Haye vs Bellew preview: Rhetoric meets reality

Graham Houston
02/03/2017 3:55pm

David Haye says he’ll win in four, Tony Bellew vows to make his rival quit. Graham Houston says one thing is for sure: Saturday's heavyweight showdown will be exciting as long as it lasts...

We’ve all heard the “Don’t blink, you might miss it” line when we get a match between heavyweight big hitters. It doesn’t always apply — think Mike Tyson vs Bonecrusher Smith. If a fighter knows his opponent has the potential to take him out quickly, it can produce an element of caution. It really is difficult, though, to see a long, drawn-out fight when heavyweight contender David Haye meets cruiserweight champion Tony Bellew at the O2 Arena in London on 4 March.

Haye, 36, is predicting a KO win inside four rounds. Bellew, 34, says if the fight goes past the fourth, he’ll make Haye quit. That’s the rhetoric. What of the reality?

We all know that Haye is a very dangerous fighter indeed. He has what you could call “fast power” in that his shots are quick and explosive when he unleashes them. Even

Bellew acknowledges that he runs a very real risk of getting knocked out.

Bellew can bang too, though. If he can catch Haye flush with a big shot, he can definitely hurt him.

Due to the heated build-up, we can safely assume that each man will be looking to get the other into trouble at the earliest moment. Bellew’s “quit” jibe seems to have genuinely angered Haye. One senses that Haye will be disappointed in himself if he doesn’t get rid of Bellew in style — and hopefully in short order. Bellew, meanwhile, isn’t one to run from a rumble.

So, while boxing is full of surprises, it’s difficult to see this fight straying too far from the perceived script. It really should be a bombs-away type of bout and the chances of it going the full 12 rounds look slender.

Haye is the big man in the fight, but perhaps he won’t be that much bigger than Bellew on fight night. Both men stand 6ft 3ins. Haye is likely to weigh around 220lbs. Bellew has been boxing at 200lbs but without having to worry about making weight he could come in at — who knows? — maybe around 210lbs.

It won’t be like, say, Bruce Woodcock against Freddie Mills, when Woodcock was nearly 3ins taller and 20lbs heavier.

Still, Haye has the natural size advantage in the fight. He’s been boxing as a heavyweight for eight years, and that includes bouts against the huge Nikolay Valuev, Wladimir Klitschko and Dereck Chisora. It’s true that Haye started out as a cruiser, but then Bellew has boxed as a light-heavyweight. When it comes to what Emanuel Steward used to call bone-on-bone contact, the advantage lies with Haye.

As Haye sees it, Bellew is “outgunned in every department”. He has a point. Haye looks speedier, more athletic, more naturally gifted and more powerful.

Bellew will argue that he has the greater hunger, a stronger will to win and the capacity to endure more and reach deeper within himself.

Haye can throw spectacular combinations but Bellew is steady and earnest and he knows how to fight. The question is whether Bellew will be able to stay in the fight with good, basic boxing, nothing too flashy, without getting hit by a fight-ending blow.

If Bellew can keep a tight defence, use the jab, throw enough meaningful punches to give Haye something to think about, he has a chance of getting through the extremely hazardous opening rounds of the fight — and if he is able to land a really telling shot of his own, well, so much the better.

It’s not as if Bellew hasn’t faced big punchers before. He got off the floor from two knockdowns to outpunch Ovill McKenzie in their first fight and he boxed a tactically sound if unexciting fight to win the rematch comfortably on points. Ilunga Makabu put Bellew down, but he couldn’t keep him down, and it was Bellew who prevailed.

Bellew hasn’t faced a heavyweight banger, though. And while Bellew was able to box a disciplined and uncharacteristically cautious fight in the rematch with McKenzie, the emotions weren’t running high the way they will be when he’s in the ring with Haye.

It seems to me the Bellew fight plan will be predicated on not making any mistakes early and coming on later. This is fine as far as it goes. Haye, though, is likely to be putting mental and physical pressure on Bellew. If Bellew gets buzzed, one feels his instinct will be to blast right back.

Is there a chance, though, that Haye could run out of gas? I think it’s unlikely. Even though Haye has boxed only three rounds in the ring in the last four and a half years, he will have put in the rounds of sparring in the gym and done the physical conditioning.

Haye is a pro. He’s been 12 rounds before. If Bellew is still in there as the bell sounds for the fifth round, or the sixth, Haye is smart enough to have saved something for just such a contingency. The days of Haye punching himself out as he did against Carl Thompson years ago have long gone.

It’s true that Haye did seem to be feeling the pace and pressure against Dereck Chisora, but, nevertheless, he won the fight in dramatic fashion in the fifth round — and let’s not forget that he had a near-250lbs fighter doing his best to bully him and break him down that night. What Haye did to Chisora underlined the threat that Haye brings to a fight. Just when we felt that Chisora might have a real chance, there he was, on the canvas, as Haye ducked and rolled under a couple of punches and then blasted Del Boy with a huge left hook and followed with the right hand.

No one had done that to Chisora before and no one has done it since. This was a fighter who had been 12 rounds easily with Vitali Klitschko and who has just gone through 12 rock ’em, sock ’em rounds and nearly won against Dillian Whyte. Haye, though, absolutely blew Chisora away in a truly spectacular finish. It took two knockdowns, but the fight was over, in reality, when Chisora hit the deck the first time.

While a shoulder injury that threatened his career caused Haye to be on the sidelines for some three years, he has looked sharp enough in his two comeback appearances, admittedly against opponents of scant regard.

Bellew theorises that Haye doesn’t really want to box any more and is doing it only for the money. I’ve no doubt, though, that Haye was frustrated at being on the shelf — and going through a possibly tedious rehabilitation process on his shoulder couldn’t have been much fun. Haye wants to be a heavyweight champion again and I don’t doubt him when he says he’s chasing the best fighters in the division. Bellew’s “he’d rather be in a night club” type of comments have made the fight personal. If Haye needed motivation for this, a fight he’s widely expected to win, Bellew has supplied it.

I believe Haye sees this as a fight he simply can’t lose — in the sense that he can’t let himself lose.

Bellew has built up the fight wonderfully. The way he confronted Haye after demolishing Haye’s “night-club buddy” BJ Flores, and subsequent inflammatory remarks, have all served to get the public’s interest aroused.

Even though Haye is a 5-1 on favourite (and 3-1 on to win by KO/TKO) it’s a fight that people want to see. And not everyone sees this as a formality for Haye. Those in attendance at the O2 (or watching on Sky Box Office PPV), know that Bellew will be giving his all, there is probably a bit of scepticism surrounding Haye due to the quality of opposition he’s faced on his return and, as ever, when two heavyweights are in the ring and each desperately wants to win, anything can happen.

My view is that Haye just has too many advantages in the fight. I’ll be very surprised if he just walks through Bellew — I really don’t see that happening — but I do see Haye breaking through with a blockbuster around about the fifth, or sixth.

I do believe Haye has some margin for error, but I feel that Bellew can’t afford to make many — maybe any — mistakes. That, to me, is the big difference in what should be a thrilling affair, no matter how many rounds it lasts.