It did not take long for the public embrace of David Haye and Tony Bellew – the televised moment that delivered what seemed to be the heartwarming conclusion to months of mutual loathing – to fade like a forgotten family photo.

By Thursday, Bellew, so generous to his rival in the glow of victory last Saturday night, was telling an Irish radio station that the pre-fight trash-talk was “all real”, adding: “The things he said to me declare that he’s an absolute scumbag. Like I said before: once a helmet, always a helmet.”

For those who missed it, Haye threatened to put Bellew in hospital and advised his opponent to leave his children at home, less they be distressed watching their father suffer in public. His own son, Cassius, was there – but that’s another story.

The language of modern professional sport has long been uncomfortably close to that of war and politics, even in more genteel endeavours.

The India and Australia cricketers have indulged in some charged exchanges the past week, with Virat Kohli virtually accusing the tourists of cheating, and the teams’ respective administrators shuffling unconvincingly to assert that all is well. The Hindustan Times accused Fox Sports of stooping to a new low in their ridicule of India’s captain.

Football drips in juvenile vitriol, be it between otherwise sensible grown-ups in charge of multi-billion-pound clubs or ex-players shouting loudly at each other on the TV. What would have been regarded as outrageous or at least out of order even 20 years ago is now considered normal, an unstoppable descent into bile, driven to boiling point on social media and regurgitated as news.

But it is boxing, sport’s eternal whipping boy, that is the capital of hate. So I went to see the man who has generated most of it recently. It was a disturbing but enlightening experience. Haye politely moves his crutches to one side, stretches out his mangled right ankle that is swathed in bandages, and says with chilling insouciance: “I would fight till I’m dead. This is why I am here. I am put on Earth to fight. I feel it deep in my waters.”

We are sitting in the luxurious offices of Matthew Freud’s communications empire in central London and the thought occurs: if only his great‑grandfather Sigmund could have been here to analyse Haye’s philosophy on his life-and-death calling.

It is a week since his achilles tendon collapsed on him in the sixth round of his non-title fight with Bellew at London’s O2 Arena, making surrender five rounds later an unpalatable inevitability. It was a primal battle stripped of subtlety, reduced to its animal elements. “I live for nights like that,” Haye says. “Walking out into a stadium and to have everybody living and breathing it with you.”

He never intended to deliver on the pre-fight threats that allowed no concession for the death of the Scottish boxer, Mike Towell, five months ago, or the coma into which Nick Blackwell slipped again after his ill-advised return to sparring. But, when I remind him he has recanted in the past, that he then explained that the gross pronouncements were just fight hype, he insists: “I don’t regret any of it. I said what I said and I can’t unsay it.

“In the lead-up, you’re getting asked questions by civilised people when you’re in beast mode, fight mode. They think the answers are a bit strong. I’m out of that beast mode now, I don’t want to do anyone any harm, I just want to love everybody now.”

Haye, smiling weakly, continues: “People don’t want to see [Wladimir] Klitschko and [Anthony] Joshua having a candle-lit meal in Paris under the Eiffel Tower. ‘I’ve always been a fan of yours, Klitschko,’ and all that. People want to see two fighters who want to knock each other out – genuinely want to smash each other to bits.

“Like [Nigel] Benn and [Chris] Eubank. Even to this day when they are both 50-odd, you put them two in a ring they will fight until they’re dead, both of them. And that’s just a fact of life. Arturo Gatti-Micky Ward. Joe Frazier-Muhammad Ali. You get these rivalries in boxing, not that often, so when you do get them, why do you want to sanitise it?

“Maybe [the smart writers] should go to a fight and see the severity, see how vicious and violent it actually is. It’s not a game of tennis; one guy is slyly punching the other in the balls, one guy is trying to get the elbow in or clashing heads. All these things are not in the rules, but they happen. It is just part of the sport. It’s not a normal place. You want two people who are going in to kill each other – but 20 minutes before you expect them to be completely normal, like average folk, when you put a mic in front of them.

“It’s hard to judge somebody before or after a fight. Adrenaline is flowing and you’re hyped up. You do your weigh-in, face-to-face, your heart is beating: boom, boom, boom. You want to do some damage, then someone puts a mic in your face. You say something, but now you will be accountable for that for the rest of your life.”

Would he say all those things again? “I can’t say how I will feel ahead of the next fight. If I fight Tony Bellew again, I will see him in a different light. I didn’t have the respect for him prior to the fight that I have now – and hopefully that’s a mutual thing. Certain things that I would say to him [before], I’d have no business saying to him now, because it would be fake and false. But, if he says something that upsets me, I won’t edit how I feel.

“It’s personal and it’s business. It has to be personal. You have to want to be in there. Bellew said it right when he said ‘you need a dance partner.’ It’s a different kind of intensity when you know you’re in there with the right dance partner.”

Haye named his first child Cassius, after the birth name of Muhammad Ali, but the athletic eight‑year-old has only recently come to watch his father fight – his big love is tennis. “He’s not interested in boxing at all,” Haye says. “He’s smart. My dream is to win the world heavyweight title again. My son’s dream is to win Wimbledon – I’d love that.”

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