At the O2 Arena in Greenwich, London, David “Hayemaker” Haye (28-3, 26 KOs) took on Tony “Bomber” Bellew (29-2, 19 KOs) at heavyweight. Bellew moved up from cruiserweight, where he holds the WBC world title, for a heavily hyped grudge match in the UK. Going in, Haye was the heavy favorite to win, and most predicted he would win by knockout early in the fight versus the naturally smaller Bellew. Prior to the fight, Haye made the statement that the bout was a mismatch, that he would wipe the floor with Bellew. Most fans and experts seemed to agree.
Bellew danced in the ring to the 1979 disco tune “Ain’t No Stopping Us Now”, Haye’s ringwalk song, as the latter slowly made his way to the ring. As Paulie Maligniaggi speculated from ringside, it seemed Bellew wanted to show how relaxed he was. But it didn’t seem like an act, and once the fight began, it became clear Bellew’s cool-headedness was real.
In round one, the fighters felt each other out a bit until Haye tried to impose his size on his opponent; but both landed a few wild shots on the other but mostly resulted in a couple of tussles. Haye was stalking after that, with Bellew circling and boxing. Haye dropped his hands and showboated; when he came in for a body shot, Bellew instead caught Haye upstairs. While Haye had moments, Bellew’s timing looked better, while Haye seemed surprised he wasn’t able to just plow through the “Bomber.” As the round came to a close, Bellew caught Haye with a couple of clean shots and made him miss quite a bit.
Haye was perhaps cutting the distance a bit better in round two, with Bellew circling to his left most of the time. While he may in theory have had better success if he circled to his right, as Haye was mainly looking for a home for his right hand or left hook, Bellew did fine doing it this way too. He still found Haye a bit more than Haye found him, slipping several of Haye’s shots. Bellew used the ropes well defensively and made Haye miss there too. Towards the end of the round, Bellew made Haye miss big, then tried to capitalize on Haye being off balance, landing some glancing shots. Bellew seemed to have faster reflexes than Haye.
Round three began with Haye doing more stalking and more circling from Bellew. This seemed to keep Haye off balance; he also didn’t seem to like being made to move laterally. Bellew went to the ropes again, slipping a shot from Haye and came over the top with a right hand that landed well. From ringside, commentator Paulie Malignaggi speculated that maybe Bellew might not be trying to do too much until the later rounds, trying to take the heavier Haye into deep waters.
In rounds four and five, there was a lot of back and forth. Bellew slipped some shots well, but Haye caught him with a few punches that got Bellew’s attention and backed him off a bit. Bellew reached a bit more than he should with his right hand, but Haye wasn’t able to really make him pay for it. Haye’s jabs to the body began landing consistently here, and the 3” reach difference became more apparent. Both men displayed surprisingly fast hands for heavyweights. A cut appeared on the bridge of Bellew’s nose towards the end of five.
Haye began round six with a nice jab to the body; Bellew countered with a right hand upstairs. He followed that up with a nice right hand, then a left, which backed Haye up. Haye came back with a jab and then a combination, but most of the punches missed. Shortly thereafter, he slipped on the canvas and Bellew began raining big shots down on Haye. Clearly staggered, Haye took more punishment and then went down. He made the count, but when the action resumed, Haye was still staggering. At the end of the round, Haye could barely walk to his corner and his trainer Shane McGuigan was giving him a hard look.
Round seven and eight saw Haye still staggering and clearly hurt. It became clear that something was wrong with Haye’s right leg, perhaps from the slip or the knockdown in round six. Bellew began round seven landing clean bombs again, though Haye did try to return fire. It seemed that Bellew couldn’t miss with the right hand, clean to the side of Haye’s head. Haye threw periodically but missed. At one point, Haye held on briefly to the top rope with his right hand as if he was having trouble standing on his own—no doubt from the leg injury but also from the multitude of clean shots that were landing from Bellew. Forced back to the ropes by Bellew, Haye clinched and tried to get a rest. The referee was watching closely and seemed ready to stop the action, but by that point, Bellew seemed to have punched himself out. Haye hung in, and in round eight Haye made his way back out to the middle of the ring—it was unclear for a while whether his leg was better, or if he was bluffing. He landed a left hook upstairs on Bellew, but there wasn’t much on it; a little later, he landed a nice one-two that backed Bellew off. Haye retreated back to the ropes for support. By this time, it was clear that Haye was trying to catch Bellew with one big shot he couldn’t see, while Bellew seemed to be trying to lure Haye away from the ropes, perhaps trying to get him to use his injured leg.
Round nine began with Haye throwing some combinations, but they were slipped by Bellew. An overhand right caught Haye, who was once again hurt on the ropes. But he kept trying to find a way and showed real heart and character in a tough situation. Bellew seemed wary, perhaps because of the bluff by Haye in the prior round, and instead of coming in hot, he seemed content at that point with winning the rounds. The round continued with lots of give and take by both fighters, though Bellew was clearly getting the better of it all.
Between rounds nine and ten, Haye’s corner wrapped his right ankle with tape. When the referee took a look, though, he had them remove some of it as it was loose. Carl Froch and Paulie Maglinaggi speculated that it could be an injured Achilles tendon. Bellew was now stalking Haye, and the latter went back to the ropes. Bellew began going to the body more, and while Haye did throw and land occasional shots, Bellew slipped many of them and landed many more. Haye showed tremendous heart by continuing to try to throw and land punches, but just couldn’t get the momentum needed from his legs to do enough to win rounds or hurt Bellew; but he did have enough on his shots to get Bellew’s attention now and then—a real testament to his conditioning as well as his character. Towards the end of the round, Bellew landed a big right hand that staggered Haye; Haye came back with a right of his own and backed Bellew off a bit.
Before round eleven began, Haye’s corner took all of the tape off of his ankle. Speaking from ringside, Anthony Joshua made the point that, while Haye wasn’t able to put weight on his right foot for good momentum for his power hand, he could try to put more weight on his lead (left) foot for a solid left hook. Bellew continued on the attack and then knocked Haye backwards through the ropes. As the referee counted, Haye did crawl back through the ropes and stood up, but his corner threw in the towel when the referee reached the count of 9.
It was a major upset.
Despite an overwhelming amount of disrespect and trash-talking leading up to the bout, after the fight ended, both fighters showed real graciousness. They showed genuine respect for one another in the post-fight interviews.
“I am the champion of the misfits!” Bellew declared proudly. “I’m the mandy man!”
Later, he added, “I’ve secured my kids’ future. That’s all I care about. I don’t give a shit about winning.”
“He’s got balls bigger than I’ve ever fought before,” Haye said. “If he would oblige me, I’d fight him on his terms, on his turf. He’s the man now–he beat me fair and square.”
Bellew didn’t respond directly about the proposition of a rematch, but it would no doubt be a great draw. If it could also be broadcast in the US on Showtime—or, even better on free network television—it could be a huge win for the sport.