For Tony Bellew, it was the signature win of his career – and for David Haye, it was the most frustrating and humiliating night of his career.
Haye was leading on the scorecards after five rounds (although hardly stellar) when he suffered a ruptured Achilles tendon. After that, he couldn’t sustain his balance, nor could he get any leverage on his punches, and that led Bellew, sensing Haye’s extreme predicament, to fight more boldly. In the 11th round, with Bellew now ahead by three points on all three cards, Haye’s leg gave out after taking some shots to the head and he fell out of the ring. He managed to climb back in, beating the count, but his trainer Shane McGuigan threw in the towel and with that Bellew, a huge underdog, scored a monumental upset.
Since that bout, neither has fought and Haye 28-3 (26) insists he’s completely recovered from his injury.
In the rematch more than bragging rights are on the line. Haye needs to prove he lost because he was injured and rusty and Bellew 29-2-1 (19), being that he couldn’t finish off a crippled Haye, needs to convince skeptics he has the power and strength to compete among the heavyweight elite. Victory for the winner will be a needed injection for his career and no doubt propel him into another high profile bout or even a title shot…something that probably applies a little more to Haye since he’s the more established fighter as a heavyweight.
Going into their first fight, Haye was a part-time fighter and really hadn’t strained in a fight since July of 2012 when he stopped contender Dereck Chisora. For that fight he was a fit 210, opposed to the 224.5 he was for Bellew. Haye’s disposition in the early going against Bellew was one of contempt, as if he didn’t have a morsel of respect for Tony. (It reminded me of Evander Holyfield’s nonchalant smugness before and during his first fight with Lennox Lewis. Holyfield, out of character, predicted a quick knockout when there was no reason to believe it was plausible.) Haye fought lazy as if he could get Bellew out of there with one shot whenever he wanted to.
Other than jabbing to the body — and that was just an attempt to get Tony’s hands down — David didn’t sustain any semblance of offense and telegraphed his big right hand and that was before the injury. Bellew smartly picked up on what Haye was trying to do and had the ineffective Haye swinging at mostly air. After Haye became a hampered fighter, even then Bellew was measured and couldn’t really dominate his opponent, who along with fighting on one leg was spent from missing so many big punches. Granted, Bellew scored one of the biggest upsets in British boxing history, but the ending really was inconclusive.
Haye says this is a make-or-break fight for him: “Even if I win the fight but don’t look as impressive as I want to, I’ll call it quits…I’ve got a lot to prove after the first fight when I was terrible. I looked like an amateur swinging and missing. I don’t believe that I gave a good account of myself….But this time around I intend to show the world what I have got left. Last time I underestimated him and overestimated myself. I thought I was better than him.”
Yes, Haye, 37, underestimated Bellew, 35, as did just about everyone else in the boxing world.
Against Haye the first time, Bellew showed that he was very patient. Quickly gleaning that Haye was looking for the home run, he never attempted to beat him exchanging, allowing David to almost hang himself with his scattered strategy.
Heading into the rematch, Bellew exudes confidence. “I’ve got a good boxing brain and I can adapt and adjust to any situation. If I use my brain and I make the right adjustments at the right times I’ll have rid of David Haye before the eighth round,” he said at the final press conference.
This conveys the message that Bellew is expecting Haye to come out aggressive and look for the quick execution. Fully believing he won’t get it, Tony must be assuming he’ll make David miss and become winded after a quick start – and once he’s slowed there will be no second wind for Haye and that’s when he can go to work, which is actually a sound strategy based on what he learned during their last fight. Bellew knows he out-waited and out-smarted Haye more than he actually beat him up in what would unfold as the low point of Haye’s career.
This time, with so much riding on the outcome, in addition to wanting to prove that the first fight was a fluke, one must believe Haye will bring his A-game, or at least what remains of it. At least that is what he has promised. Bellew is also motivated because he didn’t receive full credit for winning the first time. Bellew insists Haye is back to rob the bank and that his dream of winning the heavyweight title is a pipe dream because he won’t survive their rematch. Prior to the first meeting it was obvious Bellew was able to get under Haye’s skin, which doesn’t seem to be the case this time as much as Bellew has tried to in subtle ways.
It’s not a reevaluation to suggest Haye is the better equipped fighter under normal circumstances. But David is aging almost in dog years. Against Bellew, he seemed to be laboring even before the injury and he was carrying too much weight. He’s no doubt pushed himself in preparing for this fight, but in all honesty I don’t have complete confidence his body won’t fail him again. But even at that, I think he perhaps has one more good night left in him.
Bellew is not wrong in suggesting Haye is fighting to rob the bank, but not against him. With a win over his rival Bellew, assuming it’s at least moderately conclusive, Haye will lobby for a big money fight against either Anthony Joshua or Tyson Fury and his chances of getting it are outstanding. Haye is a huge draw in the UK and a matchup versus either Joshua or Fury would be a monumental money maker. And sadly, I think that’s driving Haye as much as beating Bellew is. He knows he’s lucky to get another shot to win the Joshua/Fury sweepstakes after it nearly blew up against Bellew last year and it’s hard to imagine he lets this opportunity elude him if he has anything left as a fighter.
If Haye’s body holds up and his emotions don’t get the better of him, I think he has enough left to better Bellew. If Haye uses his strength smartly and steadily puts just enough pressure on Bellew without looking for the highlight reel show-stopping shots, at worst he should have the better of it over 12 rounds and win a decision.
Were Haye to lose to Bellew for the second consecutive time, his career as a big money fighter is over for good – but I’m just not convinced that day has arrived yet. In the event Bellew wins, the options that would have gone to Haye just might fall to him (even though Bellew has said candidly that he’d stand no chance against Anthony Joshua).
Frank Lotierzo can be contacted at GlovedFist@Gmail.com
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