I recently wrote that I have always had a special affinity for fighters from the United Kingdom. Maybe it has to do with their grit or maybe the drama that seems to unfold in many of the top fights. Alan Minter, Billy Schwer, and Dave “Boy” Green exemplified the qualities I admired. However, watching the likes of Carl Thompson, Chris Eubank, Michael Watson and Nigel Benn provided unmatched thrills—unmatched that is until the recent Chisora vs. Whyte war. Now comes Bellew and Haye and this one moves to the very top of my list. 123
While the fight itself has already been vetted, there was a subtleness that added to the drama that was missed by many observers. There were some nuggets of gold that emerged that added to the drama.
As David “Haymaker” Haye made his way to the ring to his trademark seventies disco classic, McFadden & Whitehead’s “Ain’t No Stopping Us Now,” (also used by Larry Holmes), something seemed amiss with his gait—there seemed to be a slight limp. Few noticed it.
Hayemaker fans –and he has throngs in London–were primed for a quick knockout and so were most “experts.” As it turned out, the injury would become far worse than slight as rumors of a torn Achilles tendon became the truth in the incredible sixth round in which both men would visit the canvas, but not by knockdowns– or so the referee ruled.
From that point on, Haye was left hobbling on one leg as underdog Tony “Bomber” Bellew took full advantage and showed no mercy to secure a stoppage in what was a scintillating grudge match at London’s O2.
Haye started quickly, hitting Bellew with good shots, but the man from Liverpool fought wisely and kept coming and coming and coming. Still, David battled back until the eleventh when the one-sided onslaught was halted by a fluttering white towel.
Haye was hailed for his courage as he continued for five rounds with a terribly painful injury. After the fight, Tony Bellew said, “I looked at Shane (McGuigan, Haye’s trainer), and said ‘Stop it lad.’ I know he said all through the buildup how he wanted to put me in hospital and leave me on a stretcher. That was never my intention, never is. He’s got two kids. Kids need their dads.”
Both men knew you don’t play boxing.
Immediately after the fight was stopped, Bellew rushed to assist Haye, shoving promoter Eddie Hearn away to minister to the stricken fighter. Bellew’s gesture, said writer John Wight, “should see him elevated to cult status even in the eyes of his detractors.” The Scousers (the fans from Liverpool) saw it and roared their approval.
At the end, Bellew thanked Haye, saying “you’ve helped me secure my kids’ future.” Haye returned the compliment: “And thank you for such a great fight. I can’t believe you’re still standing. But some of you don’t believe me. I’ve got no switch-off button. It’s scary. No matter how hard or painful it gets, I can’t stop. The biggest danger in this game to me is me. (There are) only a certain number of times you can keep doing this. There won’t be many more times.”
This was another Paulie Malignaggi vs. Miguel Cotto where the loser (Paulie) left with more respect than he came in with. Indeed, Haye’s warrior performance erased any question of his will, heart and desire. Derek Chisora, who was one of a very few who correctly called the fight, said: “I have more respect for David now because he didn’t quit…He had his son ringside – I think for the first time I think – so he could not quit…. He was just hoping for one shot. If he had knocked out Tony with one leg he would have been a hero.”
Following the operation to repair the damage, Haye spoke to Kevin Mitchell of The Guardian. David had this to say: “I was proud of my performance. It was a tough, tough night at the office but I knew I was alive in there. Even on one leg I thought I could knock Tony Bellew out. I was gutted when Shane McGuigan threw in the towel. But maybe it saved me for another day. He said he’d do it again. If he gives me a rematch, I’ll give him a rubber match. I’ve never had that (rivalry) like other fighters. Maybe Tony Bellew is my Benn-Eubank.”
“It will not seem so to him as he contemplates the fading of his days,” wrote Mitchell, “but this was Haye’s finest night.”
This was not about pundits, promoters or detractors; this was about two men who put on a special and memorable performance that will be discussed for years to come. Whatever happens in the event they meet again, it will not equal this one for pure drama.
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Ted Sares is one of the world’s oldest active power lifters and holds several records in the Grand Master class. A member of Ring 4’s Boxing Hall of Fame, he enjoys writing about boxing.