I’ve never been a fan of fights which span weight divisions.
Partly, my lack of interest is due to the hierarchy of the weight classes being upset whilst two fighters stage a one-off bonanza. Mainly though, it’s because I’ve always felt that large weight differentials, or even catchweight bouts, don’t lend themselves to even fights. We don’t see either fighter at their best because they spend more time preparing for their opponents weight than their skills. Weight classes exist for a reason.
It may be blasphemous to say this on a boxing website, but my name is John Evans and I’m a long term fan of MMA. I was hooked in during the earliest days of the sport when size truly didn’t matter. Each era had its own memorable ‘David v Goliath’ battles. From the very first fight of UFC 1 when Gerard Gordeau kicked Teila Tuli’s teeth out of the sumo wrestlers mouth to Keith Hackney finishing Emmanuel Yarbrough-all 616lbs of him-on the ground at UFC 3. BJ Penn–an all-time great lightweight fighter–piled on the pounds and ran future UFC light heavyweight champion Lyoto Machida very close despite still giving away 34lbs. ‘Minotauro’ Nogeira survived being powerbombed repeatedly by the monstrous Bob Sapp to eventually win by arm bar. Fedor Emelianenko armbarred the 7ft 2in tall Hong Man Choi. The list goes on.
On the face of it, the size discrepancy made each of those contests a gross mismatch, but, to those with knowledge of the sport, the smaller man always had a clear route to victory. In many cases, the smaller man actually entered the cage or ring as the favourite to win.
The key was pitching together fighters with different skillsets. Being a top class grappler allows you to totally neutralise any edge an opponent may enjoy in striking should you manage to successfully get close enough to initiate a take down.
Conversely, if you have top-tier striking and you are able to avoid a larger man’s attempts to take you down, it should be possible to ensure that the fight is fought according to your strengths. Neither way is easy, but there is a path to victory if you are able to utilise your own particular range of skills.
Plucking an example out of thin air, when Wanderlei Silva stepped up in weight to fight Mirko CroCop, the clash of strikers ended very badly for the Brazilian. He was simply outgunned.
Roberto Duran leapt up from lightweight and directly into the face of Sugar Ray Leonard, Manny Pacquiao beat Zombie De La Hoya and David Haye outboxed Nikolay Vaulev, but, generally, in modern boxing instances of world class fighters being beaten by naturally smaller men are much harder to find. Even the great Sugar Ray Robinson faded under the lights and pressure of fighting the larger but less skilled Joey Maxim for the light heavyweight title. Boxers may have different skill-sets in regards to speed, power, footwork and defence but in order to win, at some point they will have to spend time within an opponent’s punching range and open themselves up to his strengths.
I say this having trained in both sports; there is no safe place when attempting to win a boxing match against a much bigger man. There are no takedowns to shoot for if your punches aren’t having the desired impact or more worryingly, if his are having a troubling effect on you. There isn’t the opportunity to posture up in an opponent’s guard and spend a few seconds regrouping. You don’t get the chance to wear out a larger opponent by forcing them to defend submission attempt after submission attempt and altering your position to force them into a mistake. The opponent is unlikely to simply run out of ideas and clumsily walk blindly into your traps if his striking isn’t on the same level as yours and he can’t take you to the mat.
No. When boxing a much larger world-class opponent, a fighter needs to be perfect for 36 minutes in order to make it through the fight safely, let alone win. Amir Khan recently showed that it is possible to implement a gameplan for a period of time against a larger opponent but generally a world level opponent has reached that standard because they can adapt as a fight progresses. ‘Canelo’ Alvarez eventually worked out how to make up for a lack of speed with timing and Genandy Golovkin dragged Kell Brook into a give and take brawl by applying constant pressure.
I’ve been considering a heavyweight match-up between David Haye and Tony Bellew and although ‘Bomber’ wouldn’t be climbing up the divisions, I can’t help but feel the same way about this fight as I have about every other catchweight or ‘cross weight class’ fight.
