Can Bellew take Haye into deep waters?

David Haye and Tony Bellew clash at a presser in London

David Haye and Tony Bellew clash at a press conference in London to promote their fight

In an age of catchweight clashes, boxing fans have become accustomed to fighters jumping weight classes to take on bigger foes for larger pay cheques. But when it becomes apparent that the smaller fighter has little or no chance of bridging the gap in size and power, the paying public can be left feeling a little shortchanged.

Amir Khan’s ill-fated bid to dethrone middleweight champion Saul ‘Canelo’ Alvarez on 7 May, which saw the Briton brutally knocked out in the sixth round by his opponent’s first meaningful punch, immediately springs to mind. His bitter rival and fellow welterweight Kell Brook also found Gennady Golovkin a leap too far when he was stopped in five rounds challenging the heavy-hitting 160-pound king for his titles in September.    

And on 4 March, fans will be asked to fork out for another pay-per-view bout that, on paper at least, looks likely to end in equally predictable fashion. Does Tony Bellew (28-2-1, 18 KOs), the WBC cruiserweight champion, really belong in the ring with an established heavyweight like David Haye (28-2, 26 KOs)?

That’s the (multi-)million-dollar question, yet the pair’s gift for trash-talking and pre-fight theatrics will ensure that London’s O2 Arena is packed on the night and PPV numbers go through the roof, regardless of how uncompetitive the main event may be.

Massive ask

It is going to be a massive ask of Bellew – who was knocked out by Adonis Stevenson while at light-heavyweight – to absorb the power of Haye’s punches in the early going. While the Londoner’s last two foes, Arnold Gjergjaj and Mark De Mori, leave a lot to be desired, they were bona fide big men who were simply blown away by Haye’s handspeed and ferocious punching power.

Bellew has been dropped to the canvas multiple times during his nine-year professional career, and while his heart cannot be questioned, getting up from a heavyweight blow is a different proposition entirely. Bellew himself has been honest enough to admit that one punch could end his career – or even his life – and he is certainly not taking his 36-year-old opponent lightly.

“One punch can change everything. One punch and I might not wake up – that’s how serious boxing is and we’ve both got the power to do that to each other.”

Long shot

So does Bellew stand any chance of upsetting Haye – or ‘Sideshow Bob’ as he has taken to calling him – on 4 March? While his chances appear slim, the loudmouth Liverpudlian has two factors in his favour as fight night fast approaches. The first is Haye’s inactivity and level of opposition since he knocked out Derek Chisora in June 2012. Since that memorable night at Upton Park more than four years ago, the Bermondsey native has fought just twice against second-rate foes. Bellew, on the other hand, has mixed with comparatively high level opposition in the shape of Isaac Chilemba, Nathan Cleverly and Ilunga Makabu, to name but a few.

Although Haye looked as quick and powerful as ever against the hapless De Mori (“the first-ever YouTube trained boxer”, according to Bellew) and the untested Gjergjaj, they barely threw a punch in his direction so it is impossible to tell whether he had lost a step after such a long lay-off. If there’s one thing Bellew doesn’t lack, it’s confidence, and he is unlikely to be as accommodating as De Mori and Gjergjaj and go down without offering any resistance.

He has also stopped six of his eight opponents since moving up to cruiserweight, so the added bulk appears to have increased the snap on his punches. It will be interesting to see whether the same applies when he moves up to heavyweight. Haye’s close friend (or ‘nightclub buddy’, as Bellew memorably christened him) BJ Flores knows only to well that ‘Bomber’ can bang, after being dropped four times en route to a brutal third round TKO in October. He will no doubt be warning Haye against taking Bellew too lightly, despite Haye’s bravado in their recent press conference in which he promised to knock him out with a jab.

Numbers game

The second factor in Bellew’s favour is Haye’s age and hunger. At 36, does he still have the desire to go through a gruelling training camp in preparation for a 12-round war? Prevailing wisdom suggests Haye will try and end the fight early, using his speed and power advantage to take out Bellew in the first few rounds. But if the Scouser is able to withstand the early storm, will he have enough in the tank to go into the later rounds, or is a repeat of his 2004 loss to Carl Thompson  in which he battered his experienced foe around the ring trying to score a quick knockout before emptying his tank and getting stopped – a real possibility?

Bellew has promised to take Haye into deep waters, and if he can survive the early onslaught he has the skill and conditioning to keep Haye at bay and outbox him with his solid jab. However, Haye’s trainer, Shane McGuigan, will be mindful of this scenario playing out, so you can expect Haye to enter the ring in prime physical condition and ready to go the full 12 rounds. And in fairness to Haye, he appears to have learned from that Thompson loss – the first of his pro career – and hasn’t looked gassed on the rare occasions his fights have gone into the later rounds since that brutal battle at Wembley 12 years ago.

So while Bellew is certainly a step up from Haye’s recent level of opposition in terms of his accomplishments at light-heavy and cruiserweight, it is hard to make a case for him making it past the early rounds. Haye has more experience, power and speed, as well as better punch resistance, and crucially is also used to taking fire from fully-fledged heavyweights. Bellew, while brave, may quickly find himself out of his depth in with a devastating puncher like Haye. An early KO for the Londoner looks like a safe bet – and if it happens, you can expect boxing fans to once again debate the merits of these mismatches.

Knockoutpunch prediction: Haye by KO


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