Aftermath: Haye vs Bellew / Thurman vs Garcia
In the aftermath of a dramatic night of boxing on both sides of the Atlantic, Boxing Monthly had some burning questions we wanted answering. Callum Rudge, Mark Butcher, James Oddy and Chris Williamson supplied the answers...
Haye vs Bellew:
BM: What was your assessment of one of the strangest and most dramatic heavyweight fights you're ever likely to see?
CR: It was a fight of two halves. As I expected, Bellew chose to box and Haye stalked. Haye looked awful in the first round and the gaps of activity for the Londoner showed massively. Bellew looked the improved fighter that he is. From round three onwards Haye looked composed and was putting the rounds in the bank until the injury. From then on it was fascinating to watch as Bellew stalked and Haye bravely fought on one leg. I thought Haye boxed OK considering but Bellew was probably on his way to a decision win until the knockdown and stoppage. I thought McGuigan was hasty with the towel as Haye was willing to go on, but he has to protect his fighter. Congrats to Bellew but it's a hollow victory.
JO: The fight left me with a mixture of emotions. Admiration, pity, disgust to name a few. One thing which can't be denied is that it was thrilling. Even my boxingphobe partner couldn't take her eyes off the screen. With regards the nuts and bolts, I felt Haye looked borderline crude early doors but was winning before his injury simply due to landing the odd shot. Bellew was smart but how sustainable his strategy was if Haye had not got injured is debatable.
MB: There was an air of surreality and total disbelief in the O2 Arena as the fight unfolded. The pre-fight narrative suggested that Haye merely had to turn up to win, but I was shocked at how rusty and ponderous he looked. He neglected the fundamentals and seemed to think he would just blast Bellew out. Incredibly, ‘career light-heavyweight’ Bellew took ‘former world heavyweight champion' Haye’s best shots and was able to match him physically. It’s one of the most shocking fights I’ve ever witnessed from ringside and the sell-out crowd were spellbound by its drama. The Londoner’s injury undoubtedly turned the fight in Bellew’s favour, but it was no given that this incarnation of Haye would have won. The injuries, inactivity, pitiful comeback opposition and complacency all took their toll.
CW: First a disclosure: as a Liverpool-born Everton fan, I had an emotional stake in this bout. Although not one for the purists, as pure entertainment, the fight delivered and, watching on TV, I really enjoyed the madness. Bellew made a statement with a good first round and later proved able to take some meaty punches delivered by a still-fit Haye. Squat, explosive heavyweights rarely age well, and having spent some time around them during fight week, I know Team Bellew's plan was to exploit Haye breaking down in the later rounds. Although it was largely due to an injury, that injury was caused because he was fighting. The bout reminded me of an extended version of the 2004 match between Mike Tyson vs Danny Williams. Like Danny, Bellew impressively withstood some early pressure and punishment to overwhelm a damaged version of a former formidable boxer.
BM: Haye made little fuss about his injury. Would Bellew have won anyway or was it a fight changer?
CR: It was absolutely a fight changer - Haye looked composed, was landing the better shots and, while Bellew was boxing well, he was shipping some big shots also. Haye also looked like he was pacing the fight well until the injury happened.
JO: No, I don't think he would have. I like Bellew, he's a good boxer and strip away the pre-fight pantomime and he seems a nice guy. But he was losing rounds, Haye was finding him with the odd big shot and the extra weight was taking its toll.
MB: Kudos to Haye. His post-fight sportsmanship was refreshing and he emerged from a rough night with considerable credit. He was clearly mindful of the fall-out of that infamous toe injury against Wladimir Klitschko which drew such derision. This was obviously a much more serious injury and a viable excuse. But I feel this was Bellew’s night. Haye looked a shadow of his former self and I would not trust his suspect stamina down the stretch. But we don’t know for sure and that doubt opens the door to a rematch.
CW: To his credit, Haye didn't make a fuss, but Bellew had been very clear at the final press conference that there must be "no excuses" and of course, Haye's embarrassing "toe-gate" remains fresh in the memory. Of course the injury changed the fight, but - as Mark says - who is to say that Haye's stamina or something else wouldn't have failed instead? Bellew was quite clear in the lead-up that he was challenging an older, less able heavyweight and so it proved. Bellew delivered exactly what he promised and deserves immense credit.
BM: Where next for both men?
