Today’s date is Thursday, October 13, 2011 and I’ve just turned 31 years of age. As the clock struck twelve last night, my professional boxing career came to an end.
The decision to finish my career at this point was not a spur of the moment thing, nor was it something forced upon me.
In fact, it has been my intention to retire from the sport of boxing on this particular day ever since I first laced up a pair of gloves as a skinny ten-year-old at the Fitzroy Lodge Amateur Boxing Club in Lambeth.
I even remember sitting in a KFC on Oxford Street with my trainer, manager and friend Adam Booth, shortly before turning pro as a 22-year-old, and discussing this decision in great detail.
Over a bargain bucket and coke, we outlined three mission objectives and agreed wholeheartedly to do everything in our power to make it all become a reality. The three-part mission objective went something like this:
1. Win as many genuine titles as possible.
To begin with, I won the European cruiserweight title and defended it three times, defeating two unbeaten contenders in the process. I then travelled into foreign territory to win the WBC, WBA and The Ring magazine world cruiserweight championships from Jean-Marc Mormeck, the consensus number one 200-pound fighter in the world.
I also added the WBO world cruiserweight title to the collection with a win over Enzo Maccarinelli, and unified the division in the process.
I then relinquished all those belts, moved up to heavyweight to win the WBA heavyweight championship of the world from Nikolay Valuev, and twice successfully defended that particular title. I took world titles from three champions and did so by fighting on my opponent’s terms (promotionally) each and every time.
2. Generate as much money as possible and financially secure my future.
My entire heavyweight career has been showcased and screened live as part of massive pay-per-view events, and each heavyweight bout generated healthy seven-figure-plus paydays. Financial security is vital for any boxer, especially given the dangerous nature of the sport, and I am proud to say I maximised my earning potential throughout my time in boxing.
3. Get out of boxing in my prime, aged 30 and in perfect physical and mental health.
I didn’t want my speech to become any more slurred than it was when I first entered the ring, and was keen not to one day look like an extra from Michael Jackson’s ‘Thriller’ video.
Other than a few fractures (which healed perfectly within a couple of months), a faulty little toe, and some superficial cuts around my eyes, I believe the third and most important objective has been achieved.
All in all, I have achieved nearly everything I could have hoped to achieve at this point in my professional boxing life. It would have been great to have beaten Wladimir Klitschko in July to unify the world heavyweight titles, but, while I’ve always strived for perfection, it sometimes doesn’t work out that way in life.
Aside from the loss to Wladimir, I am proud of everything I have achieved as both a cruiserweight and heavyweight and truly hope that the boxing fans and media will remember and view my overall career achievements in the right context.
Yes, I was outspoken and controversial in the lead up to many fights, but I truly believe the hype and drama I brought to the ring – especially as a heavyweight – helped create major pay-per-view happenings and also brought boxing back to mainstream attention, if only for a short period of time.
Britain boasts very few genuine world champions in this day and age, and I am delighted to say that I was one of them.
Many genuine fight fans will recall me winning WBC, WBA and WBO world cruiserweight titles as a cruiserweight and travelling overseas, as an underdog, to defeat Jean-Marc Mormeck, the best fighter in the world at the time.
I then unified the weight class against Enzo Maccarinelli, in a fight hardcore fans will remember as the biggest and most anticipated all-British world title showdown since Chris Eubank and Nigel Benn locked horns in the nineties.
I am pleased to say I was part of nights like those as a cruiserweight.
Sure, I fell just short of fulfilling my ultimate dream as a heavyweight, but I am still satisfied with what I was able to bring to a division that was desperately in need of an injection of excitement.
I helped make the division relevant and important again for three years, and scored wins that led me to the WBA world heavyweight title.
In order to grab the belt from the seven-foot giant Nikolay Valuev, I again had to travel overseas and conquer a favoured champion on foreign soil. It’s easy to rewrite history, but very few were backing me to beat ‘The Beast from the East’ at the time.
I’ve never claimed to be the greatest and I’m not foolish or arrogant enough to think my place in history will be defined through by I achieved as a heavyweight.
Even the dominant Klitschko brothers will have a tough time being viewed as heavyweight greats in this era, as the talent pool simply hasn’t been deep enough since Lennox Lewis hung up his gloves in 2003.
I never expected to go down as an all-time great heavyweight champion, but the move to the top division was one inspired by a need to challenge and test myself having conquered the cruiserweights.
Despite being undersized, I’d always dreamed of one day ruling the same division my heroes Muhammad Ali and Lennox Lewis both dominated.
As of this day – the 13th and my 31st birthday – that plan hasn’t quite unfolded yet. Wladimir got the better of me in July and I’ve had to accept the defeat and move on.
Vitali Klitschko did show an interest in sharing a ring with me in 2012, but since that initial declaration we have heard the wrong kind of noises from Team Klitschko, which has left me thinking there is little chance of the fight ever coming to fruition.
I would have very much enjoyed the idea of putting my retirement on hold for six months and going in against another champion that no one gave me a chance of beating.
I thrive on those sort of fights. Ultimately, though, Team Klitschko are a business, and they rarely take on tough opposition unless they are forced to.
That is why Wladimir now fights my old victim Jean-Marc Mormeck on Dec 10 and Vitali will likely fight Chris ‘Pass the Corona’ Arreola in two unattractive matchups that will send the heavyweight division straight back to the doldrums.
In the meantime, my life will go on and I’ll use my energy to pursue other interests. I plan to kick-start an acting career in the new year and will continue to train and stay in the best possible physical shape.
I love boxing and will always be connected to it in some way, shape or form.
In closing, I’d like to thank each and every fan that supported me along the way, either through purchasing a ticket, ordering a pay-per-view, buying a ‘Hayemaker’ t-shirt or by simply just roaring me on to victory.
I always tried to please the fans and did my best to generate excitement both inside and outside of the ring. I’d also like to say a big thank-you to the fans and members of the media who followed my career long before it became fashionable to do so.
I’m talking about those that tracked me up and down the country, from small halls to leisure centres, and then did the same when I ventured abroad to win my first world title.
You know who you are and you know who I was and still am.