Finding a new purpose after a successful fighting career is never easy. In fact, you could say it is hardest of all for those who had a real skill in the ring or octagon but know their time at the top is fleeting. Some find it hard to let go and seem unable to stay retired for long, while others manage to make the switch into coaching or perhaps media.
David Haye was a professional fighter for 16 arduous years. The Hayemaker took the World Heavyweight Champion title from Nikolai Valuev in 2009, in one of the most memorable encounters in years. He successfully defended the title twice before losing it to Wladimir Klitschko in July 2011.
Haye fought on till 2018 but never enjoyed such success again. He retired three years ago, but has now announced that he is once again ready to take on the greatest in the world. No, it’s not another of boxing’s famous ill-advised comebacks. Haye is planning to exchange the ring for the poker table.
A growing trend
Poker is a far more accessible game than it was a couple of decades ago. There’s a wealth of online resources that people can use to sharpen their game, and of course, there are numerous real money poker sites online for getting match sharp. Haye is not the first famous name to retire from a more conventional sport in favor of the pro poker circuit.
From the boxing world, he follows in the footsteps of Carl Froch and Audley Harrison, both of whom are accomplished poker players and have entered WSOP events. Then there’s MMA fighter Martin Kampmann, who entered the 2014 Main Event and walked away with more than $50,000 in prize money. Other sports stars who are now familiar faces on the pro poker circuit include snooker legend Steve Davis, former tennis player Boris Becker, cricketer Shane Warne, and footballer Teddy Sheringham.
A new type of focus
Haye knows that to succeed at the poker table, he needs to put in the hours and display just as much discipline as he did to reach the top in boxing. His first major tournament was at the Grosvenor Casinos Goliath in Coventry, an event touted as the biggest poker meeting in the world outside Las Vegas. He put extra pressure on himself by agreeing to be followed by a film crew for an Amazon Prime documentary.
Haye prepared by taking some intensive coaching by some of the best in the business, but was quick to acknowledge that “poker is not something you can pick up in five minutes.” Still, despite his inexperience, he managed to walk away with £2,000, finishing 40th – not bad for a new kid in a field of more than 9,000 entrants.
Haye has also played in Manila, finishing 28th out of 500 entrants as a result he describes as every bit as rewarding as his victories in the ring. Next up is the WSOP main event in Las Vegas. For boxers and poker stars, it’s the ultimate venue, and we’ll be following his progress with interest.