April 30, 2018
April 30, 2018
Tony Bellew

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BACK in February there was a press conference at a London hotel and during this press conference some in attendance diverted their eyes away from two heavyweight boxers and focused instead on two women at a third floor window who danced for them and toyed with the room’s curtain as though competing for the role of magician’s assistant.

They waited for the big reveal.

It never came.

The troublemaking pair were content to pose, flirt, giggle and look down on people – some holding notebooks and Dictaphones, some holding cameras and phones – who’d decided to turn up at a luxury hotel to watch a couple of blokes talk about fighting each other and, if they were lucky, actually fight each other. Then, five minutes later, the women disappeared.

It was rude of us to only half listen to Tony Bellew’s valiant attempts to get something out of an uncharacteristically subdued and agreeable David Haye. But, frankly, the thrill had gone. The excitement was no longer at the top table, once a hub of danger and disaster, but instead located on floor three of the Park Plaza in the shape of the blonde and the brunette.

Snappers snapped, the rest laughed, and the two fighters in the midst of small talk were oblivious to what was going on behind them. They probably still are. But thunder was being stolen and it was being stolen because the ‘Bomber’ and ‘Hayemaker’ shtick, set to climax on Saturday (May 5) at London’s O2 Arena, seemed in need of a fresh layer of paint, if not a complete renovation.

Tony Bellew on David Haye

Were the two ladies really that amusing? Were their antics really that exciting? Or did weak attention spans have more to do with the peculiar impasse playing out on the top table? That is to say, were daydreamers captivated by the amateur dramatics of two hotel employees (an assumption) because it was undeniably more fun and unpredictable than the amateur dramatics of the two heavyweight boxers for whom selling their fight, their rematch, had become old hat?

Possibly.

What we can say for certain is the rematch between Tony Bellew and David Haye lacks the fire and spice of their first encounter and will need to ignite this week – the week in which the roadshow heads to Liverpool – if it’s to be a similar success. Bellew is still Bellew, he’s playing his part just fine, but Haye has decided against being Haye for chapter two, much to the detriment of the overall plot, and has subsequently left us stranded in a sort of prizefighting purgatory.

It’s a prizefight, yes, and these two men are unapologetically fighting for a prize. (Good for them. They’ve had tough, successful careers and deserve to make money together.) But what’s so strange about Bellew vs. Haye II is it somehow seems less sure of itself than it was first time around and even then, even the original, was a fight few had called for, much less anticipated happening, and was fought at a weight, heavyweight, which appeared unnatural for both. There was no title on the line. It wasn’t an eliminator. It was (wrongly) deemed a mismatch.

Yet still it went ahead, still they united to flog a pay-per-view event, and still it carried bite. They hated each other. They called each other names. There was even a punch thrown at a press conference. Was Haye, now 37, as shot as Bellew claimed? Or would Haye deliver on his promise of sending Bellew to hospital? Some people wanted to know.

Looking back, it was a fight you watched the way you’d watch your significant other’s favourite reality TV show. You weren’t proud of it. You’d lost control of the remote. But, after a few rounds, it grabbed your attention and, so long as nobody else saw you taking a peek, you may even have allowed yourself to enjoy it.

In the end, there was no need to fear. Bellew was a revelation; Haye was braver than he’d ever been.

Tony Bellew

Now, more than a year on, we’re still waiting for the rematch to take place, we’re still listening to them talk, and we’re still without the answer to a question few possess the energy to actually ask: Would Tony Bellew have beaten David Haye if David Haye’s Achilles tendon didn’t rupture in round six?

On paper, it’s as good a reason as any for two heavyweights to renew acquaintances. But what must also be taken into account is the fact rivalries, like boxers, have a shelf life. Capitalise on momentum, make the most of it, and you’re on to a winner. Outstay your welcome, however, and you stand to not only lose interest but have the once-interested scratching their heads and trying to recall why they previously cared.

Therein lies the problem. I’m not sure Bellew vs. Haye II is a good or important enough fight to stand alone if they don’t hate each other, don’t call each other names, and don’t make threats and throw punches at press conferences. Nor do I think the mystery surrounding the significance of an injury in relation to the result of a non-title fight few demanded is strong enough, 14 months later, to make the narrative all that compelling.

I’m not sure they do, either. In February, for instance, both looked as though they wanted to be elsewhere. Bellew wanted to be at home with his wife and kids; Haye wanted to be at a wellness retreat in Goa.

The media, too, were engaged only for as long as it took them to realise the dynamic between the two had shifted from fight one to two and that this time, unlike at previous press conferences, there would be no material to label ‘beef’.

Then they watched two women at a window.

Aware of the plot twist, it was left to Eddie Hearn, Bellew’s promoter, and Adam Morallee, Haye’s lawyer, to do the grunt work on the fighters’ behalf.

