Overlooking the Thames in the executive suite of the plush Park Plaza hotel on London’s Embankment, David Haye did not look like a boxer facing the end, though he accepts the inevitability of that outcome should he fall a second time to Tony Bellew at the 02 Arena on Saturday.
If his demeanour could talk it would be saying: “Don’t worry fellas, I’ve got this. Trust me, I have.”
Dressed in black training gear, and moving easily among the assembled media, Haye looked nearer 27 than the 37 years he has clocked. With new trainer Ismael Salas working alongside conditioning coach Ruban Tabares and free of any health concerns Haye was convincing in both appearance and manner.
The disdain for Bellew remains but there was no toxic phrasing, no nuclear antipathy, just plain speaking, which in its own menacing way represents more jeopardy for his opponent.
Haye has stripped this contest to its essentials. If, indeed, he is as fit and healthy as he feels, and if the pedigree that saw him win world silver as an amatuer in Belfast in 2002, unify the cruiserweight belts and claim the WBA heavyweight title is undiminished, then it really ought not to matter what Bellew brings. A triumphant conclusion will follow from that impeccably-credentialed premise.
Show Me The Proof
You will note the ‘if’ in all of this. Bellew acknowledges Haye’s talent and his achievements but believes the potency has left him. The proof, he said, was laid bare in the first fight, which Bellew won in the 11th round.
Haye was, of course, crippled by a ruptured Achilles by then. Even before the injury made itself known, Haye’s timing was off. He was seeking the one-punch finish. Bellew was too good, too smart to fall for that, and began to make inroads with Haye still on both feet.
Back to the Park Plaza and what became something of a Haye confessional. “Everything is working as well as it has done since the [Dereck] Chisora fight . The injuries have come from pushing hard. It’s about doing the right kind of pushing. In the past I would be beasting it every day. That’s ok when you are 27 but when you are 37 you need to be a bit more economical.”
Following the restoration of the old Tabares training regime using the fitness drills that took him to victory against Nikolai Valuev and John Ruiz and with Salas adding his Cuban insights on the pads Haye claims to have rediscovered his fighting rhythm.
“I was missing by a foot on some occasions. My timing was completely out. I assumed in the heat of battle at some stage in 12 rounds I’m going to clip him. I suspected my timing would not be at its very best but even at my worst I would still have been landing. But it was nowhere near.
“But then again I had never been out of boxing five or six years. I didn’t know it could go back so quickly. Now I know. It was a tough lesson to learn. I watched the fight back. The first round was embarrassing. All the the things I would criticise other fighters for doing, I was doing those things. I was boxing horrendously. My feet were terrible. It did not look like me. It was like someone pretending to be me but really crap with no co-ordination. You live and learn. We’ve gone back to basics with what always used to work for me.”
Haye’s former trainer with whom he had only a short relationship, Shane McGuigan, alludes to issues in camp that prevented Haye bringing his best to the ring. McGuigan was diplomacy itself in suggesting that had they remained together the rules of engagement would have to change.
Haye would have to prepare differently and harder. Free of the fitness issues that plagued him during his spell with McGuigan, Haye says he is back at it in the gym. But technical issues do not exhaust the reasons for the Bellew defeat. The fact is Haye did not take the Bellew threat seriously enough. This he accepts now and sees the defeat as a blessing.
“It’s the old cliche everything happens for a reason. Maybe if I had hit him in the first round and knocked him out maybe I wouldn’t have made any of the changes I’ve made. What I did in the lead up to that fight would not have been enough to knock out some of these real heavyweights, not by a long shot. I’m fortunate the Bellew fight came up and there was demand for it. If I was in with any of the top ten heavyweights in the world in a similar condition I doubt I would be sitting here now with you guys.”
Good Cop Bad Cop
You will discern the slight. Bellew does not make the Haye top-ten heavyweight grade. Bellew could not be less bothered. Here is a man who has a measured handle on life. As the blue-eyed poster boy of Seventies Hollywood, Clint Eastwood, observed in his role as detective Dirty Harry Callaghan, “a man’s gotta know his limitations”.
Bellew, like Haye a former cruiserweight world champion, is all over that sentiment. He knows what he can and can’t do. He told BBC5Live’s Sunday morning radio show ‘Sportsweek’ that he would not step in a ring with Anthony Joshua, conceding he does not have the physical tools to compete as a ‘small’ heavyweight.
The rematch with Haye is simply expediency for him. In the first fight Bellew secured his family’s future. This is pure holiday money and he fancies the return every bit as much as the first encounter.
“He's going to have a few new tricks and techniques. But once four or five rounds pass, the old dog will revert to type,” Bellew said. “David is trying to market himself in a better way: look at his training videos, he says nothing controversial. This is the fella who said he was going to render me unconscious, this is the same fella who said 'I'm the worst world champion in history ever'.
“I don't forget that. Those thoughts don't change overnight, you don't go from being the worst world champion ever to thinking 'right, this guy can really fight'. It's just that it didn't work for him and because it didn't work he's now changed his approach. But his mindset is still the same when it comes to me.”
Bellew assesses his chances on the basis of hard evidence. Haye has fought just three times since his evisceration of Chisora at Upton Park six years ago. That amounts to 14 rounds of boxing, and 11 of them came against Bellew 14 months ago.
He has had operations to repair the Achilles he ruptured in the first fight and the bicep that forced the postponement of the return. Is it possible with so few competitive rounds and disrupted training that Haye can tap into the best of his past? Bellew thinks not.
“l'll beat David Haye no matter what day of the year it is. If I use my brain and I make the right adjustments at the right times I'll have rid of David Haye before the eighth round. Quite simply it's styles make fights. My style is just wrong for David Haye and he should have stayed well clear of me.”
I’m inclined to agree. Equally, if Haye is as good as he feels, and thinks before he throws, then expect to see him join the Joshua queue behind heavyweight speculators Deontay Wilder and Tyson Fury.
“That’s the ambition. But first I’ve got to prove I’m good enough to do that. If you’d have asked me before the first Tony Bellew fight, I’d have said yes. But I would have been wrong, 100 per cent. Sometimes it takes things going proper pear-shaped for you to re-evaluate everything. I’m in such a better place in every department now.”