On March 4 of this year, Tony Bellew and David Haye embraced in the middle of the ring at London’s O2 Arena. Having spent the last few months engaged in fiery pull-aparts and tasteless verbal spats, the sight was about as expected as the surprisingly-entertaining slugfest before it.
While some will always believe that the pre-fight animosity, as always, is put on to sell tickets and that the usual displays of respect after the contest are the first time the masquarade can fall, so to speak, trading blows with your rival will always provide adequate release from your vendetta and allow you to gain a newfound level of appreciation for them, at least as a competitor.
In Tony and David’s case, however, there’s enough evidence to suggest that the two still very much hate each other, and always have.
That embrace is what a world class sportsman is expected to do, and thus they do it. But judging by the maiden press conference for their rematch, booked for Sunday December 17 at the very same venue, nothing was settled by the first bout.
Bellew stopped Haye in round 11 when David’s corner threw in the towel. The Londoner had ruptured his Achilles tendon halfway during the bout, but Bellew had been the one to execute his gameplan his way prior to the freak injury that left enough people wondering if things would have gone differently otherwise.
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It’s a simple case of Haye’s quest for revenge going up against Bellew’s desire to prove the doubters that his victory was a supreme one. That combined with their collective star power and the entertainment value of the first bout is more than enough to ensure a successful payday for all involved.
But even though no furniture was flung and swear words were avoided – at least for the main conference at the Park Plaza Hotel – it was very easy to imagine that the two were bludgeoning each other with heavy objects in their minds.
Having lost the first fight and with his chances of one day becoming a world champion once again hanging by a thread, the very media-savvy Haye realised it was not the time nor the place to be antagonistic.
David avoided bringing up the injury as far as why he lost the first fight, but was full of backhanded compliments and sly digs – or at least, what Bellew and his trainer Dave Coldwell certainly took as such.
He said: “I didn’t believe I’d get this opportunity again. I didn’t think it would happen. Tony, for some reason, wants to do it again.
“His motivations were clear [for the first fight] – he wanted to secure his family. That should be first and foremost in any athlete’s mind.
“He’s now a multi-millionaire – welcome to a very small club of British boxers who don’t have to box, they are comfortable. So I ask myself: what are his motivations going into the second fight?
“I know why I want this fight. My motivations are for revenge, I want to be the best heavyweight in the world. He doesn’t want to fight Anthony Joshua or Deontay Wilder because he isn’t big enough. So why go back into the lion’s den?”
Haye then embarked on a several-minutes long analogy comparing a winner wanting a rematch with the opponent he defeated with a bank robber returning to the scene of the crime for a repeat job. It certainly made the gathering media giggle/scratch their heads in utter bemusement. But Bellew was left feeling slighted.
“People rob banks to secure their family,” Haye explained “Would you go back to rob that same bank again? Is your hatred so bad for the clerk behind the desk that you need to do it again?
“You could get shot robbing the bank again. Most banks improve their security after the first robbery. They get more cameras, more guards. They will probably move the safe.”
Though most in the room thought Haye had just lost it, the implication was clear in Bellew’s mind: his victory back in March was daylight robbery and won’t happen again.
“Robbing a bank? He must have run out of insults for me,” Bellew fired back. “I didn’t rob any bank, I got in a ring and punched him senseless.
“I know he still doesn’t rate me, he still thinks he can blast me away.”
Tony on numerous occasions recited to Haye some of the comments he made to the Liverpool fighter before that first encounter. It was clear that even with a win inside the distance, Bellew did not feel he taught Haye enough of a lesson.
Bellew had hoped that a win earlier this year would shut David up and teach him to show ‘The Bomber’ some respect as a fighter and as a man. But despite Haye seemingly attempting to come across as both humble and respectful on Wednesday, Bellew wasn’t buying it.
If Haye truly is looking for Bellew’s motivations this time around, that would be a good place to start.
“David’s calm and respectful now but we have no doubt he will revert to type,” Tony said, referring to Haye’s usual disrespectful antics.
“This won’t go as long as the first one. David is going to lose on December 17. His career ends on December 17.”
One of the main reasons the boxing community collectively groans when boxers get into it at media events or take trash-talking to unacceptable lengths is that it’s easy to tell whether there truly is animosity behind these words and actions, or if it’s just a professional wrestling-esque case of doing whatever it takes to promote the fight and get people talking.
At the start of the road to Haye-Bellew II, the two fighters proved two things despite doing their utmost to avoid all the tropes and cliches used to build up their first bout: that one in-ring embrace means nothing, and that less is often more when it comes to conveying your true feelings about someone else.
Make no mistake about it: Haye and Bellew are not going into this rematch in a more friendly and respectful manner. They still very much dislike each other. And even if they had other lucrative fight options on the table (and neither do), a second grudge match is very much what both of these gentlemen need right now.