After months of posturing and taunting, the rematch between Tony Bellew and David Haye is finally set for mid-December in London. The overachieving Bellew enters bonus round territory in his career, but for an aging Haye, like many of his generational peers, the outlook is more ominous.
Last Wednesday as they did 10 months previously, after months of doubt and postured alternatives, British heavyweight super-ego’s Tony Bellew and David Haye once again squared off tensely in London at the end of a press conference. Thus kick-starting the road to yet another money spinning extravaganza showdown in the British boxing enclave. It now goes without saying that in the eyes of the general public, the contrast in the way both chapters of this saga are being viewed cannot be any more in parallel.
The lead up to the first fight was both seamless and predictable in a way a pantomime could only be. From the pre-fight taunts and threats to the subsequent outrage at said taunts and threats. From the dismissal of the fight as a freak show to the growing sense of anticipation of an upset and from the expectation of what would follow for Haye to presumably the end of a rollercoaster career for Bellew.
All of this was pushed to one side once that first bell rang. The collective bemusement of seeing a once explosive killer in Haye swing helplessly in the opening rounds matched that of the reaction to Bellew braving the straight shots which Haye did find a room for.
But it is the subsequent tear to Haye’s achilles and the fracas which followed, leading to a Bellew victory, which is what serves to be one of the defining moments of the British boxing calendar year. The Liverpudlian’s lottery ticket was punched that night, as both preparation and injury allowed him to forge an ending to this saga (one that he initiated) that he could have only imagined – punching a nemesis through the ropes and watching him be saved by his corner.
Bellew had hit the jackpot and Haye was left helplessly watching his conqueror ironically reap the small benefits and perks of a celebrity lifestyle that Bellew once constantly criticized him for — all as a result of what transpired on fight night. Any defeat is damaging at this level of the fight game, but defeat coupled with the epic failure to live up to expectation and injury multiplies the inevitable sting of a setback. But, somewhat thankfully for Haye, he is well-trained in the art of persuasive diversion.
Often in the fight game, whether it be due to the wish of exhibiting weakness in the face of a scrutinizing public or as a mechanism of self-assurance, boxers usually engage in said art. Haye returned in 2016 after a long lay off saying that he was better than ever before. He then reiterated in the lead up to the March showdown once again that he was better than ever before and once again, even on the back off a serious surgery and approaching his 37th Birthday, he is still reiterating that he is better than ever before. And amongst Haye’s generational peers, this mechanism is more prevalent than it should be.
This past weekend we saw the promotional antithesis to Haye and Bellew with the well-mannered lightweight battle between Anthony Crolla and veteran Scottish 3 weight champion Ricky Burns in Manchester. Essentially this was a tame battle which was oversold between a slightly faded but young champion in Crolla and a badly faded older champion in Burns, but with the right ingredients of nostalgia and promotion fans are now led under the impression that a near 50 fight veteran in Burns still has plenty more to offer to the fight game (perhaps swayed by the Scotsman’s class in defeat and overall positive demeanor).
Burns has been on a hasty downward slope for many years now, probably played down by him winning a third world title belt in ignominious circumstances. More importantly, through a career filled with sacrifice and grit, he has more than earned the right to walk away from the sport with health and riches in tact and reflect on the memorable nights that he gave his nation within the past decade. Alas, be it due to financial needs or inner desire, his career will prolong and he is resigned to the commonly sad ending of a faded veteran — an ending which will become more damaging should all the interested parties continue to engage in persuasive diversion.
With the financial incentive of extending his career notwithstanding, David Haye already resigned himself to a similar fate years ago when he sat in his South London gym as a content 31 year old who was ready to hang up his gloves — only to resurface shortly after. A victory over Bellew in their rematch is far from a guarantee, however the expectation is that his body will hold together long enough for him to right the wrong from his previous chapter . However this will only serve as the impetus to tempt fate and ultimately run into a fresher younger heavyweight colossus who lurks at the top of British boxing’s food chain.