Not long ago, the idea of a fight between Tony Bellew and David Haye seemed farfetched to say the least. Bellew was just another contender amongst the Cruiserweight ranks, a polarizing figure that somewhat unfairly, had probably been dismissed more times than his credentials really warranted. He’d been far from unsuccessful as a pro but on his biggest nights thus far, ‘The Bomber’ had likely underwhelmed the already skeptical general public. Nonetheless, Bellew kept at it and eventually, landed the fight of his dreams and one that in hindsight, would catapult him to a whole new level.
Fighting at his home stadium of Goodison Park, Bellew took on Ilunga Makabu in a dangerous clash for the vacant WBC crown. To the surprise of some, Bellew overcame an early knockdown to bounce back with a vicious 3rd round knockout win. It was almost too good to be true, the Hollywood finish to Bellew’s journey to the gold. However, in reality it isn’t quite as simple as rolling credits whilst you hoist the belt above your head. Instead, Bellew had to figure out what was next and moreover, how he’d ever top the fight night of his dreams.
Fortunately, a former Cruiserweight kingpin was in the midst of his latest comeback. Whilst inactive for much of that time, David Haye had been a Heavyweight since late 2008 and now looked to regain the sport’s greatest prize after a long list of injury issues. In fact, just 8 days prior to that Makabu win, ‘The Hayemaker’ had won his 2nd comeback fight, finishing an overmatched foe in an exercise unlikely to have removed much ring rust. Never afraid to speak his mind, Bellew took some shots at the event and though it may have seemed harmless at the time, laid the groundwork for their now famed rivalry.
That now publicized conflict would escalate dramatically in Bellew’s next fight too, with him dominating Haye’s personal friend BJ Flores before a post-fight confrontation stole the headlines. ‘The Bomber’ unleashed a verbal tirade on Haye and bizarrely, a Heavyweight fight between the two suddenly seemed to make perfect sense. For Haye, it was a major fight that supposedly came with minimal risk. Many onlookers saw it as an easy win for him which considering the public’s interest, seemingly made it the perfect next step before returning to title contention.
For Bellew, it was the kind of marquee event that would secure him a next level payday and whilst the challenge was an undeniably tough one, he had been the more active fighter and as a natural Cruiserweight, he could perhaps limit Haye’s usually natural speed advantage. The pre-fight discussions were endless but when it came to the actual fight, most analysts came to a confident conclusion: Haye would win quickly, decisively and for some, violently. As we now all know though, all of those perceptions would quickly vanish once the first bell rung.
Perhaps overeager and lacking in rhythm, Haye failed to finish his unruffled and poised foe before in round 6, suffering an injury that would change things dramatically. Just as Bellew once predicted, Haye’s body had failed him and a snapped Achilles left him damaged in the heat of battle. Unsurprisingly, Bellew took over from there, eventually stopping the valiant Haye in round 11. The fight’s story had been a mixed one, through his courage Haye had regained the public’s respect but in victory, Bellew had shocked the boxing world. However, questions remained.
Had Haye’s injury gifted Bellew his win or on the other hand, had it simply stolen a more definitive finish from him. From the outset, Bellew’s plan had always been to drag Haye into deep waters and at the half-way point, he’d done just that. It’s hard to take anything away from Bellew considering that but it also feels dishonest to put a bow on the bout without mentioning that dramatic Haye injury. One thing is for sure though, Bellew left the ring that night a winner and that in itself always deserves credit.
Fortunately, or unfortunately depending on Saturday’s result, Bellew now has the chance to put those questions to rest. In a rematch fourteen months after their memorable first encounter, Bellew looks to prove that in this particular stylistic matchup, he is the winner…injury or not. It’s hard to imagine a world in which Haye doesn't return with a vengeance though and considering that, Bellew likely puts that a lot on the line in this highly anticipated rematch.
Perceptions can change quickly in a sport as violent as boxing and for Bellew, a short night in Haye’s favor could bring back all of those dismissive opinions from years ago. Then again, a conclusive win would cement ‘The Bomber’s prior achievements whilst also furthering his undeniable knack of overachievement, a growing trend quite admirable in its startling scale.
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