CR: It depends on the extent of Haye's injury - if it's a quick fix there will be a rematch but if, as I suspect, it's a serious injury then I think Haye will have to seriously consider retirement. As for Bellew, he showed no desire to defend his cruiserweight belt and you can't blame him, the division is filled with dangerous men and there's more money to be made at heavyweight.
JO: Definitely not a rematch! For Haye, I hope he retires. Seeing one of the most athletically gifted fighters of his generation break down in that fashion was awful. When he wants to be, he's articulate and charming and, Paulie Malignaggi aside, he's the best 'celeb' pundit. As for Bellew, I'd prefer him to drop back down to cruiser. Fighting Wilder seems a step too far, but then he keeps making me look foolish. Whatever he chooses, the boxing world is wide open for him.
MB: Size-wise, Bellew has no place fighting the behemoths of the heavyweight division and that was acknowledged by trainer Dave Coldwell at the post-fight press conference. However, a smaller heavyweight like Joseph Parker, the WBO champion, is a feasible fight. Haye needs to recuperate from this injury and assess his options. I would like to see him take another fight for sharpness before any Bellew rematch.
CW: Bellew has a decision to make about whether to defend his cherished WBC cruiserweight title against the Briedis vs Huck winner or campaign at heavyweight for the huge paydays. I expect he'll be tempted by the riches on offer and perhaps challenge the winner of Parker vs Fury for the WBO belt. Haye famously promised to retire by the age of 30 and has sadly become exactly what he promised he'd never be: an older former champ chasing past glories while the body simply isn't up to it. I hope he retires with what is left of his dignity.
BM: Lots of criticism of this match up beforehand - does what happened silence the critics in your opinion?
CR: Yes I think so, it wasn't the mismatch most of us thought it would be. Even though I thought Haye was in control of the fight up until the injury, it wasn't one sided and was an intriguing contest throughout. Credit to Bellew who showed a great chin throughout the fight but for me the real hero is Haye, who showed such heart where a lot of people thought he had none.
JO: Before Haye's injury it was more competitive than anticipated, so I guess that proved it was a fight worth making. The bizarre nature of the contest has extended to the aftermath - the boxing fraternity, so scathing pre-fight, has been full of praise for both men. Conversely, many more casual fans, who helped to make this fight so huge, have derided the performances of both men.
MB: Pre-fight, this was labelled a circus by many but it turned out to be one hell of a show. It’s a harsh critic who is not sucked in by that drama. Bellew’s career is playing out like an improbable movie script.
CW: As I stated in the pre-fight BM "Big Question", I'm not a fan of novelty match-ups like this. I stand by that, despite the fact that - as Luke G. Williams put it beforehand - "fast food" such as Haye vs Bellew can still be enticing alongside "fine cuisine" like Thurman vs Garcia. The critics won't be silenced, and nor should they be.
Thurman vs Garcia:
BM: How did you score and assess the fight?
MB: I arrived back from the O2 Arena at 4am-ish, halfway through the eighth round. Garcia came on in the last two rounds, but his body language was not good and Thurman evidently believed he had enough rounds in the bank. 'One Time' showed maturity and boxing smarts on the big occasion.
CW: I scored 116-112 for Thurman. I loved the fight and the way Thurman stamped down his authority from the outset and went on to intelligently outbox Garcia.
CR: It was very much a fight of two halves with Thurman happy to lead and Garcia counter in the first half of the fight and Garcia walking forward in the second half with Thurman happy to box going backwards. It may not be the most crowd-pleasing style but it's effective. I was disappointed that Garcia didn't attack the body more than he did. Saying that Thurman was just that bit faster, hit that bit harder and deserved the W. They're both well matched but I imagine that, even if they rematched each other, that Thurman would win again.
BM: Is Thurman now 'the man' at welterweight in your opinion?
MB: He has cemented his place in the top three, but I would still place him behind Kell Brook and Manny Pacquiao in terms of current ability and threat level.
CW: I still rate Pacquiao as number one at welterweight but this is the best win in the division since Mayweather 'retired'. To beat Shawn Porter and now Garcia in back-to-back fights ought to make Thurman a star. It's a terrific time for a classic division.
CR: I don't think it's outrageous to call him that but I agree with Chris that Manny Pacquiao is still number 1 (and lineal champ) at 147lbs but Thurman is very much the man to beat right now. I have to disagree with Mark (as I did on the Below The Belt podcast this week) and say that Thurman's wins are better than Brook's and that puts him just behind Pacquiao at number 2.