Tony Bellew should not take his eyes off the prize for too long because David Haye, with an extra few months of plotting, might become even more dangerous, writes James Dielhenn.
Tony Bellew would have expected a psychological advantage heading into a rematch with David Haye, the most bitter of his rivals, but a turbulent build-up to their rearranged second fight has raised new questions.
Haye was “distraught”, according to promoter Eddie Hearn, when his bicep injury forced the postponement of their December 17 date, yet the knock-on effect means the ball is suddenly back in his court. Bellew called news of the postponement a “shattering blow” but, until the days and hours prior to the rematch, he might not realise how much it has damaged him.
Training camps are the hidden enemy of fighters – the long, silent days and weeks spent in a gym or pounding the icy roads while most people are still asleep. Few will articulate the horrors of their dedication to preparation better than Bellew and Haye, particularly at this stage of their careers.
Ten out of 14 planned weeks of sweat and sacrifice had been carried out by Bellew when he received the dreaded phone call informing him of Haye’s withdrawal. That notice would have arrived when Bellew was at his most vulnerable, having given so much of himself to the gym, and cruelly deprived him of the reward to unleash his pent-up frustration. Haye will now ask Bellew to go through the exact same routine again ahead of May 5.
You can imagine Bellew after another 12 hour day, having concluded a third difficult training session, looking at the phone and hoping it doesn’t ring, twitching nervously if it does.
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Haye will have instigated these nerves in his rival, albeit by accident. Training camps do not get easier as athletes age, and Bellew cannot afford to subconsciously slack off in the weeks before their rescheduled date.
“I want to stay busy, I’ve been known my whole career as an active fighter,” Bellew said when Haye initially withdrew. “I will have been out of the ring for a year, and that’s not good for me.”
He added: “Since I became world champion, on the magical ride that I’ve had, it has shortened my activity.
“This is unheard of, though. Fourteen months. This isn’t down to me, it’s down to David Haye.”
The 14-month absence since first beating Haye is significant for Bellew because he boxed twice in 2016 after fitting three fights into each of the previous two years. A natural drop-off for a 34-year-old with 32 fights, perhaps, but not when the delay has been on someone else’s terms. Bellew may no longer possess the advantage in sharpness that he undoubtedly had when they first fought – since the start of 2016 both men have boxed three times.
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This delay will, of course, have also impacted upon Haye’s preparation not least with the bicep surgery he was forced to undertake. Yet his latest injury is comparatively minor and will heal comfortably before May 5, whereas the terrible Achilles injury sustained in their first fight has suddenly found itself with an extra five months of recuperation. A twist of fate for Haye, adding even further layers of complexity to the fitness which will now be a central talking point before the next fight.
Haye’s history of pulling out of fights due to injury will also give Bellew some sleepless nights. On one hand, it hands Bellew a clear advantage to secure another highlight victory because previous Haye withdrawals (against Wladimir Klitschko, Manuel Charr and Tyson Fury twice) have never led to subsequent victories.
But the extra time will afford Haye the chance to morph his body from injury-stricken into the knockout machine that he has promised to be. That time might prove to be Bellew’s Achilles heel.