Tony Bellew contemplates lucrative future after shock win over David Haye
Liverpool fighter says he could ‘happily walk away from boxing tomorrow’
David Haye drags his injured right leg behind him on his way to losing to Tony Bellew at the O2 in London on Saturday night. Photograph: Andrew Coulridge/Reuters.
Nobody in boxing shrinks from the blinding lights of celebrity with such determination as Tony Bellew, although few of his contemporaries deserve to feed off the fruits of the precarious business more than the self-mocking “fat Scouser” whose wit is as quick as his fists, and who simultaneously shook up his belly and the boxing world on Saturday night.
There were more tears than laughter at the O2 Arena in London and, even in the afterglow of his drawn-out destruction of the playboy heavyweight David Haye in a hyped fight with no title but which drew more than 700,000 pay-per-view customers, Bellew, nursing a right hand he says he broke in the second or third round, only reluctantly basked in the praise that enveloped his remarkable achievement.
“I could happily walk away from boxing tomorrow,” he said hours later, adding he was more concerned about surviving his sport in one piece than dominating it. “I fear no man, I really don’t. But I fear going home to Rachael [his long-time partner whom he will marry in July] and not having what she wants. And so would you, if you knew her.”
He would not be drawn on either resuming his fledgling acting career – after a starring performance in Creed, Sylvester Stallone’s 2016 Rocky spin-off – or venturing into the more dangerous waters of challenging the IBF champion Anthony Joshua (who has the small matter of dealing with Wladimir Klitschko next month). “You were in a helluva scrap,” Joshua told him later.
Their promoter, Eddie Hearn, is thus in the curious position of having Britain’s marquee heavyweight in Joshua and a marketable underdog-turned-superstar in Bellew, who is not altogether enamoured of what he calls, “this nonsense, this circus”.
He said in the early hours of Sunday: “It’s just going to keep following me around. I don’t actually like all this. I’ve started to hate it. Never wanted it. I’ve got to embrace it, man, just do the best I can. I’m not a perfect person, far from it. I’ve made some bad mistakes in life. I’m not Rocky. I just want to be left alone. I’ve been away from my kids 14 weeks on and off.”
Most valuable heavyweight
But, as he pointed out: “I’m the most valuable heavyweight in the world outside the champions.”
Whereas Haye wants a rematch – on his conqueror’s terms and in Liverpool if he chooses – Hearn suggested that a workout against the less threatening New Zealander Joseph Parker was not out of the question for Bellew. Parker fights Hughie Fury, Tyson’s cousin, on May 6th, for the WBO belt, and the winner will be in a position to fight the WBC champion, Deontay Wilder.
“I could make either the Parker fight or Wilder here in London in a heartbeat,” Hearn said.
As Haye recovers from damage to the right achilles tendon and wrenched knee that crippled him in the sixth round and will almost certainly confine him to the comforting warmth of Miami for the rest of the year, Bellew contemplates a future rich with possibilities, none of which seem capable of turning his head.
“I’m just a normal fella,” he said. “I didn’t do this to prove anyone wrong. It’s not why I’m in boxing. I’m in boxing for my three kids. If it was about me, I’d have quit 12 months ago at Goodison Park [after winning the world cruiserweight title].”
Would the fight have followed a different route but for the freak aggravation of Haye’s delicate achilles in the sixth round? Certainly, a fully functioning Haye would still have to answer questions about his stamina down the stretch but, as Bellew’s trainer David Coldwell, who once worked with Haye, conceded in a quiet moment: “We knew he would be dangerous all the way to the end, even on one leg. That’s why I told Tony to be careful.”
For once in his career, the independent Bellew listened. From this vantage point, he had won the first round, shared the second, was edged in the third, lost the fourth when he shipped a couple of fight-finishing head shots, maybe gave up the fifth, hugely won the dramatic street-fight sixth, the seventh as well, which was a close-quarters three-minute brawl in Haye’s corner, then steered a considered, clinical path to an end that nobody but he and his closest associates saw coming.
Haye, staggering around the ring like a Saturday night drunk, went down swinging, his right ankle strapped in the ninth then unstrapped, his aged body sagging under every assault. As he observed the fallen Haye at the end, Bellew felt a pang of sympathy. “I looked at Shane [McGuigan, Haye’s trainer], and said: ‘Stop it lad.’ I know he said all through the build-up how he wanted to put me in hospital and leave me on a stretcher. That was never my intention, never is. He’s got two kids. Kids need their dads.
“At the end, I told him: ‘Thank you. You’ve helped me secure my kids’ future.’ He said: ‘And thank you for such a great fight. I can’t believe you’re still standing.’ But, some of you don’t believe me: I’ve got no switch-off button. It’s scary. No matter how hard or painful it gets, I can’t stop. The biggest danger in this game to me is me. There’s only a certain number of times you can keep doing this. There won’t be many more times.”
So, for all the sentiment and fine words, these dads are similar beasts: paid fighting men, albeit with different lifestyles and priorities away from the workplace, but essentially from the same cloth.
Even when thrashed through the ropes at the end, Haye clambered back and was willing to continue, though he was maybe quietly grateful for the white towel that had fluttered into the ring from his corner. It will not seem so to him as he contemplates the fading of his days, but this was Haye’s finest night. Guardian Service