JOE Hayes is “no spring chicken”. His description.

He is stood outside the poky, jam-packed dressing room he was assigned for his comeback fight at London’s York Hall arena.

Still sweating profusely, his features slightly reddened, Hayes has just beaten Zaurs Sadihovs. The end of his fifteen-month ring exile has played out in near-perfect fashion.

All of the sacrifices, training six days a week, monitoring every morsel of food that passes his lips, have been worth it.

And he’s already talking about doing it all over again.

Hayes is 33-years-old. He joined the paid ranks at the relatively advanced age of 31. The Bournemouth welterweight negotiated his first six professional contests without being beaten.

He drew the last of those fights, in December 2015, however. It later transpired he had fought with a fractured elbow, the injury that led to his career hiatus.

Now Hayes is in a rush. Boxing at York Hall, if everything goes according to plan, represented his first step on the road to greater glory and some "decent dough".

Nigel Benn, Prince Naseem Hamed and Joe Calzaghe all put their necks on the line here, early on their respective journeys towards the top of the world.

York Hall hosted Carl Froch’s first four fights. It is where David Haye’s amateur career suffered an alarming jolt in 1999, when the former heavyweight world champion was flattened 89 seconds into a fight with a journeyman from Coventry called Jim Twite.

Fighting inside this Grade II listed building lived up to Hayes’ expectations, for the most part.

“It did – except for the changing rooms being pretty dire,” he jokes.

“The atmosphere is amazing in there. Everyone is on top of you. It is a tight venue and it was pretty packed out.

“It is ticked off my bucket list now – but I would love to fight here for a title.”

With its seven-figure pay cheques, pre-fight trash talk, flashing camera lights and celebrity adorned ringsides, top level boxing appears to be the very definition of glitz and glamour.

Go to York Hall on fight day, though, and the harsh realities of the hardest game strike you square between the eyes.

It is unseasonably warm outside, the glaring February sun hinting towards spring’s arrival.

The temperature, however, is higher still within the walls of this oppressive, hostile arena.

Local boy Davis Pagan’s super welterweight rematch with Sonny Whiting kicks off a 16-fight bill; the Basildon fighter’s animated throng of supporters creating an ear-splitting din to welcome him into the ring.

One hour earlier, the atmosphere had been rather more business-like.

Gloves were ferried about, weigh-ins continued apace and a small corridor, which would serve as each fighter's path to the ring, was cordoned off .

Boxers, meanwhile, easily identifiable by the easy, confident manner of their stride, stretched their legs, unavoidably mingling with the assembling punters in the process.

Hayes had stepped on the scales at 2pm. The weeks of training and denial – which in their final days extended to him monitoring his water intake in order to “shrink my stomach” – paid off in that moment.

His weight recorded at 10st 9Ibs, he could finally eat, properly.

Returning from a trip to a nearby Nando’s, Hayes, firmly in control of his thoughts, exuded the contented air of a man who knew he had got his preparation spot on.

"No nerves yet, they will come when I hear the roar of the crowd,” he breezily admitted.

Trainer Steve Bendall, formerly a fighter of some repute himself – Bendall won the English middleweight title in 2005 – was carrying three large bottles of water.

Perhaps being able to eat and drink like a normal human being again was the explanation for Hayes’ remarkably cool demeanour – he even found time for a sprightly exchange with one of the night’s referees?

More likely, though, the reason for Hayes’ discernible lack of anxiety was that he simply felt at home.

This is his life. Any stress he experiences stems from owning his own carpentry business.

Boxing, though? After his fight he would say: “I would never doubt myself. I know one hundred per cent I am a fighter and that I will get in there and fight until the bitter end.

"That is what I do."

Pagan’s fight was a thrilling slugfest. Amid the cacophony and a barrage of advice from his myriad fans, the Essex man didn’t betray a scintilla of emotion.

When his hand was raised at the end, confirming he had avenged his previous defeat by teak-tough Whiting, Pagan exploded with joy.

Professional debutant Dan Neville was completing his winner’s post-fight media duties following fight two, when Hayes emerged onto the stage at the back of the hall.

Bouncing away, loosening his limbs, he waited patiently as Sadihovs made the short walk to the ring.

Then, to a raft of cheers from more than 100 supporters who had travelled to Bethnal Green from his home town, Hayes was introduced by the evening’s crisp, indefatigable Master of Ceremonies.

A few steps before he climbed onto the ring’s apron Hayes passed a stretcher.

Placed ominously, yards from where these courageous men do battle, it served as a chilling reminder that there is more on the line here than victory or defeat.

