On an emotional night at London’s O2 Arena (the former Millennium Dome in Greenwich), logic took a back seat as Tony “Bomber” Bellew overcame red hot favorite David Haye in eleven dramatic rounds at heavyweight that not even the most hackneyed screenwriter could have conjured up. Former Hollywood star Bellew continued to erase memories of a devastating 2013 KO loss to the lineal light heavyweight champion Adonis Stevenson, after wading through Haye’s renowned power punching without issue. Haye, meanwhile, belied his own reputation as a frontrunner, whose own boxing nadir had come when, infamously, he attempted to mitigate a meek surrender to former heavyweight king Wladimir Klitschko in 2011 by citing a broken toe.
This latest installment in the Sky TV and Matchroom Sports grudge match canon had threatened to eat itself during fight week, as Haye snapped before a baying Liverpool crowd while fantasizing openly about doing Bellew irrevocable harm. While the tabloid media lapped it up, the fight – one based around branding and personality in the main – seemed to have little hope of living up to its own hype. Somehow, though, the fight played out like something from both men’s wildest dreams.
Haye (28-3, 26 KO), 36, Bermondsey, London, began this, his first real competitive bout in almost five years, intent on landing the TNT-loaded bombs most experts had predicted would bring him victory within a few rounds, before embarking on some calculated jawing with Anthony Joshua (the imposing IBF heavyweight titlist seated at ringside) to set up a blockbuster event at nearby Wembley Stadium later this year. 34-year-old Bellew (28-2-1, 18 KO), though, Liverpool, Merseyside, had jigged into the ring brimming with confidence and quickly set about affirming his pre-fight assertions that he was the faster, sharper fighter of the pair.
Slower and clumsier after returning from an extended sabbatical with a reconstructed right shoulder, Haye struggled to pin Bellew down. After the in-form WBC cruiserweight titlist sent Haye flying with a meaty counter left hook early in the opening round, the message was clear: this wasn’t the physical mismatch the weigh-in pictures had led some to believe.
Haye stalked Bellew malevolently through the first five rounds, jabbing well to the body with his overemployed left, though only enjoying intermittent success with his big right (and when he did connect with his money punch, Bellew flashed him an unimpressed “so what?” gesture). And then in round six, all hell broke loose.
After Haye missed with the sort of compromised, chopping right Bellew had chided him about pre-fight, he grinned, skipped back onto his back foot and appeared to rupture his Achilles. As Haye hobbled back into the ropes a wounded duck, Bellew tore after him and was bowled over to the canvas when they clashed heads. After they reconvened with a series of wild and stirring exchanges, the extent of Haye’s handicap became clear as he struggled to even stand up straight. As Bellew ploughed into him again with swinging shots, Haye fell to his knees in utter disarray, before dragging himself up to make a berserk last stand. And as Haye tumbled again from a thudding left hook, the chaotic scenes began to resemble a plover picking over a crab.
As Haye tried to fight back desperately off the ropes, Bellew drilled him with a smashing right swipe. Horizontal yet again, Haye barely managed to haul himself up onto his good leg to see out the round and skitter back to his corner like a drunkard looking for his bed.
Bellew laid a beating on Haye in the seventh when “The Hayemaker” refused to quit, or even acknowledge his bizarre predicament. And as Bellew began huffing and puffing from his concerted effort to close the fight out, Haye was allowed to play possum on the ropes in the hope of landing a Hail Mary thunderbolt. At this point, all bets were off: It was difficult enough to make sense of what was unfolding, without hoping to predict the next crazy plot twist.
Somehow, they went on rocking and rolling into the eleventh round – Bellew tormenting, Haye hanging tough grimly – before finally, Bellew landed his ferocious left hook to send Haye bundling through the ropes. As Haye scrambled defiantly to get back into the ring, coach Shane McGuigan belatedly waved the white towel. Bellew – a 4-to-1 outsider – had pulled off the most improbable of wins.
It had been trippy, heart-stopping – farcical at times – but utterly engrossing. Boxing, surely, is the only sport that can change fortunes, lives and reputations so quickly.
The most crushing defeat a fighter ever has to face is surely the final one. In a gut-wrenching piece of theatre, Merseyside cult hero “Dirty” Derry Mathews found himself in his own worst nightmare as Hackney eccentric Ohara Davies overpowered him in three rounds to send him packing into retirement. The match-up – spawned from an acerbic Twitter spat between the abrasive young braggart in Davies and the straight-talking veteran in Mathews – had promised to steal the show, yet in the event, “OD” as Davies has styled himself, attempted to do it all by himself.
Mathews (38-12-2, 20 KO) and coming off a brace of defeats to Terry Flanagan and Luke Campbell, had whipped himself into tremendous shape at 33; however, he never quite looked like a super lightweight alongside Davies (15-0, 12 KO) as they jockeyed for control in mid-ring. As Mathews looked to draw a lead before countering with a big left hook, Davies coolly set about landing hard, straight punches upstairs and down. Simply too big and powerful, Davies unleashed a trio of powerful rights in the third that forced Derry to take a knee. As he looked over into his corner, his career had already ran away from him. Two follow-up barrages from Davies ended it formally and left Mathews choking back tears.
For while losing to Davies was painful enough, it surely wasn’t anything in comparison to the realisation he was no longer a fighter.
“I’m a proper loser,” Mathews said forlornly post fight. “I know it’s the end. It’s just one of those things.”
Rising star Sam Eggington took his career to new heights with an eighth round stoppage over veteran Paulie “Magic Man” Malignaggi at welterweight. 13 years Eggington’s senior at 36-years-old, Malignaggi, Brooklyn, New York, found himself confronted with a physical monster on the opening bell. Eggington (20-3, 12 KO), Stourbridge, Worcestershire, looked gigantic next to the visitor, who was forced to overreach with his punches in order to land anything of note.
As “The Savage” steadily gathered steam, the bout looked a physical mismatch until Malignaggi, resourceful to the end, adjusted in the fourth with greater movement and sneaky lead right hands.
There was real drama in the sixth, as Malignaggi landed a quick right that troubled Eggington, who then brazenly dropped his hands to allow the American to tee off on his chin. After trainer Jon Pegg brought him back to order in the corner, Eggington settled back into his groove and dispatched Malignaggi with a ripping left body shot at 1:50 of round eight.
Malignaggi (36-8, 7 KO), in all likelihood, with retire later this week while Eggington, one of the most improved fighters in world boxing over recent years, marches on in pursuit of a European title.