If you have ever spoken to Bellew, you will like him. If you have read the columns he writes for us here at Britishboxers, you will know that he understands the sport from both the technical and business standpoints better than most. If you have followed his career—particularly at cruiserweight—you will enjoy watching him fight and, if you appreciate the hype that goes hand in hand with boxing, you will enjoy his pre and post-fight interviews.
In this instance—and I’m taking Bellew at his word and assuming that he does genuinely believe he can beat Haye rather than simply seeking out the biggest payday available—I think he is paying a little bit too much business side of boxing and has forced the technical issues to the back of his mind.
As Bellew correctly said, if you look purely at the dimensions of the two men then they are pretty similar. The Liverpudlian looks a far better, far sturdier and far fitter fighter than the weight drained shell of a man he was at the end of his light heavyweight days. He really does carry power at 200lbs.
Haye may not be the body beautiful heavyweight he once was, but he and his trainer Shane McGuigan have been preaching the benefits of carrying a little extra weight, working on power and allowing the body to be more robust rather than stripping it back to the bare essentials. The level of opposition he has faced has been pitiful but Haye has looked fast, aggressive and extremely heavy handed. Wladimir Klitschko landed cleanly on Haye and although he obviously troubled him enough to make him wary, the punches didn’t have the crumbling effect that many people suspected they would. There is also the Haye has been living, training and sparring as a heavyweight for the past years. He may have the same basic frame as Bellew, but time and training have made him a natural heavyweight.
A fight between Haye and Bellew would be unusual in that it would likely be the smaller man—and Bellew has probably never been called that before—looking to counter the larger man’s speed with timing. Haye also punches harder. Bellew is at his most dangerous when he keeps opponents at the end of his vastly under rated jab and long power punches. He hasn’t shown the want or desire to get inside and keep his chin on the other man’s chest. To be fair, he has rarely needed to.
I wouldn’t put it past Bellew’s trainer Dave Coldwell, another BB columnist, to come up with a masterplan and confound everybody, but Bellew would have to tone down his natural hard hitting aggressive cruiserweight style purely because of weight. If the pair fought at 200lbs, I have no doubt that we would see a wild shootout. If Bellew doesn’t curb his natural style, he would be operating directly in the wheelhouse of a bigger, faster and harder hitting man.
In words if not so far in actions, Haye has been trying to convince us that he is deadly serious about finally proving himself to be the best heavyweight in the world. Personally, I struggle to think of a more dangerous heavy than a fired up, fit and firing ‘Hayemaker’ and, yes, I’m including Anthony Joshua in that statement. He finally seems poised to pitch himself into some high profile fights. Haye will never be an active fighter, but he is more than capable of preparing himself for one or two mega-fights per year. If the motivation is there, he can still fulfil his heavyweight promise.
Bellew finally looks happy and settled as a cruiserweight. He can concentrate on training and refining technique rather than training to lose weight. He has achieved his lifelong goal of claiming a world title and is the type to actively seek out the other title holders in his division. Oleksandr Usyk is a frightening prospect but would anybody make Bellew a heavy underdog if he were to face off with WBA and IBF king Denis Lebedev? I certainly wouldn’t. I think he would beat the Russian.
Both fighters have got themselves into position to achieve the aims they have held for years. It is well within Bellew’s capabilities to unify the cruiserweight division and Haye has the power and speed to cause mayhem amongst the big men.
Many will say that the inevitable attention and hype a Haye—Bellew fight would draw would mean a great night for British boxing. Personally, I feel the sport would be better served by both men attempting to dominate their divisions.
Of course British boxing needs more great nights, but if it is to capitalise on its current boom time, it also needs dominant champions rather than belt holders, memorable careers rather than memorable moments and truly world-class match ups rather than another over hyped and stage-managed PPV event.
Both Haye and Bellew would be able to achieve all they desire, earn lots of money, and provide the sport with everything it needs by continuing along their own paths. It would be a shame if they chose to trade that for what may well end up being a disappointing one night stand.