December 17th sees the return of one of the most exciting, (and at times, silliest) rivalries in recent British boxing. A look at Haye vs Bellew 2.
Earlier in the year David Haye and Tony Bellew took part in an epic contest, before they even stepped in the ring together. Within moments of Bellew’s impressive knockout win over BJ Flores, boxing fans were ‘treated’ to a war of words that quickly descended into an uncanny display of aggressive buffoonery, as each man attempted to undermine the other, with often ironic results. Punches were thrown. Threats were made (and fines paid). Bellew mistakenly called Haye ‘Spongebob Squarepants’, having meant to call him ‘Sideshow Bob’. Haye repeatedly referred to Bellew with the schoolboy jeer, ‘Bellend’. Following his ferocious post-win callout of Haye, Bellew was given a “suspended suspension” (my God). It was puerile. Genuine disdain seemed to be lurking behind the shenanigans, but maybe they were just selling the fight. Perhaps they were trying to counter the indications of the betting odds, which favoured Haye so heavily that the fight was predicted as a huge mismatch. As it turned out, the bookies were wrong.
Bellew was smart and sharp early in the fight, his counter right the most effective weapon in the ring. Haye, heavier by over a stone, lurched after the smaller man, every punch labelled “knockout”. Bellew later said that Haye should have labelled them with a first class stamp, as they would have arrived more quickly. And Bellew did seem to see the Hay(e)makers coming, utilising impressive upper body movement to avoid and exhaust Haye. One wonders if Haye knew his time in the ring was limited, and that the knockout must come early, if it was to come at all. The fight was close until the fourth when Haye’s swinging shots finally found their target. Bellew took two heavy hooks to the head. One question was answered that round; Bellew had a chin at heavyweight. But the shots had taken a toll; Bellew began leaning back on his jab and over-reaching with his right. Haye looked to be taking control. Until, of course, his achilles snapped. From the sixth round on, Haye clunked around the ring like a boxing robot being driven by a tiny man at a sparking control panel. Bellew saw it right away. In the replays, his face as Haye’s ankle gives way is comic in its incredulity. So desperate was Bellew to capitalise on his good fortune that he went sprawling onto the canvas in his attempt to punish his rival. But punish him he did. Haye, limping, tumbling, yet somehow still swinging, absorbed an incredible volume of punches as he refused to quit in the face of certain defeat. Bellew would later criticise Haye’s trainer Shane McGuigan, claiming that he implored him to stop the fight after the injury, something which McGuigan did, but not until the 11th round (Haye and McGuigan separated 3 months later).
In May of this year, Sheffield star Kell Brook took a knee, having suffered a fractured eye socket at the hands of Errol Spence Jr. Brook was counted out, and lost his welterweight title. Tony Bellew was scathing in his critique. “We are fighters, warriors, freaks… You have to fight until you have no fight left in you.” By his own standards, Bellew must now have a begrudging respect for David Haye. Haye fought on one leg for almost as long as he fought on two, an astonishing feat, especially for a heavy man. In the post-fight interview, each lauded the other’s abilities and heart in the ring. The bad blood was gone; Bellew had exceeded expectations and declared himself the most valuable heavyweight outside of the champions. Conversely, Haye had been humbled and his career was now in jeopardy.
The respect has carried over, at least superficially, into the buildup for the rematch. There have been no punches thrown, and few verbals exchanged. Haye again predicts a knockout, but while the ex-heavyweight champion remains the favourite, the result is anyone’s guess. The reality is that the outcome of the fight rests solely on David Haye, his ability as a fighter now even more of a mystery than when his comeback began. He will weigh in lighter, in an attempt to minimise the strain on his oft-repaired body. He will be wearing specially designed, achilles-supporting boots. But when the bell rings, will he be the old David Haye, or the old David Haye?
What we do know is this: civilities will break down. Bad blood will rise up once again. Eddie Hearn won’t try to jump on Bellew’s back after the fight. But most importantly, we know that neither man will quit. Neither man will ever quit. And knowing that, we know one more thing, because when two men who don’t know when they’re beaten meet in a ring, it makes for a bloody good knock.