On Black Friday, one of the biggest shopping days of the calendar year, Tony Bellew and David Haye grabbed a deal that was just too good to resist.
After trading shots at each other in the media, the two Englishmen have agreed to go toe-to-toe on March 4 of next year.
It will give both parties the chance to settle their rather public feud in the ring—and make seriously good money in the process. If you can hear a rustling noise, that’s just the sound of all sides rubbing their hands together at the thought of the profit they will make.
WBC cruiserweight champion Bellew has taken a calculated gamble in choosing to step up to a new division at the O2 Arena in London.
Haye, meanwhile, needed to take on a recognised name. Preferably, that would’ve been a someone recognised at heavyweight, but that won’t be the case.
As is often the case when big bouts are announced, social media offers you the full range of opinions. With the aid of a few tweets, here’s a breakdown of the key talking points.
Is It Worth the Weight?
Did I miss a memo sent out six months ago announcing the abandonment of weight classes in boxing? #CaneloKhan #GGGBrook #HayeBellew #Boxing
— Paul D Gibson (@PaulieDGibson) November 25, 2016
British boxers jumping up weight divisions has become a common theme in 2016.
Kell Brook and Amir Khan both took giant leaps of faith in their abilities when they went from welterweight to middleweight (well, it was a catchweight of 155 pounds in Khan’s case). The reward was deemed great enough to make the risk worthwhile.
Of course, history shows us that neither decision paid off (from a boxing point of view).
Brook and Khan had fleeting moments of success in their respective fights against superstars Gennady Golovkin and Saul Alvarez. Eventually, though, they were overwhelmed and suffered painful defeats.
While a right hand from Canelo laid waste to Khan’s hopes of an upset, as well as laying him out across the canvas, a broken eye socket put paid to Brook’s dreams of dethroning GGG.
Still, Bellew has taken the plunge and agreed to jump up to face Haye. Again, it’s a gamble, particularly as he’s only weighed over 200 pounds for one fight in a pro career that spans nearly a decade.
However, what other option was there? Haye was not going to drop back down to cruiserweight. His last fight in the division was back in 2008, when he knocked out Enzo Maccarinelli inside two rounds.
But a catchweight contest, as Gareth A. Davies pointed out, would have closed the weight gap between Bellew and Haye:
. @mrdavidhaye vs @TonyBellew confirmed London March 4 at heavyweight. Thought it might’ve been catchweight. Interesting as long as it lasts
— Gareth A Davies (@GarethADaviesDT) November 25, 2016
Instead, this is signed as a straight-up heavyweight contest, giving Haye a huge advantage.
"I think Tony Bellew will come in at 14st 9lbs, 14st 10lbs, and I think David will come in light, about 15st 7lbs," promoter Eddie Hearn said on Friday, per the Guardian. "So you’re probably talking about [a difference of] 10 pounds. Which in the heavyweight division is absolutely nothing."
Except 10 pounds isn’t "absolutely nothing," is it?
Haye—who stands at 6’3" tall, the same height as Bellew—is not a huge heavyweight in this modern age of super-sized pugilists.
He may want to be a tad lighter than usual to improve his speed, but the extra weight he carries could still make a difference in deciding the outcome. By leaning on Bellew and making him fight up close, the two-weight world champion could sap his rival’s energy levels.
No matter what anyone tells you, size matters.
Short and Sweet
If Haye-Bellew goes the distance I’ll eat my laptop
— George Gigney (@ggigney) November 25, 2016
If you combine their records, the two protagonists have 44 knockout victories in the paid ranks.
As boxing journalist George Gigney pointed out in the above tweet, there doesn’t seem much chance of the judges being needed next year (and considering some of the judging in major fights this year, that’s probably a good thing).
Since his comeback after over three-and-a-half years out of action, Haye—who turned 36 in October—has not even fought for five minutes.
Mark de Mori and Arnold Gjergjaj were not even the standard normally required in sparring partners, let alone warm-up bouts for bigger fights down the road.
Yet even if a little ring rust remains in terms of his boxing skills, Haye won’t have forgotten how to hit hard.
The power that stopped legitimate heavyweights Monte Barrett, John Ruiz and Dereck Chisora (you can even include Audley Harrison too, if you’re loose with the term "legitimate") should still remain. The key is making sure he has enough fuel in the tank to keep on throwing big punches.
Camp has been in full flow for a while now! @ProAthletic2016 pushing me already! We now have a name for the camp though! #OperationHayefaker
— Tony Bellew (@TonyBellew) November 26, 2016
Bellew’s last two fights have also been short and sweet, albeit against a far higher level of opposition.
The Bomber lived up to his nickname in climbing off the canvas to sensationally stop Ilunga Makabu in May to become a world champion at the third attempt.
It wasn’t the first time he’d triumphed after a trip to the floor. Back in 2010, when campaigning at light heavyweight, the Liverpudlian recovered after knockdowns to defeat both Bob Ajisafe and Ovill McKenzie.
