It was the easiest thing in the world to completely write off Tony Bellew coming into this fight with David Haye. For all his trash talk and the enormity of the drama that led to it, it was Haye’s supremacy over the years that had led to belts at cruiserweight and heavyweight. This certainly gave him the psychological edge over an opponent who had not fought in the heavyweight division since his amateur days.
It began at the weigh-in, when Haye registered a colossal 16st 3lb, an entire stone heavier than his 15st 3lb counterpart. The removal of clothing revealed Haye (a vegan dieter) to be in seemingly formidable form, pecs and abs rippled and ready. By contrast, the Liverpudlian Bellew appeared less so. A less than washboard stomach and not-so bulging pecs; a social media popular “dad bod” idea if ever there was one. Though Tyson Fury proclaimed to Wladimir Klitschko that “you let a fat man beat ya” and it should have been remembered where Haye and Bellew were concerned.
Stunning it may seem that Bellew upset Haye on the London stage. But is it so? Even with the odds stacked against him, and views aplenty were that he would need a ‘perfect fight‘ in order to beat Haye, Bellew nonetheless demonstrated composure in bountiful amounts to outfight his opponent.
It has been four years since Haye exited the ring. Since his comeback last January, he has registered two fights, against straightforward opposition, before being called out by Bellew. It is certain that Haye was suffering from rustiness, four years after his last major showdown against Dereck Chisora at Upton Park. His comebacks lasted all of two full rounds and as much as he may claim to be in form and ready, his opponents of late – Mark de Mori and Arnold Gjergjaj – were straightforward bypasses to ease him into the ring again. Neither posed a threat to him, even slightly and were not an ample warmup to the threat Bellew evidently posed.
The fight itself then. It had every making of what we hoped it would be. A pure slug fest built on mutual dislike between the two rivals. No belts at stake. Just bragging rights.
Round 1 and Haye came out of the traps quicker. His notorious overhand eager to bring ‘The Bomber’ down at first glance. Bellew, though less aggressive, demonstrated some excellent reading of the swings and jabs to dodge most, even finding tiny opportunities to jab back at Haye’s lunging figure. In truth, Haye was out for blood, where Bellew was out to win. Therein lies the difference.
To look at Haye, there was tactical style about his boxing, but it was overshadowed by his hot blooded approach in the opening rounds. He was very vocal about the harm he hoped to cause Bellew in the days leading up to the fight and set out to make it happen within seconds of the first bell. His eagerness to prove a point completely overruled his ability as a methodical boxer. In doing this, he lost control of his attack and even worse perhaps, fail to bring Bellew down as he planned.
Haye’s injury in the sixth proved an enormous turning point. A slip off his back foot and his Achilles gave way, subsequently found to be ruptured. His mobility, of which he is so reliant, was gone and he was left to lumber. So many observers would have been yelling at Bellew to ‘finish him’ while he was down. But he was not down, and even before the injury, the judges had Bellew ahead on points and rounds.
Bellew was clever. Trying to get near a wounded Haye would be like poking a sleeping dragon in the eye. Immobile, but still extremely dangerous. So Bellew was patient, he jabbed, he defended, he dodged and he waited. Haye put up an enormous show of dogged defensive work and bravery to carry the fight a further five rounds before succumbing to his injuries. Bellew saw opportunities to pick away at the Londoner’s defences, but was looking to win in whatever way he could, not necessarily with a blaze of glory.
The final rounds were more of a focus on damage limitation. Haye’s foot injury was obvious and hindered him significantly, and Bellew was later found to have broken a bone in his hand. There was even a point at which Bellew was revealed to be mouthing ‘stop’ to Haye, evidently in knowledge of Haye’s injury getting him into serious trouble. Haye, ever the defiant, struggled on for merely seconds.
Exhaustion had set in for both, the enormity of the occasion had caught up with them, and their will to beat each other was all that has kept them going until the eleventh round, when Haye’s corner finally threw in the towel for their broken fighter.
Bellew will now search out Deontay Wilder as he looks to finish his boxing career on a high, having indicated he is within the last 12 months of his career. As for Haye, his pride is certainly in tatters, and his career now may very well be too. His vociferous insistence that he would retire before his 31st birthday may well have been a decision he should have stuck to…