“That night in December could have potentially been the last night in his [Bellew’s] career, but now everything has completely changed,” Hearn said. “Tony Bellew has decided he wants to carry on. He knows the big fights are out there beyond this fight with David Haye. The Andre Ward fight; fights at heavyweight as well. But of course we have a very difficult fight to overcome.

“When we had the first press conference for the rematch, I talked about how I hoped we would win. This time we believe we’re going to win and now, sitting here, I know we’re going to win this fight.

“You have two very different men at very different stages in their career. You have a former cruiserweight and heavyweight world champion who delivered so much for the sport of boxing, and you have a cruiserweight world champion.

“It comes down to desire and heart. I’ve not really met anyone with more desire and heart than Tony Bellew, and when the going gets tough on May 5, I feel like there’s only one winner. I just don’t know how much David Haye wants it. He’s a brilliant fighter, but, deep down, when it really gets tough, I don’t know if the heart and desire still exists.”

Then it was the turn of Adam Morallee, whose monologue was less of a rallying cry and more of a prolonged shoulder massage.

“I’m a firm believer that you grow from your struggles and you grow from things that have gone wrong,” he said. “Back in November, David was looking in phenomenal shape and had an unfortunate injury.

“He’s back on it and David’s now looking lean, mean. When Eddie talks about desire, I see this guy every day. I see what he eats. I see what he does. I see what he puts himself through.

“I’ve heard a few things Tony has said about the real David and whether the real David is going to come out. I can assure you David certainly doesn’t listen to me or anyone else. He does what he wants to do and he’s not faking it. He is who he is. And he’s not inspired by animosity. He doesn’t need animosity or another guy to wind him up or get him going.”

Tony Bellew

Bellew tried. He tried to get him going, he tried to spark the thing into life, but Haye, having seen his bad guy card expire in 2017, was left with no option but to come over all reformed, humbled and philosophical, and nobody, as a result, got anywhere fast. Bellew, direct and honest, has just the one gear, and was out there doing his best Tony Bellew impression, while Haye, a chameleon, a man of many masks, could see every one of Bellew’s swings coming and was seemingly content to duck and dive.

Still, from what we could gather, the main Bellew bugbears were as follows:

1. Rather than damned with faint praise, he wanted to be told by Haye that his win last March was null and void. He wanted to know it irked him and that a need for revenge fuelled Hayemaker 3.0 ahead of the rematch.

Instead, Bellew got nothing of the sort. He was told by Haye he was the winner, fair and square, and was assured there was no resentment or bitterness.

“I love you,” Haye said.

On reflection, perhaps the manner of victory doesn’t sit right with Bellew, someone who associates victory with seeing his opponent horizontal on the canvas; someone who had the chance to do something similar to Haye but, with a damaged hand, allowed himself to get overexcited and stifled a lot of his own work. Maybe it’s Bellew rather than Haye who has an issue with the first fight and needs this rematch to set some sort of record straight. If that’s true, if it serves as motivation, so be it. It’s certainly the angle that interests me the most.

2. Another Bellew bugbear concerned the loss of time. With this, you can only sympathise. Bellew, after all, is a fighter who prefers to stay active and Haye’s troublesome body hasn’t allowed him to do that. (Haye said the payday received from fighting him, not once but twice, will compensate for time spent on the couch, but that’s kind of beside the point.)

Unlike Haye, Bellew started this rivalry as a world champion and a cruiserweight, a man in his fighting prime. Yet now, more than a year on, he is a 35-year-old without a title, he is a makeshift heavyweight, and he has joined Haye’s headspace and speaks with the equanimity of someone who has secured his family’s future and might not have many miles left to run.

Moreover, time seems all the more precious when you look at his old cruiserweight division and see the fun those guys are having in the World Boxing Super Series. The praise they are getting; the un-cruiserweight like money they are receiving.

It emerged too late for ‘The Bomber’, unfortunately, but I’d be lying if I said I didn’t sometimes (admittedly, not that often) picture the former WBC champion opposing Messrs Usyk, Gassiev, Dorticos and Briedis. Back then, for such risky assignments, he might have been underpaid. He might still be underpaid. But there would at least be a point to it all. There would be forward motion. It would mean something. (Bellew, don’t forget, is still undefeated at 200 pounds.)

In a sense, then, David Haye is Tony Bellew’s woman at the window. He caught his eye. He grabbed his attention. He distracted him. And now, having spent so long waiting for the reveal (definitive victory), Bellew’s in deep, he’s invested, he’s preparing for part two of what Haye would like to be a dubious trilogy, and he’s resigned to following through with it, getting well-paid for it and, if he and Haye feel generous and remain hungry enough, delivering a fight as thrilling and dramatic as their first.

Only then will we stop watching women play hide-and-seek at the window and understand why Tony Bellew and David Haye have become the unlikeliest of heavyweight rivals.

Show, don’t tell.