How did this happen?
THE foundations of the bitter rivalry between David Haye and Tony Bellew are still a little unclear. There are old sparring tales and countless barbs have been traded but, quite simply, this is about money.
Sky Sports Box Office will broadcast on pay-per-view and the O2 Arena in London will be packed out when they clash on March 4 next year; both men will earn a lot of cash, and good on ‘em.
Bellew first called out Haye after winning the vacant WBC cruiserweight title in May – an emphatic win over Ilunga Makabu. Then in October, Bellew launched himself at Haye after flattening BJ Flores, sparking huge interest in the pair fighting each other. Last week it was confirmed Bellew will move up to heavyweight, where Haye now operates, for the fight. Haye was on course for a world title shot while Bellew already is a champion in the division below – but neither man would find a bigger financial reward outside of this fight in their immediate future.
Why it’s a good fight?
PHYSICALLY, there’s not much between them. With similarities in height and reach, the main difference is the fact Haye – a former two-weight world champion – now boxes around the 225lb mark, while Bellew only moved to cruiserweight from light-heavy in 2014. However, Bellew was a successful amateur as a heavyweight and, like Haye, carries destructive power. Theoretically, the fight could end at any point; both men can be hurt but both are also very dangerous. If underdog Bellew can take the fight past five rounds, things could become interesting given Haye’s lengthy layoff, which only ended in January. Outside of the fight itself, the build-up will be unmissable. Both have the gift of the gab and there’s no love lost. Strap yourselves in, folks.
Why it’s a bad fight?
BELLEW hasn’t fought at heavyweight as a professional, while Haye has won a world title there. Even at cruiserweight, Haye’s achievements outshine Tony’s as he won the WBC, WBA and WBO belts. On paper, Haye also seems to hold all the advantages given his speed, power and size. He is more adept at the weight and it’s unlikely Bellew will weigh in 20lbs heavier than he did for his last fight. Haye himself has not fought anything remotely close to a decent opponent since he ended his retirement earlier this year, and it could transpire that he is not the force he once was. Beating the smaller Bellew is unlikely to enhance his reputation as a heavyweight given it’s widely expected, and Tony’s 200lb title will be inactive for a while now.
What they say
HAYE – “The public demand for me to violently knockout Tony Bellew was simply too strong. The country is fed up of his constant yapping. Even in his home town of Liverpool, I would be stopped in the street by people begging me to spectacularly send him into retirement. Bellew is completely delusional if he thinks he can beat me.”
BELLEW – “I’ve backed him into a corner, left him nowhere to go, and now I have what I want. I’m not under any illusions, I know exactly what I am going up against, it’s big risk, big reward. I cop him with my best punch, he’s going to sleep. He cops me with his best punch, more than likely I am going to sleep too. If it comes down to a question of heart and determination I win hands down.”
BELLEW’S trainer, Dave Coldwell, was once a part of Haye’s camp. Coldwell, though never Haye’s lead trainer, worked with the Londoner for numerous big fights and developed deep insight into how he operates. Such knowledge could prove useful as he prepares Tony for this March clash. Bellew also claims he dominated Haye during a sparring session 11 years ago, forcing David – then a professional, while Bellew was still an amateur – to cut the sparring short. Haye refutes those claims, though. Tony’s camp also allege that Haye tried to persuade Bellew to appear on one of his undercards, rather than fight for the European title last year, which lead to a dispute. The pair have never seen eye to eye.
Lessons from history
We don’t need to look far for an example of a cruiserweight champion moving to heavyweight; Haye did it in 2008, though his foray into the division was against Monte Barrett, who he stopped in five. He then dethroned the gigantic WBA champion Nikolai Valuev before eventually losing to Wladimir Klitschko. Evander Holyfield is the benchmark when it comes to cruisers moving up, though champions like Marco Huck have failed to prosper at the higher weight. In terms of the history of Haye and Bellew, the former has won three high-profile domestic grudge matches – against Enzo Maccarinelli, Audley Harrison and Dereck Chisora – in explosive fashion. Bellew himself earned revenge over bitter domestic rival Nathan Cleverly in 2014.
What happens next?
WHATEVER happens, Bellew will still be the WBC cruiserweight champion. Should he lose, it seems likely he will return to that weight where he has a mandatory challenger in the form of Mairis Briedis. However he prefers the thought of unification fights with Denis Lebedev and Oleksandr Usyk. For the victor, a summer clash with IBF heavyweight champion Anthony Joshua looks likely. Haye-Bellew is generating huge interest and, with Joshua regularly boxing on Sky Sports Box Office, a meeting with the winner would have huge crossover appeal. Certainly, a fight with Joshua is top of Haye’s wish list and should he beat Bellew, he’d become a top pick for the unbeaten champion. In their respective positions, a loss would be much more damaging for Haye than for Bellew.