Haye v Bellew: The Preview
Tonight at the O2 Arena in London, card starts at 6pm, main event around 10pm
So here we go again. It’s the eve of another “British super fight” as Sky Sports has been aggressively insisting at every opportunity. This evening David Haye, former WBA heavyweight champion and Britian’s Sexiest Vegan 2014, will face off against Tony Bellew, the bad guy in Creed, Everton enthusiast and current WBC cruiserweight champion. The bad blood between the two is evident, with the build up defined by relentless trash talking, hair-based insults, threats and even physical clashes. The public are keen to see the two men finally come to blows after all the talk. A decent number, Eddie Hearn hopes, may even be willing to part with £16.95 for the privilege.
David Haye was at one point Britain’s leading hope for international heavyweight success. A cruiserweight for most of his career, Haye didn’t seem troubled by the step up in weight. Blessed with frightening speed and power, Haye won the WBA heavyweight title in 2009 against Russian giant, Nikolai Valuev. Another two wins earned him a shot at the then seemingly invincible Wladimir Klitschko. That was the beginning of the end for the first part of Haye’s career. Klitschko cruised to an easy point victory while Haye infamously blamed his lacklustre performance on a little toe injury. Haye was then involved in a farcical feud with Derek Chisora, pulled out of two fights with Tyson Fury and underwent shoulder surgery. Last January saw him return to the ring to much fanfare.
Haye’s comeback tour has already attracted its fair share of critics. While it may not be unreasonable to expect a fighter who has been inactive for nearly four years to ease himself back into the sport, the standard of Haye’s two opponents so far has been pitiful. Mark de Mori, Haye’s first fight since his return, tried a few wild swings before
being sent to the canvas in the first round. The next victim, Arnold Gjergjaj hit the deck less than a minute after the opening bell, although he did well to survive until the second round. Haye was roundly booed at the Joshua fight in December (although to be fair so was Bellew, it’s what British fans do). It is widely speculated that Haye has come back on the scene with the sole aim of landing a lucrative super fight with Joshua and is content to keep himself ticking over until then.
However, there is no denying Haye still appears to be a dangerous fighter and if he has retained even some of the skills he once possessed he could be a serious contender in a heavyweight top 10 filled more with hype than proven quality. Haye is not a large heavyweight but he is a skillful boxer with knockout power that can be delivered at blistering speed. Also while he may not be tall he has certainly filled out into a heavyweight as any can be seen by the endless series of shirtless photos on his Instagram.
On paper Haye is a legitimate contender in today’s heavyweight division. But questions persist. No one has seen how he performs against a decent opponent since Chisora. The number of viewers that tuned in to his fights on Comedy channel Dave suggest that he’s still a big name. Without stepping up his opposition that interest may start to wane.
Tony Bellew is a well known character on the British boxing scene. Notorious for his rivalry with Welsh boxer Nathan Cleverley and his passionate, foul mouthed, incredibly Scouse tirades aimed at his opponents, he is one of the most recognisable members of Eddie Hearn’s Matchroom stable. Bellew can be a measured and likeable figure, talking with intelligence about the sport. He can also be an aggressively antagonistic one, goading his opponents with near demonic persistence if he thinks it will win him an advantage.
Bellew’s career has had its ups and downs. He lost two world title fights at light-heavyweight, one to his nemesis Cleverley, the second to Canadian Adonis Stevenson after the fight was stopped in the sixth round. Following the disappointment in the Stevenson fight, Bellew moved down to Cruiserweight where he seemed to find his natural home.
In a series of wins that included avenging his loss to Cleverly, Bellew set up a world title fight against Ilunga Makabu. The fight was perhaps even more dramatic than the one portrayed in the film Creed, where Bellew showed his impressive acting range by playing a scowling, angry scouse boxer. Under the lights of Goodison Park, home of his beloved Everton, Bellew recovered from a first round knockdown to knock his opponent out in the third. The story was heartwarming enough that even Bellew’s biggest detractors had to give him some begrudging credit.
After retaining the title against BJ Flores, Bellew then began publicly calling out Haye. He verbally abused Haye, who was working as a commentator on fight night, then accused him of “conning the British public.” Other taunts included branding Haye the Bermondsey bitch and numerous comparisons to a pot plant. The barbs seem to have had the desired effect in drawing Haye in but the news that the fight would take place at heavyweight was greeted with raised eyebrows.
The Build up
The pre-fight promotion has veered between predictable, entertaining and absurd. Perhaps the most absurd part has been seeing the emergence of Tony Bellew; defender of public morality. During the press conference to announce the fight Haye appeared to throw a punch at Bellew (after being pushed.) Bellew branded Haye a rat. Since then he has repeatedly expressed his disbelief at Haye’s behaviour with the word “disgusting” being thrown around liberally.
While this may seem a bit rich coming from a man previously famed for his own outbursts, it’s not that hard to see what Bellew is getting at. Punch aside, Haye has revelled in describing the damage he will inflict on his opponent, causing outrage amongst the red tops. Haye has vowed to send Bellew to hospital and, on Soccer AM of all places, expressed his wish to cave Bellew’s skull in. Boxing is a brutal sport and Haye is doing no more than acknowledging its realities. But the glee with which he has done it, considering the serious injury of Nick Blackwell and the death of Mike Trowell last year, has understandably generated controversy.
