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Bellew vs Haye II: Fight preview and matchup

Tony Bellew has a new pressure on him, and David Haye is looking for revenge.

Scott Christ is the managing editor of Bad Left Hook and has been covering boxing for SB Nation since 2006.

Tony Bellew

David Haye vs Tony Bellew - Heavyweight Fight Photo by Dan Mullan/Getty Images

Record: 29-2-1 (19 KO) ... Streak: W9 ... Last 5: 5-0 ... Last 10: 9-1 ... Stance: Orthodox ... Height/Reach: 6’3” / 74” ... Age: 35

Thoughts: Tony Bellew was once a light heavyweight also-ran, a contender flirting with pretender, a domestic fighter reaching past himself trying to go to the world level. He won the British and Commonwealth titles at 175 pounds in the early part of this decade, in 2010 and 2011, but when he stepped up to face WBO titleholder Nathan Cleverly in October 2011, he was handed his first defeat, a decision loss.

He went back to the domestic level, and pressed on. He beat Danny McIntosh. He beat Edison Miranda, not a domestic fighter in the UK, but not above that level, same for Roberto Bolonti. He tried again to step up in 2013 — he fought Isaac Chilemba twice, receiving a draw the first time and a solid decision win the second fight two months later.

But in November 2013, Adonis Stevenson flat out thrashed him, dominating for five rounds before stopping Bellew in six. It looked for all the world as though Tony Bellew, a scrapper from Liverpool, just wasn’t going to get much further than he had.

But Bellew took a chance and moved up to cruiserweight. He had no other real options. He was beaten by Cleverly, struggled with Chilemba, and was soundly trounced by Stevenson. It wasn’t going to happen at 175, and maybe making the weight wasn’t going to happen anymore, either.

Since 2014 and his move up in weight, he hasn’t lost. He beat Valery Brudov and Julio Cesar dos Santos, decent enough wins, both by stoppage, testing the waters at cruiser. He defeated Nathan Cleverly in a rematch, gaining a measure of revenge, during Cleverly’s own flirtation with the cruiserweight division, which didn’t last. (If anything, Bellew showed Cleverly that he was no cruiserweight.)

He racked up gimme wins, more or less, or Ivica Bacurin and Arturs Kulikauskis. Then he won the vacant European cruiserweight title with a solid decision victory over Mateusz Masternak, and then, in his next fight in 2016, a stunning TKO-3 win over Junior Makabu gave Bellew that elusive world title, the WBC cruiserweight belt.

Bellew made one defense, beating BJ Flores, before money came calling. Money, Bellew thinks, that David Haye believed would be easy. It was a trash talk fight, a manufactured grudge between himself and Haye, set for March 4, 2017 at the O2 Arena in London. Heavyweights.

Bellew beat Haye. Nobody expected him to, really. It was anticipated that Haye, a natural cruiserweight with heavyweight experience, would be too big, too quick, too strong — too everything for Tony Bellew, a blue collar fighter who had valiantly and tenaciously battled his way to fame and that villain role in Creed.

Bellew beat Haye when he wasn’t supposed to beat Haye. Now, he’s in a rematch. How much of it was Haye getting injured during the fight? How much of it was Haye simply not being the fighterhe talks himself up to be? How much of it was, simply put, Tony Bellew himself?

There’s a pressure on Tony Bellew that wasn’t there last year.

David Haye

David Haye vs Tony Bellew - Heavyweight Fight Photo by Dan Mullan/Getty Images

Record: 28-3 (26 KO) ... Streak: L1 ... Last 5: 3-2 ... Last 10: 7-3 ... Stance: Orthodox ... Height/Reach: 6’3” / 78” ... Age: 37

Thoughts: I’ve always liked David Haye. Boxing needs characters like him, and has always had them. He’s loud and brash when he needs to be. He’s reflective and serious when the situation calls for it. There’s always some level of act to a David Haye interview. It’s impossible to figure out who the real David Haye is, and that’s not a bad thing.

