Back when David Haye was a cruiserweight, long before he had completed the journey from playboy pugilist to genuine pay-per-view fighter, he told me how he hated "all those British boxing fans who constantly criticise. They can't wait for a fighter to get beat, so they can say: 'I told you he was crap.' There are a lot of them out there."
Haye avoided the haters for much of his career, until a trashy campaign of taunts, promotional stunts and promises to "shock the world" against Wladimir Klitschko ended with a points defeat as wide as his opponent's shoulders and an embarrassed whimper about a broken toe. Then the critics – many of whom had devoured the hype and handed over £14.95 expecting a red-raw slugfest – arrived in force.
A few months on, and following Tuesday's news that Haye has retired as promised before his 31st birthday, it is perhaps time for a moderate rebalancing. Haye will never go down as a great heavyweight, but he was not the only man to go aggressive-passive when faced with Dr Steelhammer's jab. And when up against opponents of similar size, Haye could certainly fight. He won a silver medal at the 2001 World Amateur Boxing Championships. He unified the world cruiserweight division, picking himself off the floor to beat Jean-Marc Mormeck on a wild night in Paris, having shed 14lb in 10 days before the bout. And he brutally knocked out Enzo Maccarinelli in what was supposed to be a pick-em fight.
As a cruiserweight, Haye proved he could scrap; against the giants of the heavyweight division, he preferred to tickle. Beating the 36-year-old Nikolai Valuev, all 7ft tall and 22 stone of him, made Haye only the second cruiserweight champion to win a portion of the heayweight crown after Evander Holyfield. That achievement was significant. But Haye never really built on it. To call him a blown-up cruiserweight, as many have done, is not entirely accurate: Haye was 6ft 3in and 15 stone 2lb against Klitschko – the same height and just 4lb lighter than Muhammad Ali when he fought George Foreman. But he didn't seem to possess a heavyweight mentality.
His record, 25-2 with 23 knockouts, is respectable, but his opponents in the heavyweight division usually weren't. Monte Barrett was 37 when Haye knocked him out in five rounds. David Ruiz was 38 when stopped in the ninth. Audley Harrison was 39. There might be a dearth of dangerous young heavyweights right now, but Haye didn't exactly go looking for them. Holyfield, meanwhile, slugged it out with every pretender and contender, big and small.
And then there was Haye's mouth. In person he was smart, personable and perceptive. But when the cameras were on and there was a fight to promote he had an innate ability to zero in on the crassest stunt or comment. Trash-talking is part of the business but Haye often ploughed deep into the dump, branding Valuev "the ugliest thing I have ever seen," promising his fight against Harrison would be "as one-sided as a gang rape", and producing a T-shirt of the Klitschkos with severed heads.
"I'm in the boxing game to be as high-profile as possible and to get people to watch my fights, so sometimes you've got to say some controversial stuff," was Haye's standard line when questioned about his antics. "Looking back, I do cringe sometimes but you can't go through life saying: 'I wish I didn't say that, I wish I didn't do this.' You've got to crack on with it." His words sold fights and swelled his bank balance, but they harmed his reputation too.
When I asked how Haye how he was viewed by the public last year, he admitted: "I'm just as renowned for talking trash as knocking people out." As career epitaphs go, it's a fair one. But, given the tools at his disposal, perhaps his legacy could have been so much more.