This Saturday night amidst the electric atmosphere of the O2 Arena in London, a heavyweight clash that has grown with intrigue will unfold before British boxing fans.
Written off as a mismatch when the fight was made back in November, David Haye’s non-title fight with Tony Bellew has since captivated the public’s imagination. Seasoned puncher Haye remains the clear favourite, but as time has passed by, a series of factors have fuelled optimism for Bellew’s chances.
Now thirty-six years of age, former cruiserweight and heavyweight world champion Haye carries more bulk and a noticeably less-toned physique, while a three-and-a-half-year hiatus from the ring was only broken by two appearances against poor opposition in 2016. It’s now almost five years since Haye last had a competitive fight, a fifth-round knockout of Dereck Chisora in July 2012. To effectively take five years off in your thirties, there can be no telling what remains of the fighter Haye once was until the opening bell rings on Saturday.
By contrast, current WBC Cruiserweight champion Bellew is in the form of his life. No spring chicken himself at thirty-four, the rambunctious Scouser has been active and rides into the bout on an eight-fight winning streak since moving up from light-heavy, where he last tasted defeat at the hands of Adonis Stevenson. Six of those wins have ended inside the distance, including the knockout of Ilunga Makubu at Goodison Park that landed Bellew his world title. With Haye still holding a reputation as a fighter with vulnerable whiskers, there is a growing perception that Bellew has the archetypal puncher’s chance if nothing else.
But are those believers merely victims of the hype?
Mixing two personalities who are guaranteed to engage in a pre-fight melee, Matchroom Boxing supremo Eddie Hearn was shrewd in putting together this pay-per-event which is sure to deliver viewing figures on Sky Sports Box Office. The action inside the ring should deliver too; both men carry genuine fight-ending power and each has a track-record of (mostly) compelling encounters. But that, coupled with the doubt over which David Haye will show up on the night, have served to cover the fact that on paper, the fight remains a misalliance.
Bellew may be the same height as Haye and look to have a similar frame, but the Londoner possesses a four-inch reach advantage and the weight difference that the two men have competed at throughout their professional careers is significant. The Liverpudlian’s first twenty-three professional fights came at 175lbs and although a move to 200lbs has seen Bellew claim a world title, that was the weight at which Haye was a unified world-ruler. Haye moved up to heavyweight in 2008 and has campaigned at a fighting weight of around 220lbs since and until as recently as 2013, was roughly 45lbs heavier than his rival. Perhaps more telling, that’s 45lbs heavier than men who have sent Bellew to the canvas.
At light heavyweight, Bellew was twice put-down heavily in a Commonwealth title fight with Ovill McKenzie before rallying to win on points while his only stoppage defeat came at the hands of the aforementioned Stevenson, who ended Tony’s second world title challenge in brutal fashion. Stevenson is admittedly a huge puncher, but that power is only relative when you compare it to Haye’s. Despite the protestation of many that Haye has done relatively little since arriving at heavyweight, the dynamite in his fists was enough to shake the 7’0” Nikolai Valuev and he remains the only man to score a clean KO of the tough-chinned Dereck Chisora.
Quite simply, Haye has the power to put out the lights of any fighter, at any weight, if he lands a flush power shot. Sure Bellew can punch, but the evidence to suggest so has come against men who are naturally smaller than himself, and some of those men held the power advantage in the fight.
The one time Haye suffered a professional stoppage defeat came against Carl Thompson in 2004 and owes much to the reason why many consider Haye to be a ‘chinny’ fighter. It’s a reputation that on reflection seems somewhat harsh however, given that Haye was an eleven-fight novice at that stage and was well in control of the fight before his gas tank emptied, from where the veteran Thompson seized his opportunity and after flooring Haye, stopped the fatigued 24-year-old on his feet.
With the benefit of experience and greater conditioning, Haye has since gone the twelve-round distance with a prime Wladimir Klitschko.
Only a foolish man would write Tony Bellew off in this fight, and there is plausible train of thought that if he can weather an early Haye storm, Bellew could take control of his heavier opponent in the later rounds. He first has to make it to those rounds however and there is an unnerving feeling that at any point from rounds one to six, Haye could end the fight with a single shot.
To reference the Chisora fight, Haye is a man who excels when fighting with bad intentions. He’ll no doubt be hell-bent on taking Bellew out early and there is little evidence to suggest anything other than a David Haye victory inside the distance, which should arrive within the first four rounds of the fight.
Haye by KO/TKO in rounds 1-4