Once on this site, many years ago, a former writer of ours called David Haye a salesman. It wasn’t even meant to be an insult. Haye is a salesman, and a good one. His entire heavyweight career, which started a decade ago in 2008 with a win over Monte Barrett, has been a master class in how to sell fights and himself without taking big risks.

Let’s look back over that run, and not even mention that Haye was, in fact, a terrific cruiserweight, because at this point, for this fight, that’s pretty much irrelevant.

  • Fought Monte Barrett, a decent first test at the new weight, won a TKO-5 and looked pretty great in doing so.
  • Fought Nikolay Valuev, a novelty behemoth who had no actual skills other than being a giant, and should have been handed a loss against a tiny, 526-year-old Evander Holyfield 11 months prior to fighting Haye. This allowed Haye to win the WBA “world” title, effectively claiming to be the world champion, a dubious claim at best, same as it had been for Valuev.
  • Fought John Ruiz, a veteran former titleholder he could simply out-quick and physically dominate. The matchup was perfect for Haye stylistically, and Ruiz was aged, too.
  • Fought Audley Harrison and made good money to do it. Audley Harrison had no real business in a world title fight, even a dubious one, but it was sold to the British public, and they fell for it again.
  • Finally, after tons of wrangling, got in the ring with Wladimir Klitschko and simply avoided danger for 12 rounds. Haye lost, but wasn’t knocked out. The fight was a big one, and perhaps the most disappointing big fight of the decade until Mayweather-Pacquiao.
  • Fought Dereck Chisora in a grudge match. OK, this one was just a lot of fun, if you have the stomach for the shenanigans of both, and I do.

Then, poof, David Haye was out of the ring until 2016. All this talk about promises to retire at age 30-whatever, and he appeared to do so. Until he came back in 2016. He fought Mark de Mori, a guy with an inflated record who didn’t belong in the ring with even a rusty Haye. Haye took care of business in two minutes.

He fought Arnold Gjergjaj, unbeaten without having fought anybody. Haye took care of business in 1.5 rounds and probably could have done it quicker if he’d wanted to, honestly. Gjergjaj was hopeless.

Haye got away with those two fights, made some money, but the public was starting to question that comeback. So he picked out Tony Bellew, a former light heavyweight and reigning cruiserweight titleholder, and made a fight of that.

I think Bellew is right; I think Haye thought Bellew would be easy for him. But however you want to explain it, whether it was Haye’s Achilles injury or Bellew just being too determined for a salesman fighter at this stage of his career, Haye lost to Tony Bellew, stopped in the 11th round.

Personally, I thought the fight was a great story. I thought Haye battled. I thought Bellew was great. I thought the whole thing was dramatic and cinematic, in a way. I can go for a fight like that. Some hated it, didn’t buy into Haye’s injury, didn’t believe in the whole thing, but again, I like Haye, and many do not. I feel like that’s probably the biggest divide in our opinions.

What happens on Saturday determines whether or not David Haye can go on. Again, as much as I like Haye, I think Bellew’s remarks this week are dead on. Does Haye have it in him to dig deep anymore, and beat a determined guy like Bellew? If Haye loses, he says it’s over, and I think that’s more than just a selling point. If he can’t beat Tony Bellew at heavyweight, he can’t beat anyone relevant.

Matchup Grade: B. I’m not going to tell you it’s the biggest or best fight, but I’m looking forward to it, same as I did the first one. I enjoy both fighters, enjoy their personalities, and there’s more story in this matchup than there is in most. Boxing can get a little dull in that way anymore — there aren’t a ton of great personalities out there, be they lovable or loathsome. These two guys know how to sell a fight, and that’s a bonus for me as a viewer. There are no belts, but there are stakes in this fight, and it’s important for both of them going forward, more for Haye than Bellew. I know not everyone will agree with this viewpoint, and that’s OK, people see the sport and enjoy it in different ways.

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