Another low light was a heated press conference held in Liverpool. This one was opened to the general public who largely spent their time heckling and berating Haye and his team. Here Haye’s mask of amused disdain gave way to genuine rage. Bellew has turned irritating and provoking Haye into a science. He interrupts him. Insults him. Repeats himself endlessly. Haye seemed to finally tire of this act, pointing at Bellew from the podium and hissing “I’m going to smash your fucking head in.” He followed this up by branding the crowd “fucking retards.” In a later tweet, Haye also accused fans of racially abusing him.
In boxing its always difficult to differentiate genuine hostility from pantomime antics designed to build anticipation. In this case though things seem to have turned genuinely toxic. Bellew for his part, seems to be intent on aggravating Haye to the highest degree, Haye’s general demeanour in the last few weeks appear to suggest he’s succeeded. This may either prove to be a masterstroke of psychological warfare or an incredibly foolhardy approach to fighting a man far larger, more experienced and with greater ability.
When trying to assess a fight’s outcome a good place to start is with the bookies. A £10 bet on David Haye to win tonight would gain you a grand total of £1.67 (at time of writing). True, bookmakers are not always right and odds can be swung by public opinion rather than facts. But the low odds on a Haye victory reflect the common thinking of many boxing fans and experts; this is basically a mismatch. Put aside all the personal animosity and speculation and David Haye, on paper, should not only win this fight but win easily.
Frank Warren (hardly the most impartial source as Eddie Hearn’s main rival promoter) has summed up this view. “When Haye touches Bellew on the chin, then it will all be over,” Warren wrote in the Daily Star.
Even Bellew himself has considered this outcome, admitting “It could backfire on me. It could end in 20 seconds. I’m not going to lie. It can happen. He whacks really hard. Yes, he’s the best fighter I’ve faced in my career.”
The champions of the underdog point out that the size difference between the two men is exaggerated. Both are 6’3 in height. Haye fought as a crusierweight for much of his career while Bellew was an amateur heavyweight. Bellew has frequently repeated Tyson Fury’s jibe that Haye is just a “blown up crusierweight.” Haye’s reputation as a powerful heavyweight who can’t be hurt, Bellew argues, is based more on perception than reality.
But this is largely wishful thinking. Haye may not be taller than Bellew, but the scales attest to how much of a weight advantage he holds. This alone is a major obstacle to overcome. Diffusing the threat of someone nearly a stone heavier will require intense skill and concentration.
Stepping up in weight is not an easy thing in boxing and even great fighters come unstuck. Ask Amir Khan. Ask Kell Brook. Haye is not only heavier but he is experienced at using that weight. It takes times to learn to adapt your style to a higher weight. Haye has already done this. He has been training and fighting at heavyweight since 2008. He only lost one fight at the weight and that was by decision to Klitschko, the best heavyweight in the world at the time.
Meanwhile, this is Bellew’s initiation into the division. There are easier places to start than David Haye. But Bellew has actively sought this fight out and now he has to find some way of trying to win it. It will be an uphill battle. Haye can evade punches and he has a good enough chin to survive when he does catch a shot. He has never been knocked down at heavyweight. There is little in either fighter’s history to suggest Bellew possesses the power to be the first.
Haye, on the other hand, is renowned for his power and speed. Bellew is game and brave but he can be hurt. Adonis Stevenson inflicted bruising punishment on the Liverpudlian at light-heavyweight, stopping Bellew in the sixth round. Bellew was also put down by Ilunga Makabu at crusierweight before he came back to win.
But Bellew does have some room for hope. Haye was a very strong heavyweight but his last proper fight against an opponent anywhere near his standard was over four years ago. That’s an awfully long time to be inactive or breezing past east pickings. No one knows what level Haye is currently on or how he will deal with any sort of challenge at this stage. The David Haye that steps into the ring tonight may be a very different fighter to the one people remember.
Additionally, Bellew does at least seem to have an understanding of the task ahead. He knows Haye has power and he knows he will have to come up with an intelligent strategy to pull off an upset. In an interview with Boxing News, he said, “(against Haye) I wouldn’t take anywhere near as many risks as I did against BJ Flores. I’d be a lot cuter, a lot cleverer and I’d use my brain early doors.” If Bellew can successfully avoid Haye’s power then he may be able to wear him down. Then in the later rounds, with a tired opponent in front of him, who knows? It just could be possible.
The issue here is whether Bellew has either the ability or the discipline to pull such a plan off. He is prone to getting sucked in to toe to toe brawls and trading blows. Against Haye that would be disastrous. Haye is also fast and avoiding him for round after round without getting caught is a lot easier said than done.
Eyeing this fight rationally, Frank Warren is probably right. Bellew is the latest in a series of British fighters to embark on incredibly brave but fantastically unlikely long shot fights. The buzz around the bout is probably greater than the contest deserves.
But hey, that’s boxing in a nutshell.
There’s even a chance that this might turn into something worth watching. Bellew is a good fighter, the question is how good he is in a new division. This fight will also shed some light on David Haye, an unknown quantity so far, with two comeback fights that have given away nothing. Perhaps Bellew can stun the critics, score an upset or make Haye rise to the occasion to show he’s still got it.
Maybe all the bitterness might even give way to some respect between the two.
Probably not though. The most we can probably hope for is an at least semi-competitive bout, both boxers to exit the ring unharmed and a reasonably dignified ending without further mum based controversy.