Hayes slipped through the ropes to further roars and exhortations. He had sold between 120 and 130 tickets for this fight.

On the sport's lower rungs, shifting tickets is as vital a part of the boxer's fight build-up as the rounds he spars and the miles he runs.

In short, for a boxing card to be financially viable, each fighter must pull his weight when it comes to getting people through the door.

By the reckoning of leading promoter Eddie Hearn: “If a fighter sells well and fights well… that is gold dust”.

Hayes recognises that side of his trade.

“It is a massive part of it,” he says.

“As much as boxing is a sport, it is a business. You have to sell the tickets to earn money.

“At this level you are not being well paid. I am not making loads of money, but I am aiming to move up the ranks, secure some title fights and earn some decent dough... hopefully.

“For that number of people to come here from Bournemouth – and the journey is a pain in the backside – I couldn’t be happier. I’m chuffed with everyone who came up – it was brilliant.”

Watching Hayes box, you suspect that, given a fair wind, his strong support-base is going to mushroom.

The lone pre-fight fear was that he might succumb to the dreaded ring rust that has done for plenty of good men, resuming their careers after enforced breaks.

That particular worry subsided during Hayes' measured, assertive start, which swiftly had his opponent clinging on for dear life.

Sadihovs’ knees buckled under a barrage of concussive blows late in the opening round.

Such was Hayes’ superiority that when he was tagged by the 23-year-old Latvian in round two, an eerie hush descended over the arena.

Hayes, the names of sons Frankie and Charlie etched onto his beige shorts, below the ubiquitous AFC Bournemouth club badge, was unperturbed.

He later confessed the blow had “woken me up”.

Hayes caught Sadihovs with a series of overhand rights. He had also identified the Eastern European’s vulnerability to punches to his body.

It hadn’t been lost on his fans at ringside, either.

“He’s weak in the body,” said one. “Soft, isn’t he,” the reply.

Hayes lists his ring idols as Ricky Hatton, Roberto Duran and the late Edwin Valero.

His own combative front-foot work lends an insight into why he would identify with that explosive, heavy-hitting trio.

In defence, though, eschewing a high guard and instead trusting his sharp eye and even sharper reflexes to dodge his opponent’s intermittent flurries, there are echoes of lithe Prince Naseem in his pomp.

“Come on Joey, let’s have an early night” bellowed a fan, as Hayes unfurled one of his hurtful combinations.

Sadihovs saw through the fight's dying embers with a nasty gash opening up around his left eye.

Hayes claimed a comfortable decision, judged to have won every one of the six rounds.

Bendall’s qualified judgement was that this rated as his man’s most accomplished professional performance, to date.


“I told him off after the fourth round,” says Bendall.

“I said to him, ‘what’s the matter with you Joe, you’re fit as a fiddle, keep your work rate up and stop this kid'.

“It would have been a great achievement to stop that kid. It’s a bit frustrating.

“There were too many single shots, instead of boom, boom, boom.”

Hayes wasn’t for arguing.

Outside that pinched dressing room, lousy with boxers and their entourages preparing for bouts to come, he considered his efforts.

“I felt myself holding back," he said. "I put him under pressure but I wasn’t throwing as much, because I didn’t want to blow… I haven’t boxed for 15 months.

“I’m gutted I didn’t get the kid out and stop him. I felt a lot stronger than him. I just held back a lot… because of the time out, I think.

“But I’m well chuffed. I got a good, solid six rounds in the bank.”

There is no time for recriminations. Hayes believes he has now outgrown six-round bouts.

He wants to shift up to eight and then quickly to a Southern Area title challenge, with the 10-round exertions that would demand.

"I’d like to be fighting again as soon as possible," he says. "I need to keep busy, keep going.

"I’m no spring chicken, I want to crack on. I’ve spent a year out injured. I don’t want any more time off."

Out of sight, meanwhile, fight four was generating a right old noise.

For Hayes, though, this night was over. His immediate sights are on competing for a British Challenge belt, back in his hometown, in seven weeks’ time.

He will return to Bendall's gym in Poole on Tuesday night, “training as if I haven’t had a fight”.

But not before he goes back to the day job.

“I’ll be straight back into work on Monday,” he says. “Back to the stresses of running a carpentry business, straight back at it.”

Saturday night, however, belonged to Hayes and wife Kate.

They would celebrate by going out for a meal. In fact, Hayes admitted that, for two days only, he would eat like “a fat pig”.

Above all, though, he was desperate to see his three boys.

Kate had Frankie, Charlie and Joey on her phone, ready to share some FaceTime with their dad.

It was time to leave Joe Hayes to savour his rest. It wouldn't last long, after all.