David Haye vs. Tony Bellew: The U.K.’s big deal in boxing
If there’s one thing David Haye and WBC cruiserweight titlist Tony Bellew are good at, other than getting into the ring and fighting, it’s selling a fight. That’s why their fight on March 4 at the O2 Arena in London, England is going to be such a big deal, to the dismay of many in the boxing community.
The fight exemplifies the ongoing balance between sport and spectacle that boxing and combat sports in general always face. Ideally the best would just fight the best and the narrative would write itself but that’s far too simplified to apply to boxing.
Money makes the world go around and that’s always been the case. Simply put, Haye vs. Bellew is going to generate huge buzz and a massive amount of pay-per-view buys in the U.K. The majority of people paying won’t even be the hardcore boxing fans but instead the coveted casual fans, due to the fight crossing over to the mainstream audience.
Mairis Briedis is Tony Bellew’s mandatory challenger and, quite frankly, that fight isn’t going to do the type of business to outweigh the risk vs. reward factor. Briedis is dangerous and not very well known. In Haye, Bellew can move up for a fight and still keep his title. If he loses like most expect him to, he can still go back down and defend his belt after receiving a huge payday.
This year, Haye has filled the O2 and drawn millions of viewers on TV by fighting guys no one’s ever heard of. He’s still one of the biggest stars in boxing. Put him in with an outspoken, known fighter, who’s talked up a storm and the fact that the fight being irrelevant in terms of rankings or belts plays second fiddle to the giant spectacle. It’s a grudge match and that always sells.
Haye and promoter Eddie Hearn of Matchroom Boxing managed to make a fight with Audley Harrison huge and this one will be even bigger. Haye has always been known to talk and be a good self-promoter. Even when he isn’t fighting – which, in recent years, has been most of the time – he keeps himself in the media via the celebrity circuit. This time around, he’s got a perfect foil in terms of selling a fight and Bellew started off right away, calling the former cruiserweight and heavyweight world champion a “night club diva” who’s more interested in publicity than actually fighting.
Bellew, for his part, has been on a rise that not many could’ve ever seen coming. Knocked out by Adonis Stevenson in a light heavyweight title challenge in Canada, three years ago, most figured he wouldn’t cut it at cruiserweight, a division stacked with big punchers. Thanks in part to his mouth, the Sky Sports hype machine and Hearn, a rematch with Welsh foe Nathan Cleverly managed to do hundreds of thousands of pay-per-view buys in a fight between two guys most people thought had no business sniffing world titles at cruiserweight. It was a bad fight that didn’t live up to the hype yet the winner, Bellew, kept moving onward and upward until he beat Mateusz Masternak, a respectable cruiserweight, for the European title, two years ago. Then, WBC champion Grigory Drozd got injured, setting up Bellew vs. Ilunga Makabu for the vacant title in front of the Liverpudlian’s home fans at Goodison Park. The rest is history.
Bellew also scored a role in the “Creed” movie, which, coinciding with his world title fight, certainly increased his profile by being in a “Rocky” franchise film with Sylvester Stallone. As he said to Haye, live on Sky Sports News, “You went to Hollywood and failed. I went to Hollywood and cracked it.”
The whole “feud” was instigated by Bellew, claiming Haye was making a mockery of the sport with the two opponents he’d fought in his comeback this year. It culminated in him coming out of the ring and getting on the mic to tear into the “Hayemaker.” Whether or not the current WBC cruiserweight champion was being genuine or just strategically looking for a big payday to offset having to take a high-risk/low-reward title defense, it’s mission accomplished for Bellew and Hearn. They’ve talked their way into a huge fight that otherwise wouldn’t have been there.
From “Sideshow Bob” to “The bitch from Bermondsey,” the verbal barbs have been flying from Bellew, garnering retorts from Haye and thus creating the back-and-forths live on TV and at the press conference. Hate it or love it, this is the type of stuff that gets a lot of people interested and hyped. Oh, and the minor scuffle at the face-to-face, in which Bellew just nearly avoided being hit by a left hook.
To date, Haye’s comeback can accurately be described as a money grab, after rumors that he was skint, as the British like to say. Bellew and even Hearn said as much at the presser. This fight doesn’t get him any closer to a heavyweight title but it does make him a ton of money and that’s what this whole game is all about, from the perspective of the fighter and promoter. It’s also, from Haye’s perspective, a low-risk/high-reward affair. He can go on to make even more money against IBF titleholder Anthony Joshua afterward.
It’s prizefighting and, most of the time, the spectacle and entertainment aspect will outweigh the sporting side if the dollars make too much sense.
You can follow Rian Scalia on Twitter @rian5ca.