IT would be easy to talk about how much a 37-year-old David Haye has regressed, and mention how he didn’t do what he said he’d do, and encourage him – beg him – to retire. But tonight (May 5) is all about Tony Bellew. Or at least it should be all about Tony Bellew.
“Not bad for a little, fat, mouthy Scouser,” he says, over and over again, to such an extent people mock him for it, yet Bellew was tonight better than “not bad”. He was “not bad” last March, when capitalising on a Haye injury in round six to knock him through the ropes in round 11, but for four-and-a-half rounds at London’s O2 Arena this evening he was so much more than that.
Haye was (supposedly) fit this time. Lighter, too. There was no sudden Achilles rupture midway through the fight. Instead, Bellew was able to draw the lethargic leads from Haye early, use quicker hands to get the better of the exchanges, and then explode with big shots in round three, a round in which Haye was dropped not once but twice.
The fight, at that point, with Haye essentially saved by the bell, was as good as over. Haye bravely got to his feet, and seemed bothered by a foot problem, but his biggest issue, more than any physical deficiency, was getting out the way of Bellew’s left hooks and right crosses. Reflexes gone, the Londoner was a static target whenever Bellew bit down and let his hands go. He was hurt when they brushed him; he was dropped when they landed clean.
The finish eventually arrived in round five. It came following a brutal hook in the centre of the ring, which dramatically spun Haye’s head around and folded him, and a follow-up assault forced referee Howard Foster to intervene. It was a perfect stoppage. It rubberstamped Bellew’s win, removing the question marks that blighted his first victory in March, and may well have ended Haye’s career.
But back to Bellew. Easy to forget he’s 35 years of age, only a couple of years younger than Haye. He’s fresher, of course, and his body’s a lot more reliable, but he’s nearing the end of his own illustrious career and is honest about the fact, too. Rather than kid anyone with talk of legacy or “pride fights”, the Liverpudlian is refreshingly candid about his desire for money fights and the need to secure his family’s future and take the necessary risks to do so.
Better yet, he then gets in the ring and does it. He does the job. He does the job when he doesn’t want to do the job – when tragedy blackens his personal life – and he does the job even when people say he is not fit to do the job and when he himself admits he’s not quite the fighter he used to be (in athletic terms anyway).
We know now that Tony Bellew, 30-2-1 (20), is good enough. He’s good enough to convincingly beat this faded version of David Haye and, who knows, he may even have been good enough to beat the version of Haye that ruled the cruiserweight division circa-2008.
Because, make no mistake, Bellew can fight. His technical skills and ring IQ are underrated and his heart and punch power would bail him out even if tactics failed. A little, fat, mouthy Scouser? Yes, perhaps. But he’s that and a whole lot more.
A final note on David Haye. Sure, he has regressed – depressingly so. He shouldn’t have been boxing tonight and he shouldn’t have been boxing last March, either. But he did. For whatever reason, he did. He dragged himself through it and he lost – twice. He has been fighting, in fact, against the wishes of some, since a third retirement in 2013, and it has been hard to watch. The soporific wins were hard to watch. The losses were definitely hard to watch. But he fights because it’s all he knows and because it’s what he wants to do and, even if you question the sanity of this decision, it’s hard not to at least respect the determination. He was also once brilliant at it.
In 2008, for instance, he sauntered through the O2 Arena, the venue of tonight’s drama, and looked like a man who knew, beyond any doubt, he was going to blitz Enzo Maccarinelli as soon as he hit him clean with a well-timed right hand. When McFadden & Whitehead’s ‘Ain’t No Stoppin’ Us Now’ reached its climax, he smiled, soaked up the atmosphere, and then climbed inside the ring, spooked a shell-shocked Maccarinelli in round one, and proceeded to bludgeon him with a series of vicious rights in round two. It was as easy and swift as he said it would be. He was as sharp and as fast and as powerful as he claimed to be. There really was no stoppin’ him.
But that was over 10 years ago. Enzo Maccarinelli, a content man of 37, is now two years retired and trains kids at his boxing gymnasium in Wales. He hasn’t made a fraction of the money Haye has banked from professional boxing, nor shares the same kind of fame, but he seems satisfied and happy and balanced all the same.
I’m sure, despite this, he has days when he regrets the way certain aspects of his career turned out. I’m sure, on rarer occasions, he watches cruiserweights on television and thinks to himself, “Yeah, I could probably beat that guy even now.” The Welshman, though, has made the transition. His body went first; his mind then followed. In the end, he knew it was time. He moved on. Settled down.
Tonight David Haye played the part of the David Haye who walked to the ring that night in 2008. He had all the props: the venue, the theme tune, the shorts (back to the Union Jack), the smile. Yet it was all an illusion. So much was missing. So much time had passed. And tomorrow and next week it will be the job of Haye’s so-called ‘A-Team’ – the latest band of ‘yes men’ responsible for whipping Haye into “career-best shape” – to do the right thing and say the right things and remind a gutsy, proud and stubborn former two-weight world champion – who has nothing left to prove, by the way – that there is more to life than prizefighting and pretending.
For that to happen, this was probably the way it had to end.
Nobody ever wanted to see David Haye, 28-4 (26), off the pace and flattened the way he was tonight, but, without that image, without that feeling of being chopped down to size by a natural cruiserweight, who was ever going to wake up, let alone speak up?