Inertia creeps, according to Massive Attack, but when it comes to boxing a creeping inertia can set in and derail a career by lurking in the background until a crucial moment in the wrong type of fight.
Take David Haye’s (28-3, 26 KOs) Achilles injury against Tony Bellew (29-2-1, 19 early) on Saturday night in a fight that was pottering along nicely. Bellew was avoiding the big, clean bombs that Haye was trying to land while the former cruiserweight Champion and heavyweight titlist tried to lay traps with diminishing returns. In the time it took for Haye to express his Achilles pain in round five, and for Bellew to register the thickening of the plot with a simple nod, the fight was flipped on its head completely.
We all know what happened next, Bellew registered a TKO 11 win, and Haye asked for a rematch in a post-fight interview that had sad echoes of Mike Tyson asking Lennox Lewis for a rematch “payday” in 2002, and people have been divided over the nature of the victory—this is boxing after all.
The two men had a few key things in common entering this fight. Their best wins came down at cruiserweight—Haye over Jean-Mark Mormeck in 2007 for the WBA and WBC titles and Bellew over Illunga Makabu last year for the WBC belt—in fights that saw both men floored against a stocky, compact boxer. Mormeck dropped Haye in the fourth only to fold in round seven; Bellew took out Makabu in three after being dropped in the first; in both fights both men opened up with both hands to hurry and harry the end of the contest.
Since that magical night in Paris, Haye has appeared increasingly unbalanced as a boxer and as a personality. Many recall his win over Enzo Maccarinelli, which was a demolition job, but, watching it live on the night, there was a sense that he had fallen prey of one of boxing’s biggest pratfalls—he had become enamoured with his own power.
In subsequent fights at heavyweight, Haye seemed to rely more and more on his right hand and athleticism, and he deteriorated as a boxer. I once heavily favoured him over Wlad klitschko, but by the time they fought he was a bit too one-sided, too skewed, and was no match for the Ukrainian—toe injury or no toe injury.
There was a bit of hope when Haye took out Dereck Chisora, who had not been stopped going in, as he looked a lot more balanced, and full of fire and focus. Alas, he did not box for almost four years and in his two comeback outings last year he registered a brace of KO 1 wins over Mark de Mori and Arnold Gjergjaj respectively, hardly preparation for a potential dogfight.
Still, Haye was never the most active of boxers, he fought four times in 2004 and three times in 2005, and that was the last time he was a really active fighter. Injuries, pullouts and the demise of a TV network—hello, Setanta—all contributed to his staccato recent run. Sure, he has had training camps that came to naught yet nothing compensates for in-ring action and Haye has had far too little of that.
That creeping inertia all caught up with Haye on Saturday night. He loaded up early, looked sluggish on his feet and, once Bellew got a few rounds in, looked older and less effective than he had ever been.
Indeed, Haye looked ragged in the build-up, with bags under his eyes and unkempt hair that at one point made him look jaded. The former heavyweight titlist had the same oddly dejected and angry air that he had rocked during the build-up to his fight with Audley Harrison and the aborted matches with Tyson Fury.
Haye used to be a fun presence before fights, if a little crude, yet in the build-ups mentioned above he seemed annoyed, angry even, and it felt like he didn’t want to be there or, worse, believed that the fight was beneath him. It added to a sense that Haye was now in it for the money and fame, rather than the acclaim that could have come his way had he made good on his early cruiserweight title winning promise.
“People are making a lot of the injury, but I stuck to my game plan and his body broke down, as I predicted it would do.” —Tony Bellew
Bellew certainly sensed something going into the fight, but the Liverpool-based boxer could not have predicted that Haye’s body would not hold up, so he went in with a game plan instead. “I think it did,” he said when asked by Britishboxers if his plan had worked.
“He talked about blasting me out in two rounds, and he’s capable of doing that to any heavyweight in the world, and had he done that he’d have ridiculed and laughed at me. He’d have belittled me and labeled me the way he did with Enzo, but I’m not that type of person and was very gracious in victory.”
“People are making a lot of the injury, but I stuck to my game plan and his body broke down, as I predicted it would do. I traded with him early on in the fight to get his respect—I felt I got it in that first round—and I was hitting him to the body at times as well.
“I’ve just watched the fight again, look at him in the fifth round, he throws a barrage of punches and when the round ends I said to him: ‘You’re completely gassing here’. That was the case. We were trading, and the injury happened, but I have injuries, too, as my right hand is smashed to bits and I was also in a lot of pain. I was a big underdog with the bookies yet everything I said in the build-up happened. His body broke down, which is what happens if you go too long in this game. In this business, your body will not respond in your time of need sometimes, but mine did.”
He added: “He talked about blasting me out in two rounds, and he’s capable of doing that to any heavyweight in the world, and had he done that he’d have ridiculed and laughed at me. He’d have belittled me and labeled me the way he did with Enzo, but I’m not that type of person and was very gracious in victory.”
Oddly enough given the bitter build-up, Bellew eschewed the celebrations of his trainer, Dave Coldwell, and promoter, Eddie Hearn, to console Haye—he could catch up with his friends later on in the night, when the emotion kicked it was all about checking on his opponent.
“I didn’t want to hurt him, I could easily have celebrated with my trainer, but wanted to go over and check on him as I was hurting him from round four, if the truth be known,” he said. “I never felt I lost control of the fight whatsoever, I was picking shots, working his body and he couldn’t get into my mind—I knew I had him.
