“First of all, I’d just like to thank Will out of The Inbetweeners.”
Boxing press conferences are never short of a good line but the one above, uttered by Tony Bellew at Monday’s press conference in Liverpool, was a contender for put down of the year.
The victim was Adam Moralee who had just taken the mic and fired the opening shots for Team Haye in front a partisan Merseyside crowd, only to be shot down himself. But he was a willing victim. Haye, Moralee told me at Wednesday’s open workout, hadn’t really wanted to play the bad guy, not this time, so Moralee decided he’d take one for the team. And it was all good fun. Bellew delivered his killer retort with a smile and the offer of a handshake and Adam cheerily accepted.
14 months ago the build-up to the first meeting between these two fighters was bad tempered and at times downright unpleasant, with Haye subsequently fined £25,000 for bringing the sport into disrepute with tasteless comments he made. It’s been different this time around, at least so far it has, and, with just the final press conference and weigh-in to go now, it would be surprising if either fighter or his team emotionally combusted at this stage.
Make no mistake, the two combatants have not grown any keener on each other in the intervening period. Each will take to the ring on Saturday determined to close this two act show and bring the final curtain down on the other’s career. Those are the terms they’ve been speaking in, so who’s more likely to be able to back up their words?
'Bellew's March win against Haye was the 'upset of the year'... Nobody gave him a chance but he proved them all wrong... Can he do it again? Anthony Joshua thinks 'yes''
'Bellew has real confidence going into this fight. He did it once and he believes he can do it again. I do too.' Joshua
For Tony Bellew, 2017 was a rollercoaster. The win in March against Haye was the upset of the year, the upset of a good many years, and achieved in circumstances so unusual and so unexpected, even by boxing’s standards, that it’s still difficult now to know what to make of it. But regardless of how the win came it was an astonishing achievement. Nobody gave the Liverpool man a chance and he proved them all wrong. The remainder of the year though was very difficult, with a family bereavement and an ultimately wasted training camp for December’s ill-fated original rematch date providing a low that more than cancelled out March’s glorious high. But the former WBC Cruiserweight Champion is the kind of person who can extract motivation and inspiration from the unlikeliest of sources. He believes that Haye is no longer physically capable of surviving the rigours of the kind of 12 round fight that he plans to make him have, that he couldn’t do it last time and that he won’t be able to do it this time. He’s not saying how he’ll win, he’s just saying that he will, that he’ll get it done, by any means necessary.
'Haye admits that he underestimated his opponant last time... Whilst Bellew says Haye is nolonger physically capable or motivated enough to last 12 rounds 'He couldn't do it last time. He won't be able to do it this time''
Haye, meanwhile, now admits that he underestimated his opponent last time out and that he’s trained better and smarter this time. He insists the postponement did him good, that he’s had more time to fully repair and recalibrate his body. It sounds good but then again there’s not much else the former WBA Heavyweight Champion can say. Only he and his trainers know just how hard he’s dared to push himself given his recent injury problems. Has he been able to spar plenty of rounds and condition himself to the pain that Bellew cannot wait to try and bring, or will he arrive in the ring on Saturday physically fit but not sufficiently battle-hardened? His talent has never been in question, and, after his last showing, nor can his courage be, but it’s a long time now since the Hayemaker gave a performance that showcased that talent, since he showed us all what made him one of the most exciting fighters in world boxing.
But past glories are hard to forget, at least they seem to be for the bookmakers who, just as they did for the first fight, have installed Haye as a heavy favourite. Last March, I made them absolutely right. But not this time; I just don’t see a clear favourite. But if I had to choose, at the moment my money would be on Bellew. Then again, by Saturday night I may have changed my mind. It’s just that kind of a fight.