What should we make of Bellew’s defeat of Haye?

I cannot recall when my prediction for a fight was more wrong than it was for David Haye vs Tony Bellew (bizarrely, my partner who has no interest in boxing correctly predicted the result during fight week so perhaps I should have listened to her). I’ve got a lot of time for Bellew; he’s got moxy and heart in abundance, a decent skill set (better than many give him credit for) and he can punch and take a shot. He’s a solidly good fighter in my opinion, but not an elite one. Hence I didn’t think he could do anything to neutralise what Haye would bring with speed, explosiveness, accuracy and a natural weight advantage.

Overall, I stand by my assessment of both fighters and prior to the fight I was confident of a quick KO of Bellew within 3 rounds. Though that prediction was far from realised and at no point in the fight did it look like it would be either. Furthermore, in retrospect, perhaps my assessment of Haye was based on the Haye of yesteryear; not the fighter who had an almost 4 year layoff with consequent ring rust, injuries and (excluding Bellew) has only fought substandard opposition since his return to the sport.

I conceded that Haye’s previous two fights showed us little of how good he still was because they presented such limited challenges in his opponents. And at the back of my mind that was a small question mark over Haye. Nevertheless, I thought it was just a matter of time before he caught Bellew with a big shot, smelt blood and went in for a trademark clinical finish. Yet from the outset, the ending I envisaged became increasingly elusive.

Haye began the fight clearly looking for that big shot but with some untidy and reckless work that reflected clear ring rust. There wasn’t anything clinical about his boxing in the first round that I scored in favour of Bellew. Haye experienced more success in subsequent rounds within the first half of the fight and I scored it accordingly. Although he wasn’t eclipsing Bellew how many expected and the Liverpudlian wasn’t fazed by him either. Bellew took some solid shots from Haye but soaked them up and came back with some of his own. So much so that while Haye was still the favourite for me at this point, I thought a knockdown (where he’d get up to come back and win with a stoppage) might have been forthcoming.

Then, in round six, and ahead on my scorecard, Haye succumbed to an Achilles injury (that was rumoured to be the reason why he made a trip to Munich during fight week) which was probably exacerbated by a poor choice of boxing boots lacking adequate support. At that point, it was clear that the fight was Bellew’s for the taking. In the eleventh round, Haye’s corner did the right thing and Shane McGuigan threw in the towel knowing that not only was his fighter unable to compete until the final bell but that he was unable to win.

We shouldn’t detract from Bellew’s win but unlike many of the casuals and the media, we should be measured in how it’s discussed. Yes, Bellew took Haye’s biggest shots in the first half of the fight and came back with his own. Yes, he wasn’t afraid to trade with an explosive puncher a weight above his own weight class. And yes, he was the victor. For that, we must commend him. Nonetheless, after round 6, Bellew was fighting a man effectively fighting on one leg and therefore unable to unload anything meaningful. While Bellew fought well, he alone didn’t beat Haye; Haye’s injury played its part too.

Bellew and Haye were magnanimous warriors in victory and defeat respectively and it shows why boxing is one of the greatest sports in the world. Boxing is the hurt business but in few sports would you get such vitriolic needle in the build up juxtaposed to such an extent with the sporting behaviour and mutual respect shown by Bellew and Haye. Boxing might be branded a barbaric sport by its detractors. But seeing Bellew help Haye (a man who had made beyond spiteful and offensive utterances to his opponent in the build up) to his corner, while eschewing his team’s efforts to celebrate, showed the level of class Bellew possesses. He isn’t everyone’s cup of tea but the man is a certified gent without a doubt.

Similarly, unlike Haye’s defeat against Wladimir Klitschko, there was no citing of his injury. He rightly gave Bellew unreserved respect and kudos.

So what now for both fighters? Three fights since the return from his layoff and we’re yet to see the Haye we once knew. Has that been purely due to the level of opposition and in his latest fight his injury? Putting the injury aside, the first six rounds against Bellew were his opportunity to show us otherwise and had we seen it, Haye would have likely won the fight. At 36, Haye is running out of time to prove that he can regain his position on the top tier of the heavyweight tree. Has Father Time caught up with Haye or has he just been unlucky? If it’s the former, it could be time to call it a day, safe in the knowledge that he has a legacy as a former unified cruiserweight champion and a former heavyweight champion.

Haye called for a rematch but apparently his team were lukewarm toward the inclusion of a rematch clause in the contract. However, it remains an option for Bellew who before the fight said that he would give Haye a rematch. Bellew has more options in being able to return to cruiserweight to defend his WBC belt or challenge for a heavyweight title as mooted by Eddie Hearn. He could even walk away from the sport having achieved more than he expected and presumably being financially secure.

Eddie Hearn too has shown himself to have played yet another masterstroke as a highly adept promoter with impeccable timing for his fights. He’s also surely full of glee that David Haye seemingly no longer presents any obstacle to the Sky hype machine peddling the story of Anthony Joshua as the world’s greatest heavyweight.

It’s opined by many that Bellew was Eddie Hearn’s fodder for Haye to not only gauge how good the latter was before a potential fight with Joshua but also to stall a fight with the current IBF champion should he get past Klitschko. If the old Haye is still there, he beats Joshua everyday of the week but based on the first half of his fight with Bellew, it’s a much more evenly matched fight.

Bellew deserves the utmost respect in victory and for his post fight conduct towards Haye. But let’s not make more of his win than we should given the circumstances. Haye and his team now need to ask themselves if the loss was a case of bad luck or the tap of Father Time upon Haye’s shoulder. It remains to be seen what the answer is but it’s a question that needs to be answered as Haye assesses his next move in (or out) of the sport.

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