WBC cruiserweight champion Tony Bellew defied the bookmakers’ odds and stopped “bitter” (fabricated) rival David Haye in the 11th round inside London’s O2 Arena.
Haye took the centre of the ring and dictated the pace of the fight for the vast majority of the first five rounds with Bellew happy to circle near the ropes looking for the counter, but Londoner Haye appeared laboured and had limited movement for the latter half of the fight, which was later attributed to a ruptured Achilles tendon.
From there, Liverpudlian Bellew took full advantage and seized the momentum from his foe.
After an initial slip from both men, round six saw Haye fall to the canvas, beating the count before the bell saved him at the end of the round. Bellew promptly upped the tempo in the seventh round, pinning Haye in the corner with some solid combination punching.
A criticism often levelled at Haye was his lack of toughness in the ring—whether it’s his supposed glass jaw or sore toe exploits against Wladimir Klitschko—but “Hayemaker” showed nothing but grit and heart to withstand the Bellew onslaught, refusing to go down and managing to stagger back to his corner for the eighth after receiving plenty of punishment from a potent puncher.
With Haye already showing clear signs of fatigue, Bellew punched himself out when trying to seize his opportunity in putting Haye out to pasture in the seventh round. As a result, the eighth round was a sloppy one for both men—swinging for the fences with their tired, flailing arms showing little semblance of the technique they had honed over decades.
Desperate to claw his way back into the fight, Haye caught Bellew with a low blow in the ninth, but he was still in the contest—even landing a big right hand to the dome of Bellew to keep him humble. Though, at this point, you could tell Haye himself knew any opportunity of victory was slipping away from him as a relatively stationary target.
Bellew returned in kind with a low blow in the 10th round as Haye’s now-bandaged lower leg hampered his ring generalship further—so much so, Haye almost fell over in throwing a punch following another warning given to Bellew for a blatant foul.
Likely behind on the scorecards, Haye’s hand was forced in trying to take the fight to Bellew in the 11th round. Unfortunately for the former, his leg continued to disagree with him and Haye, once again, fell to the ground as he lunged to throw a punch. Once back on his feet, Haye was knocked through the ropes by Bellew in an act of kindness as much as it was an act of aggression, trying to put his foe out of his misery.
Haye bravely clambered back into the ring only for his corner to throw in the towel. Cue some overzealous celebrations from Bellew and his corner.
After the fight and full of post-fight hyperbole, Bellew told BBC Radio 5 Live: "He's probably the hardest puncher in the world, and he's so quick early on, he's like a sprinter. He can really hit but he can also take a few himself. In my eyes I've beaten the best cruiserweight this country has ever produced and one of the best heavyweights. I am honoured to fight in the same ring as him. I've looked up to him. He made the same mistake everybody else does. He underestimated me. Watch me on tape and I'm terrible but in the ring I'm harder to hit than you think."
“I've knocked out guys a lot bigger and stronger but he has the heart of a lion,” a dejected Haye opined to the same broadcaster. “I gave it my best and it wasn't good enough. He was by far the better fighter tonight. He dug deep and took my best shots and put me down. I would love to do it again, I have never been in a fight like that. If the fans want to see it again I would do it again. We'll do it on his terms, in his town - he deserves it."
If you were to take the pundits’ post-fight comments on face value, you’d think this was a Rocky story for Bellew, befitting the man who starred in Creed, the spin-off sequel to the boxing film franchise. While this rivalry is as fictitious and contrived as Rocky’s Cold War competition with Ivan Drago, there’s no way getting round the fact Bellew beat a man who fought with one leg for the majority of the fight, no matter what weird pre-fight preamble occurred and the bookmakers’ odds.
Though, what is undeniable is that both men put on one hell of a show, despite the cynical, mercurial and money-centric roots of this fight coming to fruition in the first place.
Haye has already undergone surgery for his injured Achilles tendon, while Bellew is reportedly nursing a broken hand after throwing the proverbial kitchen sink at his opponent. But further plans are already mounting for Bellew, thanks to his tireless promoter Eddie Hearn.
Hearn is trying to get his client some top heavyweight money-spinners coming his way, following Bellew’s successful debut in that weight class—including WBC and WBO world heavyweight champions Deontay Wilder and Joseph Parker. Haye, meanwhile, appears to solely have the Bellew rematch on his mind following the third defeat of a career and an equally-influential big-money fight.
The rematch unfortunately—or fortunately, depending on your pugilistic preferences—is likely to occur at some point down the line. But as Bellew put it in his post-fight interview, boxing is indeed a “freakshow” and there appears to be plenty of punters willing to watch one featuring the pair once again.
Check out these related stories:
The Mixed Martial Arts of Victorian London
Before BJJ, there was Bartitsu.
Jonathan Maicelo: The Last Inca
Peru's up-and-coming boxing star.
Kron Gracie on Jiu-Jitsu, Skateboarding, Older Brothers, and Famous Fathers
The ties that bind are strong.
Joel Tudor on the Art of Surfing, Fighting, and Style
A surf icon helps MMA keep its sense of tradition.
Japan's Karate Kid: Kyoji Horiguchi
Japan's brightest MMA prospect.