“He completely lost it at the press conference then went crazy on the night. To label people as ‘retards’ is low and he tried to disgrace my city of Liverpool by telling lies. It has been and gone now, it is what it is.”
“I saw David on Sky Sports News today talking about a rematch. I had to bend to his Diva-ish demands last time, so won’t be doing that again now that all the options are on my side of the table. If it happens, I decide where it is, when it is—everything. For the first time in my career I’m in complete control.”
Bellew talked about retirement one minute then chuckled when I mentioned that former heavyweight Champion Tyson Fury has called for a Goodison showdown, it is good to keep your options open. “I’m going to stay in shape, go back to the gym and see where we go from there,” he answered when asked if retirement has come calling.
“I’ve got a lot of options on the table, Terry, but don’t know what I’m going to do yet—I’m just taking each day as it comes. I’m enjoying being back home, being a dad and being with my family. I saw David on Sky Sports News today talking about a rematch. I had to bend to his Diva-ish demands last time, so won’t be doing that again now that all the options are on my side of the table. If it happens, I decide where it is, when it is—everything. For the first time in my career I’m in complete control.”
Bellew was also honest about the fight itself. Although compelling live, bemusing when watched back a second time and still worthy of a third viewing, it wasn’t a classic and the 34-year-old told me that he is happy to win by any means necessary as long as the W goes down in history (the win, not the Wu-Tang Clan’s unfairly maligned, if overproduced, third album).
“I don’t think I’ve ever been the finished article,” admitted Bellew. “Looking at the fight on tape, I don’t look great, but I can win looking good and can win looking ugly. I just find a way to win—I did that again on Saturday night. This guy said he got injured in the fifth round, but what was he doing in the first six? This is a guy who said he was going to drill me to the floor in two rounds, his words, so when he found out that I could take it because of the extra weight he didn’t know what to do. He ran out of ideas.
“His speed was going, but his power wasn’t. He is extremely powerful, the hardest puncher I’ve ever fought, but I found a way to stop him. People went on pre-fight about Adonis Stevenson stopping me and based a lot on that, Stevenson stopped me after I’d lost the best part of three stone to fight the man, 43lbs, so you need to understand how much that hurt me in that fight.”
“The former undisputed [heavyweight=] Champion called me out today for a fight at Goodison Park. I want to sit down with my family and reflect on what I’ve done in the sport before looking to the future, but it won’t be a stupid or easy decision and it will be made with a few other people because if you allowed me to make the decision myself it would be a dangerous one for me to make.”
As mentioned earlier, Fury has called out Bellew. The two have defended and spoken well of each other in recent years, “Bomber” even wrote a column about the Mancuanian late last year, but money talks and everything else walks in boxing so why not?
“Every heavyweight in the world wants me now, don’t they,” said Bellew. “The former undisputed Champion called me out today for a fight at Goodison Park. I want to sit down with my family and reflect on what I’ve done in the sport before looking to the future, but it won’t be a stupid or easy decision and it will be made with a few other people because if you allowed me to make the decision myself it would be a dangerous one for me to make.”
And why is that?
“Because I’d fight King Kong for the right money. That’s why,” he stated.
News that Bellew was watching tapes of Vernon Forrest and James Toney, amongst others, had boded well for him ahead of a fight that would require him to turn his head and body away to take the steam out of the shots coming his way. Coldwell had laid out a strict diet of clips and fights, which worked out well for both on the night.
“Dave had me looking at Toney and other fighters, looking at head movement and sliding and slipping, so I knew what I had to put in place has he his a dangerous puncher yet he doesn’t like anyone who he has to crouch down to as he can’t land that right hand or left hook,” he revealed. “Listen, I did what I had to do, I could see the punches coming. He struggled with his range, an inactive fighter will always struggle with that, as we saw on the night.”
As for Hearn, he was shrugged aside in the heat of the moment yet will no doubt be sated by the PPV and ticket sales. Plus, according to Bellew, he is also a close friend who knows his character so will not have taken the snub personally.
“Eddie is a mate,” he declared. “We’ve been through tough situations and some great times. He delivered me the biggest night of my life at Goodison [Park]. People try to criticise, they say I shrugged him off, but I was trying to make sure that my opponent was OK. I’m not there to hurt anyone, this is a sport and not a business, it is not like you get more for hurting someone and that’s not what I’m about.”
Haye strolled out rather slowly and casually to Simon Says by Pharoache Monch so it is ironic that his leg gave out at a crucial point in a fight that he must have expected to have put to bed by that point.
However, it is hard not to feel sympathy for Haye, who was lambasted when he revealed that he had been carrying an injured toe into the Klitschko fight only to go above and beyond when injured on Saturday night.
Once so mercurial, fast and dynamic, Haye was once a breeze of fresh air in both the moribund cruiserweight and heavyweight divisions, and remains now a person of serious status in one and yet a footnote in the other.
The reason he lost the other night is because, over the course of a good few years, he lost sight of himself as a fighter and became either a parody or caricature—both inside and outside of the ring, you decide, dear reader—of the fighter who energised two divisions only to succumb to a self-inflicted problem, inertia and lack of real fighting time, that indirectly led to a defeat that he may struggle to come back from.