly seemed unimpaired as he set about his business here, demolishing De Mori with a truly punishing overhand right after a lazy waft of his opponent’s fist left room for a trademark Hayemaker down the pipe. It had followed a series of lightning fast combinations for which De Mori had no answer and the Australian finished tangled in the ropes with blood pouring down his face and in need of medical attention. After receiving oxygen, he was eventually able to make his own way back through the still swinging door of his dressing room.
En route to the ring, a short journey soundtracked by McFadden & Whitehead’s Ain’t No Stopping Us Now, Haye looked not so much relaxed as genuinely thrilled to be home. Smiling, nodding appreciatively and ambling slowly as he took in his surroundings, noting the near capacity crowd before visiting all four corners of the ring and waving a golden glove to a public that seemed enraptured by his presence. Following the opening bell he was more focused and even looked briefly tentative before setting about and brutally finishing the task in hand. “I genuinely wasn’t expecting that reception,” said Haye. “It wasn’t your typical boxing crowd, there was women, there was kids, it was astounding. I want to give them some more of those nights, but hopefully the other guy will stand up a bit longer.”
Top of his own Saturday night O2 Arena bill he may have been, but with the American heavyweights Deontay Wilder and Charles Martin poised to fight for the WBC and IBF titles before an audience including the intrigued fellow champion Tyson Fury some hours later across the Atlantic in Brooklyn, this was ostensibly an undercard fight. A Bermondsey boy, Haye could at least console himself with the knowledge he would have fewer than five miles to travel home and monitor the progress of his possible future rivals on television.
In the build-up to this win, he had declared these “exciting times for the heavyweight division” and he needed an impressive performance against De Mori to ensure his fedora remains prominent in the ring alongside those of Fury, Wilder, Martin and the British heavyweight superstar-in-waiting Anthony Joshua when it comes to future, lucrative match-making. This win could scarcely have been more emphatic and a stadium fight against Joshua may loom in the future.
This was an arena fight, with a surprisingly large crowd present to cheer Haye as he took his first steps back to something approaching the big time. To the general bafflement of many, it was also broadcast free to air on Dave, a banterific TV station more readily associated with repeats of a motoring show whose former presenter Jeremy Clarkson had achieved more notoriety for throwing punches in recent years than Haye.
Before the fight, Haye had described his opponent as “a solid operator with explosive power”. Defeated only once in 33 outings against thoroughly unremarkable opposition, the shaven-headed but pony‑tailed Australian had jokingly described himself as “the guy who’s here to make David Haye look good”. Mission accomplished, then. For both fighters. Asked when he would like to fight again, Haye was as emphatic outside the ring as he had been inside.
“As soon as possible,” he said. “I feel healthy, my hands feel good and I’d quite like to get back in the ring in the next three months. Obviously I’d like a fight that could go a bit longer but I’m sure there’s some guys out there who could withstand these punches.”
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