With less than a week to go before David Haye and Tony Bellew step into the ring at the O2 Arena in London to settle accounts in one of the most bitter grudge fights British boxing has seen in some time, the cultural and lifestyle differences between both fighters could not be more stark.
While Haye has made the luxurious environs of South Beach, Miami a feature of his training camp, tirelessly posting pics and videos of himself cavorting around a luxury yacht, where he claims he’s spent much of his time training, or on the beach meditating and relaxing between sessions, or hanging out with various celebrity friends, Bellew has emphasised his working class down to earth roots, his love of family and Everton FC, while training in the cold and rain of Rotherham in the accustomed manner, suffering for his craft as he batters and bludgeons his body and mind into shape for, this, the biggest test of his career.
It has been a study in contrast that has added even more anticipation to a fight that really didn’t need any, given the river of bad blood that exists between both men.
Of the two, Haye’s preparations have left fans and pundits guessing. From the pictures and videos posted on social media, the impression given is that of someone who’s spent the winter enjoying an extended trip to a luxury health farm, living it up at the beach and on a luxury yacht, where we’ve seen him sitting in a jacuzzi sipping protein shakes from a cocktail glass. The images offend the conventional and purist belief in professional boxing as an exercise in self denial, wherein success in the ring is measured by the amount of pain and hardship and suffering a fighter is able to endure. Fighters preparing for the ring, especially a fight of his magnitude, are meant to avoid luxury and comfort as a vampire avoids daylight, knowing it can only weaken the resolve, dedication, and single minded ferocity that are non-negotiable requirements of their physical and psychological makeup.
But has Haye, with the beachboy image that he’s cultivated leading up to this fight, only succeeded in pulling the wool over people’s eyes, engaging in the art of mind games with all his posing and cavorting in Miami? The answer is undeniably yes. Make no mistake, the 36 year old ‘Bitch from Bermondsey’ will have trained like the proverbial beast for this fight, using the warm weather to his advantage for the purposes of recovery and keeping his core body temperature at the optimum level when it comes to conditioning. Pics of his chiselled physique tell their own story, though Haye knows as much as anyone that what goes on inside the squared circle has nothing to do with rippling muscles and everything to do with skill, speed, power, movement, and conditioning.
On paper, in every one of those categories, Haye is superior. He’s faster, hits harder, moves better, and has more variety to his game. Not that Tony Bellew is a mug. Far from it. The cruiserweight world champion is a fighter’s fighter, a man who wears his heart on his sleeve and has made a habit of proving the naysayers and doubters wrong. He is as tough and as durable as they come, willing to go to places most are not in order to win. But his style could not be better made for David Haye. He stands tall, has a habit of letting his hands drop, and when the leather starts flying he often lapses into the habit of coming forward in front of his jab rather than behind it.
That said, Bellew is right in claiming that he will be Haye’s toughest test in many years, something which he and Dave Coldwell, his friend and trainer, believe will be a crucial factor. Both do not believe that Haye has enough in the tank to go beyond four rounds and maintain the pace and intensity that Bellew intends to bring. They are also right in citing the fact that by the time Haye dispatched Derek Chisora in the 5th round of their clash back in 2012, he was tiring. But Haye will be coming in considerably lighter for this fight, and is clearly as motivated as he’s ever been. His oft repeated assertion that Bellew will be carried out on a stretcher, as distasteful and unbecoming such rhetoric may be, is no empty boast. Haye is coming into this fight with the intention of doing damage.
What people seem to underestimate when it comes to David Haye, perhaps understandably given his love of the limelight and celebrity lifestyle, is how tough he is. Aggressive opponents such as Chisora and Bellew seem to bring out a mean side in him that contradicts the cultivated and urbane image he’s gone out of his way to present over the years. On the contrary, Haye revels in these types of grudge matches, and despite the trash talk that comes his way when they come up, he is never phased or intimidated.
Tony Bellew’s key to winning is his ability to take Haye’s best shots and to keep coming forward, setting a relentless pace that his opponent isn’t comfortable with. Keeping him on the back foot and finding the opportunity to fire that ferocious left hook he carries will be on his mind from the opening bell. Haye, meanwhile, will be looking to employ lateral movement to nullify Bellew’s pressure, looking for angles and gaps, of which he and McGuigan are confident will be plentiful.
Haye’s power, how Bellew copes with it, will be the most important single factor in determining the outcome to proceedings on March 4. If Haye starts firing and Bellew doesn’t go anywhere, it could be the longest night of David Haye’s career in many a year. With Bellew also carrying some serious juice in his hands, this has all the hallmarks of a ferocious contest.
When it ends, however it ends, let’s hope the only stretcher involved is the one needed to carry home the pile of money each fighter is set to walk away with – money that even if this contest comes close to living up to the hype will be more than deserved.