I rank David Haye in the top 10 at heavyweight, but I do so with reservations. I am giving tentative respect to a resume from nearly five years ago, while applying the eyeball test to a pair of quick knockouts last year against opponents of questionable talent. Mark de Mori and Arnold Gjergjaj entered the ring against Haye with a combined record of 59-1-2. But it’s a mistake to view them as well-calibrated measuring sticks for a true heavyweight contender.
I do not think Tony Bellew counts as one, either. In my mind, he’s basically a guy who competes now at cruiserweight because he was not quite good enough to beat the very best in the talent-laden light heavyweight division. He challenged twice for belts at 175 pounds, losing by majority decision to Nathan cleverly in October 2011 and getting knocked out by lineal champion Adonis Stevenson in November 2013.
But let’s be fair to Bellew. He has been quite good at 200 pounds. He beat Cleverly in a rematch in November 2014. He captured the vacant WBC cruiserweight strap by knocking out the dangerous Llunga Makabu last May. Last October, he demolished BJ Flores, one of the division’s more experienced fighters.
Will beating Bellew prove that Haye is up for the likes of Anthony Joshua or Deontay Wilder? Of course not. Then again, Bellew is a clear step up from de Mori and Gjergjaj.
And this fight is compelling regardless of its relevance. Bellew started selling this fight minutes after he had finished with Flores, launching into a verbal tirade against Haye, who was sitting ringside. The two clashed later at the press conference.
I’m a hardcore boxing fan and a sportsman. I do not need bad blood to make a fight compelling. But sometimes it provides a tasty pinch of spice.
And I’ll say this for Bellew–he was not previously a fighter I gave much thought to, one way or another. But since he called out Haye, I’ve become a fan. There is something distinctly old-school tough about a guy who punctuates his trash talk with the assertion “I’ve got a little more fat and he’s better looking.”