Loud and proud: Tony Bellew interview

Phil Kirkbride
04/05/2018 2:45pm

Tony Bellew gained an advantage by getting under David Haye’s skin before their first fight. It was done deliberately and he tells Phil Kirkbride he’ll do it again and force Haye into retirement...

Tony Bellew wasn’t particularly interested in fighting David Haye for a second time.

After an astonishing, drama-fuelled night at the O2 Arena in March, he had little appetite to go through it all again with a man he bluntly refers to as a “tit”.

Bludgeoning an injured Haye into an 11th-round defeat and proving the bulk of British boxing wrong on a remarkable evening meant that — as promoter Eddie Hearn succinctly put it — Bellew had “options”.

He held talks with Andre Ward, met former heavyweight champion Joseph Parker (since beaten by Anthony Joshua) and even discussed trying MMA to take on UFC star Michael Bisping.

Bellew says negotiations with Haye were a “little touchy” and at one stage a rematch was not at the forefront of his thinking.

Yet money doesn’t just talk in boxing, it shouts from the rooftops, and a second fight with Haye was more lucrative than any other proposal on the table.

On 17 December, in the same arena as last time, Bellew and Haye collide again.

“He’s an egotistical maniac. He thought he was favourite going into the negotiations for the rematch, never mind anything else,” Bellew told Boxing Monthly in between sets during a strength session on the outskirts of Liverpool with trusted fitness coach Dave Billows.

“But he found out — firmly — who is in control. At one point I was like: ‘OK, I’ll go and fight Joseph Parker.’

“We were also speaking with Andre Ward’s people and, believe it or not, the Bisping thing was closer than people think.

“I spoke to IMG [the sports management company]. I was in Vegas. They asked me if I would really get in a cage.

“[I said] without a shadow of a doubt.”

“Eddie doesn’t like the thought of me going in a cage, mind. [But] I had loads of options.

“I met with Parker, sat down with him. He’s a good fella. I wasn’t used to doing that before but I’ve got to a level in boxing where I can demand to meet these people.

“So, I met him, sized him up and thought: ‘You’re not really that big.’ He’s a really nice fella but I know, for a fact, that I could beat Joseph Parker.”

But, for the fourth time in his career, Bellew is focused on a rematch.

He fought Ovill McKenzie again to erase any doubts, beat Isaac Chilemba less than two months after they boxed a draw to earn a world title shot and then chased down a rematch with Nathan Cleverly to scratch a three-year itch.

Now he’s accepted a return with Haye.

So what does that say about Bellew as a fighter and man?

“I can’t let things go, that’s the first thing,” he said.

“And once I know the style of the guy, I can always improve. I’m always much, much better in the rematch. Every rematch I’ve had, I’ve won resoundingly.

“I wasn’t that bothered about facing Haye again but when I looked at the whole episode from the outside, I thought it makes the most money but, after that, does it really please me?

“I sat there, thought about it and realised that ending his career really would [be pleasing], to be honest, because I looked up to him as a youngster, I studied him and knew how good he was. It would be nice to be the fella who beats him and it be his last fight.

“I always knew I was going to fight him or Bernard Hopkins at some stage. They were the two names in my head.

“All through my light-heavyweight career, my plan was to beat Adonis Stevenson and then immediately call out Hopkins, do him and then go to cruiserweight.

“But I just got my arse kicked by Stevenson.”

Bellew moved up, and moved on, from that painful night in Canada and is in a rich vein of form that has taken him to European and world cruiserweight titles, the upset win over Haye and to the cusp of a heavyweight title fight.

He says that everything he achieves from now on is a bonus and believes that his sense of contentment rankles with Haye.

Now that the rematch is set, Bellew plans on enjoying himself.

“He will buckle at some stage in the build-up and I will prompt that,” Bellew said.

“Looking at me for a couple of days will mean I get that out of him.

“I know I infuriate him and that gives me great pleasure and satisfaction knowing that.

“I just get under his skin. I push buttons. And I’m looking forward to doing it again.

“I know the sight of me kills him. What sends him mad is that I’m even on the same level as him, that I’m dictating terms to him, because he thinks I’m shit.

“It’s like I’ve completed the game. It’s like I’ve finished Grand Theft Auto. I’ve done all the missions, I’m just trying to get all the cars and guns now.

“I’m getting the extras that I never, ever, thought were possible.

“Everything else now is a bonus and no matter what happens [in the rematch] I’ve won and that is what rankles with David, that is what does his head in.

“He can’t understand why I’m still fighting.”

Bellew certainly isn’t fighting to remain in the spotlight.

His profile — enhanced by a world title, a role in a Hollywood movie and his feud with Haye — has rocketed in the last few years.

And though Bellew is comfortable in front of a camera, and as interesting an interview subject as there is, the fame that comes with it all leaves him feeling uneasy.

“I hate being famous,” he said, adding somewhat cryptically: “It’ll be over soon.

“I want my 15 minutes [of fame] to be ten minutes and I’ve got five minutes left.

“I never wanted to be famous. I always wanted to be known as someone who fought anyone and who was a good boxer.”

Bellew said he never set out to become a crossover personality. “Going on the TV shows I’ve been on has probably helped me do that,” he said. “People get to see what I’m really like, a normal fella and not this big, angry dope that hates the world.

“I endear myself to people in that kind of way. But I don’t like the fame.

“I’m very humbled that anyone would stop and ask me for a photo or come up and speak to me out of the blue. I’m honoured about that.

“The issue is the invasion of privacy. That is the problem.

“When media crosses over to my family — I’ve never made a secret of my wonderful family — and the closest people to me, they suffer. And it’s not their fault. It’s my fault, because they are being seen because of me. I’m close to good people so I try and minimise [invasion of privacy] massively.”

Victory could lead Bellew to further lucrative bouts and leave Haye pondering his future as a boxer.

“This time he firmly knows his career is on the line,” Bellew said.

“Last time, he thought he’d turn up, hit me on the chin and it would all be over.

“I’ve felt what he had in the first fight. He is very heavy handed. He is very quick. He threw everything at me in those first five rounds.

“I told him at the end of the fifth — go and watch it back on the videotape: ‘You are blowing out of your arse. You are fucked.’

“And what happened to him in the sixth [the Achilles injury] is because I made it happen to him. I was the one who pressed the pace and made him miss. He was made to chase, made to miss and made to look foolish.”

Bellew doesn’t believe losing their first fight has brought a change in Haye’s way of thinking. Any humility? “No,” Bellew says adamantly.

“According to him, he was going to comatose me in two rounds and according to 99 per cent of the British public he was going to drill me to the floor, really, really quick,” Bellew said.

“He said: ‘All you retard Scousers believe in Tony Bellew so much, so bet all your money on him.’

“Well, they fucking did and they made a fortune.

“Every time I go out the front door, someone wants to buy me something!

“You wouldn’t believe the number of people who come up to me and say: ‘Lad, you won me a monkey [£500]’ or: ‘Lad, you won me a grand’ or ‘£200’ or ‘£100’.

“Look, some might just be saying it, but the bookies made it so obvious that there was only one man to bet on that night — because there was no value in [betting on] David.”

Ultimately, Bellew saw the value in a rematch — another one he expects to win.