20.04.2024

Tony Bellew expects David Haye ‘to go down swinging’ in heated rematch

Away from their ritual pre-fight shove for the TV cameras at a London hotel on Thursday, a more considered Tony Bellew paused to observe that, for all the insults and mind games, he expects David Haye to “go down swinging” when they meet again on Saturday night.

Bellew, a slight favourite, does not like the one-time playboy, of whom he says: “I just don’t like the look of him, I just want to punch him in the face and he wants to punch every single tooth out of my head.”

He also recognises beating Haye again will be every bit as tough as it was in March last year, “because he’s a fighter at heart”.

That might have been the extent of the public respect between the Liverpudlian, who is happy to lampoon himself as “the big, fat Scouser”, and the unusually subdued Haye but they know their return to the O2 Arena could be hellish for both of them.

Bellew, two years younger at 35, capitalised on Haye’s snapped achilles in the first fight, leaving him tangled and incapacitated on the bottom rung in the 11th round, a sight disturbing enough for Shane McGuigan, his trainer of only three fights, to throw in the towel.

Haye and McGuigan split soon afterwards and he has been training for several months with the revered Cuban Ismael Salas, who guided Félix Savón Jr to the pinnacle of the amateur game.

As for their post-interview spat, when Bellew shoved Haye in the face‑off – and the promoter, Eddie Hearn, even looked as if he were about to get involved – Haye said: “I’ve looked at the video of it and he’s got his head in my face and then he pushed me in the neck.

“The pressure has got to him. I think he’s starting to crack. He wasn’t getting what he wanted from his verbal assaults, arguing over the most trivial things that have got no bearing on a boxing match. He was just saying stuff to try to wind me up. He’s a strange fella.”

Bellew, an artfully argumentative character, saw the handbaggery differently, of course. “He just got too close to me,” he said. “He put his forehead on me and, if I’d stayed where I was, we would have kissed. It’s not that kind of party.

“Once I felt his breath on me, I had to remove him from the area. Listen, it was a shove. Don’t make a big deal out of it. The only thing he will have learned from that is, don’t get too close to me.”

They will get uncomfortably close in the ring, with a lot of unfinished business to attend to. They should have met in December but Haye fell down some stairs and injured himself for the umpteenth time away from the ring in a career bedevilled by such incidents. Bellew, whose brother-in-law had died shortly beforehand, described the year as “the worst of my life”.

So each arrives with baggage and they displayed much of it in their final press conference before a fight Haye has to win to stay in boxing and Bellew promises will be “a war”.

There is hardly a heavyweight bout in history that has not been burdened with that sort of rhetoric but the signals this time are confused.

For weeks Haye has toned down his language and posturing, which once were his trademarks, while Bellew, garrulous to a fault, has pecked away at him, almost bullying the bully, and hoping to make him crack.

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Tony Bellew shoves David Haye as the #BellewHaye2 presser kicks off! ?

May 3, 2018

When it came to shove, there was no pushback, though. Haye stayed cool and much of that will be owing to his new partnership with Salas, a short, barrel-chested man with a big smile and an impressive cv. On Wednesday, he was filmed wearing shoes with outrageous platforms to lift him to within his fighter’s eyeline, as Haye hit the mitts and body bag.

Proceedings were briefly lightened on Thursday when “Jay” from The Inbetweeners – James Buckley – sauntered to the stage to banter with Bellew on behalf of Haye. Salas, though, is no straight-man in a comedy act. He is a serious player in the fight game, mentor to a string of world champions, including Jorge Linares, who takes on the best pure boxer, Vasyl Lomachenko, in Madison Square Garden on 12 May.

Salas has instructed Haye to “sit down more” on his punches and the fighter has acknowledged the fine-tuning he has done, particularly his footwork, which has let him down in recent fights.

Bellew has been equally meticulous. “What I didn’t prepare for last time was an injured David Haye sitting on the ropes, waiting to counter with a big right hand,” he said. “I just didn’t see that coming but I’ve even prepared for that in this fight, with a man lying on the ropes looking for a big right-hand counter.

“Once I’m into the later rounds in sparring, I’ve had a fresh sparring partner come in, who’s very good on defence, and just looks for one big shot.”

There are likely to be more of them this time than in last year’s fight. This time, the stakes are higher, especially for Haye, who will have nowhere to go if he loses.

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