David beat Goliath. Now Haye wants SJA heavyweight title

Giant-killing: since beating Nikolai Valuev, Londoner David Haye has successfully defended his world title

WHO WILL GET YOUR VOTE? Britain’s David Haye is boxing’s heavyweight world champion and punches above his weight for the SJA’s Sportsman of the Year title, says The Sun‘s online sports editor, JIM MUNRO

David Haye never set out to win any popularity contests. He simply wanted to be heavyweight champion of the world.

With dynamite in his gloves and banter capable of stinging as sharply as any jab, “The Hayemaker” fought and talked his way to a shot at the WBA title in November last year.

In his way stood Russian giant Nicolay Valuev, 7ft tall and with a 7-stone weight advantage, looking every inch the Bond villain with the head the size of a breeze block.

On that night, Haye, Britain’s former cruiserweight world champion, stepped out of the shadows and into the heavyweight record books, snatching Valuev’s WBA belt on a points decision despite breaking a bone in his right hand early on in the fight. It was perhaps the British sporting achievement of the past 12 months.

Haye had become the first British world heavyweight champion since Lennox Lewis – twice the SJA’s Sportsman of the Year – had retired as the WBC No 1 in 2004.

Haye’s win also established him as the first British-born boxer to claim any of the world heavyweight belts since Henry Akinwande held the lesser WBO title in 1997.

Having conquered his Goliath, David entered 2010 with Ukraine’s Klitchsko brothers in his sights and very much on the receiving end of his verbal taunts. Wladimir (IBF, WBO and IBO heavyweight world champion) and Vitali (WBC) have made no secret of their dislike of the lippy Londoner. The sight of Haye at a press conference wearing a T-shirt showing him holding their decapitated heads did little for Anglo-Ukraine relations (click here to see The Sun‘s video of a priceless confrontation between Haye and Wladimir Klitchsko in a shopping mall).

But the mandatory challenger facing Haye in April was John Ruiz, a former WBA champ. It had been 10 years since any heavyweight title had been fought for on British soil and the setting was the MEN Arena, already a popular venue for boxing after the adventures of Ricky Hatton.

Haye battered the American over nine breathless rounds. The defending champion hadn’t been able to spar for nearly five weeks ahead of the bout after suffering a cut above his right eye. But a near-20,000 crowd whooped with delight on each of the four occasions the 38-year-old challenger hit the canvas and when the American’s corner threw in the towel, Haye was declared the winner by a TKO.

A showdown with one of the Klitchsko’s looked odds on, but having been previously vocal in their desire to shut Haye up, in July both fighters announced alternative opponents later in the year, putting back any possible confrontation til 2011.

Beat that: "ballsy" boxer David Haye

Haye missed out on consideration for the 2009 SJA Sportsman of the Year vote because his title-winning Valuev fight came too late for consideration at our awards event. His next title defence comes in the week after voting for the 2010 SJA awards close.

That bout is against European champion Audley Harrison at the MEN on November 13, but Haye is expected to make light work of his old sparring partner.

The Hayemaker’s cocky, in-your-face manner adds entertainment value to his sport and he has the fight record to back it up: 25 professional bouts, 24 wins, 22 by knockout.  His one defeat came back in 2004 when he was stopped by an ageing Carl Thompson, but it was early in his career and Haye always maintains that he learned from mistakes made there and has never repeated them.

With an eye for the ironic and perhaps the future of boxing, Haye has named his first born Cassius (“If he’s ever going to be a boxer, then Cassius Haye is the name to go with.”)

Brash, ballsy and celebrating a year as a world heavyweight champion, Haye deserves his shot at being the SJA’s Sportsman of the Year.

As he said after that first WBA defence in April: “I believe I’m the best. Anyone who disagrees with me, get in the ring and prove it.”

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Who is worthy of your vote? Check out our experts’ views here:

Sportsman of the Year

Cricketer Graeme Swann

Jump jockey AP McCoy

Golfer Graeme McDowell

Sportswoman of the Year

Swimmer Fran Halsall

Olympic slider Amy Williams

Team of the Year

Voting for the SJA’s annual British Sports Awards is now open. Only SJA members may vote, and they are allowed to vote only once, when they must choose their top three choice for Sportsman, Sportswoman and Team of the Year.

Voting forms are being posted to members with the SJA Bulletin autumn edition, or you may vote online.

Deadline for voting is November 9.

Tickets to attend the SJA British Sports Awards on December 8 are also now on sale.