In terms of drama, excitment, and raw emotion, Haye vs Bellew was a classic that will be talked about and debated for years to come. The inordinate bad blood that flowed in the lead up made the stakes involved higher than most world title fights have in recent times. That it also brought the sport into disrepute is a feeling that will not be shared by Eddie Hearn or Sky Sports given the number of PPV buys it undoubtedly generated precisely because of the bad blood and vicious pre-fight rhetoric, most of it from David Haye.
But placing that to one side for a moment, Haye proved beyond doubt that scratch the surface of the playboy image and lifestyle he is known for, you have man with the blood of a warrior flowing through his veins. The way he refused to quit despite carrying a ruptured Achilles for five rounds was unbelievable, with the sight of him hobbling around the ring conjuring the image from ancient history of a Spartan or Roman gladiator for whom death is preferable to surrender.
That said, along with the vast majority of fans, pundits, and former fighters, Haye came into the fight fully expecting to blast his opponent out of there within one or two rounds. It was evident in a performance that calls into question his future in the game. He appeared slower, more ponderous, and one dimensional than the Haye of old, loading up on wild single hooks and right hands, as if expecting Bellew to stand still and take them. It was only when he settled down after the third and started using the jab more prodigiously, particularly to the body, that he began to take the fight and his opponent seriously. He was in control of the fight up until he sustained his Achilles injury in the sxith round, pressing the action and throwing more than Bellew, whose gameplan of avoiding unnecesssary shots and taking the fight into the later rounds was working a treat. He and his coach Dave Coldwell had made no secret of their gameplan, one they’d devised in the belief that Haye would start drowning after four or five rounds. Bellew moved well for those first six rounds, consistently spinning off and away whenever Haye closed the distance. That said, the former cruiserweight and heavyeweight world champion’s habit of following Bellew around the ring instead of cutting him off provided the Liverpudlian and current WBC cruiserweight champion with the opportunity to do so.
Both men started seriously gassing in the second half of the fight. Bellew came close to punching himself out trying to finish Haye in the sixth and seventh rounds, realising he was seriously injured. By this point it was only a matter of time before Bellew’s hand was raised. The sixth was the most explosive of the fight, during which both fighters hit the canvas, Bellew once and Haye twice, though none were ruled knockdowns by the referee. It was now, with Haye injured, that sustained the momentum shifted decisively in Bellew’s favour. From now to the end Haye was reduced to throwing the odd desperate big shot, fuelled by forlorn hope rather than serious intent. The rumours that he may have been carrying an Achilles injury in the final few days prior to the fight looked to have been true. Indeed, watching his ring entrance a second time a slight limp looks apparent as he makes his way to the ring to the trademark seventies disco classic ‘Ain’t No Stopping Us Now’ by McFadden & Whitehead. As he did, Bellew in the ring appeared the most relaxed man in the building, taking the opportunity to have a dance as he waited for his opponent to arrive. This alone should be a YouTube classic.
Shane McGuigan was right to throw in the towel in the eleventh round after Haye fell through the ropes at the end of a Bellew combination. By now he was running on sheer will, courage, and pride, adding a tragic element to the denouement. Only the hardest of hearts could argue that Haye’s warrior courage does not mitigate his distasteful rhetoric during the build-up. But as mentioned, the harsh reality is that however distasteful and vicious Haye’s verbiage it sold the fight as no other fight has been sold in Britain in recent years, perhaps with the exception of the Froch vs Groves rematch. In this regard we’re all culpable when it comes to a sport that all too often plumbs depths of indecency that no sport should ever be permitted to. Having made that point, however, boxing is the only sport that reaquaints us with animal instincts that have been blunted after centuries of civilisation and culture. Those instincts see the most base and virtuous aspects of the human condition laid bare, which is what makes boxing so compelling.
When it comes to David Haye the burning question has now been answered. Though he was in control of the fight before his Achilles went, he is not the fighter of old. His speed, timing, and agility even prior to the injury were noticeably diminished compared to the peak model of old. His body is now breaking down in the face of the rigours of too many training camps. Haye was never a natural heavyweight, which means that the wear and tear sustained after consistently sparring and fighting proper heavyweights has taken a grievous toll. Though along with Tony Bellew, Haye talked up the prospect of a rematch during the post fight interviews, there will likely not be a huge appetite to see one.
As for Tony Bellew, the big Liverpudlian and Evertonian has made a career out of proving the army of naysayers where he’s concerned wrong. Though in defeating Haye he beat a man who was reduced to hobbling around on one leg for five rounds, Haye was gracious enough in defeat not to enter the injury as an excuse for the loss, and neither should anybody else. Haye was expected to roll over Tony Bellew in one or two rounds. That he failed to was in itself a victory for a fighter was was giving away a stone in bodyweight.
Bellew’s gesture immediately after the fight was stopped in shoving promoter Eddie Hearn away in order to minister to Haye
should see him elevated to cult status even in the eyes of his detractors.