By Alex Beard (@alex_beard17)
Tony Bellew will move up in weight for a heavyweight grudge match with David Haye, live on Sky Sports Box Office on March 4.
WBC cruiserweight champion Bellew has been targeting a domestic clash with former cruiserweight and heavyweight titleholder Haye for some time now, with the two exchanging words following his stoppage of Haye’s sparring partner and friend BJ Flores in October.
Haye (28-2-KO26) returned from a three and a half year hiatus in January when he knocked out Mark de Mori in one round, and followed that up with a second round finish of Arnold Gjergjaj in May. Bellew fiercely criticised those opponents, saying that Haye was ‘conning’ the public, which appears to be where this rivalry began.
Bellew (28-2-1-KO18) won the world title in May when he got off the canvas to stop Ilunga Makabu, and went on to defend the strap in the aforementioned stoppage of Flores. He has actively campaigned for this fight ever since and now gets the chance to claim the biggest scalp of his career in a bout that has clearly become personal.
There is no justification for Haye’s choice of opposition since he returned to boxing. Both de Mori and Gjergjaj were little more than club fighters who had no right to share a ring with Haye. Bellew, certainly, has earned the right. He responded magnificently to his knockout loss to Adonis Stevenson in November 2013, moving up to cruiserweight and winning eight in a row including a revenge victory over Nathan Cleverly in 2014.
Doubtless this will be the toughest fight for Haye since his loss to Wladimir Klitschko in July 2011. Bellew can hit extremely hard and has also shown an ability to take a punch in recent fights. Yes, he went down against Makabu, but he got back up and went on to win the fight. Bellew has those intangibles that are vital to a top level fighter: heart, desire and courage. It remains to be seen if Haye possesses those same traits, with his loss to Klitschko casting doubts.
If any ring rust remains Bellew will take advantage, although Haye clearly thinks he can win. He is the quicker man, and statistically he is the harder hitter. He will feel confident that he can box Bellew at range, darting inside when appropriate to unload heavy hooks. Bellew’s style is not the most subtle, he loves a tear up, and Haye will look to take advantage by outboxing his opponent.
The gameplan for Bellew will surely be to draw Haye into a firefight. He will march forward with his chin down and start swinging. He is relying on Haye being unable to take his best shot, he has said as much, and will lean on his heart to see him through this contest. He will also hope for a conditioning advantage over Haye, who rarely goes the distance in fights and hasn’t done so since that loss to Klitschko.
Nothing Haye has done in his comeback will have prepared him for what Bellew will bring. The question is where Haye is, in his career at this point? We think of Haye as a world class operator based on his past achievements, but boxing is very much ‘what have you done for me lately?’, and for the Hayemaker the answer is nothing. Bellew has been active, facing top competition and accomplishing a career goal by winning the world title at Goodison Park.
This fight is intriguing based on those facts. We don’t know how good David Haye is anymore. We don’t know whether Tony Bellew can stand up to the best David Haye. We don’t know if either man will be able to take the other’s punches. Certainly the build-up will be enjoyable and the fight will be entertaining for as long as it lasts.by