“This isn’t tennis. This isn’t golf or F1 Racing. Boxing is a working man’s sport.”
With over 30 fights and 28 wins under his belt, former world heavyweight and cruiserweight champion David Haye is looking for the next challenge. He’s paired up with leading boxing promoter Richard Schaefer to launch the careers of four future boxing champions.
Over the next three years, UKTV channel Dave will be showing off the pair’s new signings in a series of boxing fight nights.
“The focus was to get the very best talent,” Haye explains, speaking to the RTS from his gym in south London. The four new signings are not yet household names, but the boxer believes that, in time, they will be. “The whole country will get behind these fighters.”
Among the new signings are Olympic silver medallist and Anthony Joshua’s sparring partner Joe Joyce, Commonwealth Games silver medallist, Olympian, and European bronze medallist Qais Ashfaq, and double World Champion Willy Hutchinson who, at only 18 years old, is the youngest of Haye’s boxers.
Signing relative unknowns is part of the strategy, Haye says. “You need to have an emotional connection with a boxer if you are going to be willing to pay for a ticket or really speak the fighter’s name with excitement.”
UKTV’s director of commissioning Richard Watsham adds, “we’re going to build [the boxers’] stories over a number of fight nights. We want people to support them and get behind them.”
The biggest name on the roster is Michael ‘Venom’ Page, 10-time World Kickboxing Champion and Mixed Martial Artist, who packed out the O2 Arena for his recent fight with Cyborg, which saw his rival head home in an ambulance with a knee-shaped dent in his forehead. “I was there. It was a sickening thing to watch,” admits Haye. “They say he literally caved his skull in. The guy needed, I think, 17 metal plates in his forehead to rebuild his skull. [He’s] lucky to be alive.”
The aim for Haye and Schaefer - the promoter also behind Floyd Mayweather - is to turn these unknown fighters “not just [into] champions, but [into] international superstars,” and the best way to do that is to make the fight accessible to millions of potential new fans.
That is why the partnership with TV channel Dave was so ideal. “It’s quite expensive now for a boxing fan,” Haye explains, “There’s no secret that Sky Sports, BT Sport, BoxNation predominantly have been the leaders in screening big-time boxing.” The new deal will bring boxing out from behind the paywall, and make it accessible for all.
“We wanted to commit to a series of fights that would take place free-to-air, but would do so with a certain level of production values and a kind of entertainment spin,” explains UKTV’s Richard Watsham, who worked on the deal.
“That is the one thing that I was really adamant on: that it was just accessible to everybody,” David Haye remembers. “We’re going to give you guys some real good entertaining evenings of boxing for nothing.”
The deal is the latest in a series of sports events on Dave – a channel historically home to sitcoms and entertainment. “People predominantly remember Dave as a comedy channel,” Haye jokes, “but there’s nothing comedic about people getting knocked out, and we’re getting plenty of that.” Richard Watsham agrees. “I certainly wouldn’t view Dave now as a comedy entertainment channel. I’d view it as a broad entertainment channel.”
Off the back of David Haye’s first fight in 2016, against Mark de Mori, on the channel – which drew an audience of over 3m (461% up on the slot) – Dave has made a concerted effort to branch out into sports.
Boxing is one of the fastest growing sports in the world, and, according to Haye, one of the most progressive. In addition to his new signings, he is also looking to add female boxers to his stable over the coming years who may be joining the fight nights on Dave.
“Women’s boxing is becoming huge,” he says. “There’s no reason why a female boxer can’t be as big as Mayweather, say. They’ve got the technical abilities. They’ve got great coaching. They’re just as tough. I’ve seen some really great female fights.” Haye notes that, in Mixed Martial Arts (MMA), Ronda Rousey was reported to be the highest grossing athlete for a while until Conor MacGregor pipped her to the post.
“I think it just goes to show, if you’ve got the right talent, if you’re promoted correctly, whether you’re male or female, you can reach for the stars.”
Dates for the first fight night have yet to be announced.