The added benefit of not having to worry about making weight allows Bellew to focus on tactics and technique. He has to make Haye respect his power early or else the bigger man will step into range without any fear of the consequences.
Plenty will point to Bellew’s performance against Adonis Stevenson to suggest he will struggle to cope with a heavy-handed opponent.
However, there were mitigating circumstances for that TKO defeat. Bellew had to boil himself down to make the weight limit, as he told BBC Radio Merseyside (h/t BBC Sport): "I made the weight [for the Stevenson fight] on the Wednesday, and I gained five pounds just eating a couple of breasts of chicken."
While Bellew was cautious in two fights with longtime rival Nathan Cleverly, he’s no longer showing the same level of patience.
He threw caution to the wind against Makabu, and it paid off in spectacular fashion. In the official Matchroom press release to announce the fight, Bellew suggested he would be brave against Haye:
I cop him with my best punch, he’s going to sleep. He cops me with his best punch, more than likely I am going to sleep too. I know what I am up against but the big factor for me is, I’m a very active fighter, I’ve had no breaks and I’ve got very little wear and tear on me. If it comes down to a question of heart and determination I win hands down. If it comes down to one punch, it’s a 50-50.
Bellew can be hurt. Clearly. But he will also keep on swinging until the end, and that makes him a dangerous underdog.
Nothing to Lose
Win win situation for tony bellew,great position to be in but no doubt he’s only looking on beating haye. Great fight 👌🏾
— Gamal Yafai (@Gamal_yafai) November 25, 2016
As boxer Gamal Yafai pointed out, this bout makes a lot of sense for Bellew.
Just as Brook kept hold of his IBF welterweight title when he challenged Golovkin up at middleweight, Bellew will not risk losing his WBC cruiserweight crown by fighting Haye.
In the Matchroom press release, Hearn called his fighter the "best cruiserweight in the world." The Ring magazine suggests otherwise with its rankings, putting the Englishman behind Denis Lebedev and Oleksandr Usyk, who looked so impressive in taking the WBO belt from Krzysztof Glowacki in September.
Unification fights would be a big deal in deciding who is top of the pile, but they wouldn’t bring in big money.
Bellew made clear after beating Makabu that he has no interest in travelling to face Lebedev. Usyk, meanwhile, wants to conquer the United States—he makes his HBO debut, against Thabiso Mchunu, on December 17.
Mairis Briedis—an unbeaten Latvian with a 79 per cent KO rate—is waiting in the wings as the mandatory challenger for the WBC belt too.
So when Bellew stood on the edge of the ring after beating BJ Flores and bad-mouthed Haye—who was behind the ropes on media duties—there was method to his madness.
The Hayemaker is his most lucrative option out there. There has to be a reward for taking such a big risk, and that comes in headlining a pay-per-view card at the age of 34.
Plenty will scoff at paying the extra fee to watch the bout on top of a monthly TV subscription, but plenty will also buckle and fork over the cash when it comes around next March.
To Hearn’s credit, he understands the need to prop up main events on PPV bills with strong support acts.
For example, heavyweight Anthony Joshua’s IBF title defence against Eric Molina in December is backed up by appearances from Callum Smith, Scott Quigg and Khalid Yafai, not to mention a heated heavyweight battle between Chisora and Dillian Whyte.
The bottom line for Haye, meanwhile, has to be about the bottom line. This fight won’t enhance his reputation in the division yet will vastly improve his bank balance.
He must be confident in his ability to win because a shock defeat would leave his career at a dead end.
The Verbal Warfare
Whatever your feelings, you cannot deny Bellew vs. Haye doesn’t intrigue you on some level.
In revealing the fight so far ahead of the scheduled date, it has allowed plenty of time for the rivalry to bubble up in the media.
They will attend a press conference on Wednesday—expect indoor fireworks.
The verbal warfare started within hours of the announcement, with the fighters sparring with each other during a joint interview that aired live on Sky Sports News HQ:
Both Bellew and Haye are happy to talk the talk—and both have a history of confrontational moments at media events.
Bellew had a heated head-to-head exchange at the weigh-in before his fight with Stevenson.
He’s a man with a spiteful tongue and a short temper who has become a master at the hold-me-back moment, threatening physical violence with his actions without ever coming to blows.
Haye, of course, brawled with Chisora at a post-fight press conference despite not being involved in the bout itself.
When the two agreed to scrap inside a ring, the press event to announce the contest saw them separated by a metal fence. It was a media stunt that worked—any publicity is good publicity, right?
Security may well be busy when Bellew and Haye are together in the same room. If you believe the former has bitten off more than he can chew, the buildup may be more entertaining than the fight itself.
But does scoring points in the media make any difference to the outcome in the ring? Probably not, but it won’t stop both sides trying to get the upper hand in the psychological battle.
However, the seed Bellew planted inside Haye’s mind came to fruition. He kept poking the bear—now he’s got the reaction he wanted.
It could be boxing suicide, but from a business point of view, it makes complete sense. Brace yourselves for four months of mayhem.