DUBAI // In 2011, when David Haye first attempted to retire from the boxing ring – prematurely – he cited good reasons.
“That’ll be 20 years of getting punched in the face, which is a long enough time,” the heavyweight said at the time.
The Englishman may have struggled to officially let go of the fight game for good, but he has managed to diversify his interests in the meantime.
And by the look of plans for his new gym, which is in the lee of the Burj Khalifa in Dubai, you might assume he was right first time: he has had one too many bumps on the head.
Zebra-print furniture. Grass on the walls of the changing rooms. A chef with a six-pack stomach – who makes his own marmalade, of course – for the in-house restaurant.
A function on the membership wristband which allows you to be dialled into Skype, Twitter or Facebook while on the treadmill.
If all that is not spacey enough, members can also expect a unique welcome. Haye had a fragrance specially concocted for the airspace upon entry to the health club.
Given that the man became a champion in spit-and-sawdust gyms, underneath railway arches in the mean streets of south London, it is fair to say his outlook has altered. He is a long way from home.
“It is a very long way from growing up in Bermondsey on the 18th floor in a [dingy] two-bedroom flat,” Haye, 33, said on Tuesday after adding tour guide to his CV.
“Coming to Dubai, to a facility that overlooks the biggest building in the world, the biggest shopping mall in the world, the biggest fountain in the world, is a big change. But it is a nice feeling.”
Given the glitz of Downtown Dubai, it is tempting to think Haye has taken his eye off the real business.
He has a fight coming up against Tyson Fury, rearranged for February 8 after Haye had to call off the original date after suffering a cut above his left eyebrow in one of his final sparring sessions.
Does he need the distractions? On Tuesday’s tour of the gym, which remains little more than a shell, he was wearing flip-flops.
He may be tough, but his toes are precious. After he lost to Wladimir Klitschko in 2011, he blamed a broken little toe for his ineffective performance.
This is a designated hard-hat area, but Haye only bothers with the workplace headgear when he is asked to pose for photographs, instead wearing a bandanna – for style, not to hide the eyebrow wound.
Maybe heavyweight boxers do not worry about the same health and safety rules as everyone else. In any case, he does not convey the impression that he is losing much sleep over his next assignment.
“I believe he is beneath me,” he says of Fury, 25. “He is beneath me in terms of rankings and experience, but he is above me in terms of height.
“He’s about six or seven inches taller than me and about three stone heavier. But who cares? That’s not going to help him on fight night.”
All this pressing the flesh does not detract from Haye’s main duty. Ruben Tabares, his trainer, orders him to break from his promotional activity to have a plate of fish and vegetables, so as not to delay his next training session.
He had two sessions planned for Tuesday afternoon, and the meal he had in Emaar Square was one of six he inhales daily.
He claims to be “more buzzing about this gym than any boxing match”.
“I’ve been getting fulfilment from fighting since I was 10 years old. I’m kind of worn out of that fulfilment,” he said.
Even though his plans for life after boxing are clearly advanced, Haye still has one unfulfilled ambition.
“I lost to Klitschko on points and I wanted that win, but it didn’t happen,” he said, claiming that he will definitely be finished with boxing by the end of next year.
“It definitely left a gap, something unfulfilled. Ideally after this fight, I would like to fight one of the Klitschko brothers to get that win and get that title back around my waist. Then I can move on to focusing 100 per cent on things other than boxing.”