Tony Bellew closed the David Haye chapter in style on Saturday, as he said he would, and then stared down the camera lens and asked who’s next.
So, assuming The Bomber can persuade fiancée Rachel to allow him to box on, who will be next?
Hopefully it’s Andre Ward, at a sold out Goodison Park.
The former Super Middleweight and Light Heavyweight King retired undefeated last summer at 32-0. After beating Sergey Kovalev in their rematch, the 2004 Olympic gold medallist talked about a move up to Cruiserweight or even Heavyweight. But nothing materialised. A fight against Britain’s Callum Johnson was agreed but turned down by HBO and then when the cable giants failed to renew his contract shortly afterwards S.O.G. decided to call it a day.
It was unexpected but not all that surprising because Ward’s always marched to the beat of his own drum. But for that exact reason a comeback seems likely should the right challenge present itself and moving up in weight and coming to the UK to share a ring with Bellew, his fellow cast member from Creed, may well be the kind of prospect that gets his juices flowing.
And yes, I did say, “coming to the UK.” Ward has always been appreciated by boxing fans in the US but less so by the wider sporting public. His first fight vs Kovalev, which was rightly lauded as the match of the year and one of the best of recent years, generated a staggeringly low 160k pay per view buys. A fight with Bellew in the UK, a definite pay per view event, would be a big attraction and wouldn’t daunt Ward. He’s a fighter who has inspired admiration but not devotion so it’s not the case that he would be conceding the kind of vociferous and valuable home support that someone like Terence Crawford enjoys in Nebraska. The pair of them, Bellew and Ward, are friends (they’ve spoken about the idea of a fight between them privately before) which could make negotiations easier and whilst it’s true that that friendship will remove any potential “beef” with which to push the promotion, Ward is boxing royalty and can be sold as such. Gennady Golovkin and Kell Brook had no personal animosity when they met at the 02 in September 2016, they didn’t need to, just having a pugilist of GGG’s calibre here was enough.
But the most astonishing thing about Bellew vs Ward would be the fact that the self-styled “fat Scouser” would be the A side. Having conquered David Haye, someone who managed to cross over into the popular culture mainstream, Bellew is now a big star on these shores whether he cares to admit it or not. The position he’s worked his way into would have been unthinkable just a few years ago but he’s in it now and his wildest dreams could be made reality.
But if not Ward then who?
Bellew has mentioned Tyson Fury and that would be huge, the biggest box office attraction out there for him, but with Fury now signed with Frank Warren and the Liverpudlian a Matchroom fighter it seems very unlikely. Bridging the great promotional divide isn’t impossible in theory but it would be some feat of engineering.
So how about Joseph Parker? The New Zealander made a lot of friends in March with the way he conducted himself outside the ring and the way he performed inside it and relations between his team, Duco Events, and Matchroom, looked to be as good as it gets between rival factions. The intense spotlight that comes of sharing the ring with Joshua means that the British sporting public know who Joseph Parker is, which is a big box ticked in terms of the fight’s saleability. And there’s no reason why Parker wouldn’t fancy it. There’s no world title shot waiting for the former WBO champion any time soon and in the meantime a British ring is the best place for him.
But would Bellew fancy a piece of Parker? Well he’d be giving away a fair bit of weight, a lot more than he did vs Haye; on the evidence of their most recent outings as much as almost two stone, and has said repeatedly that he’s not interested in big heavyweights. But in the land of the giants, in its top 10 at least, then Parker is as good as it gets in terms of a suitable marriage of physical size and media profile (apart from Deontay Wilder whose name, for totally understandable and sensible reasons, won’t be found on any list pinned to the fridge chez Bellew).
The Bomber’s career is at its zenith. It’s the perfect time to go bigger than ever before, but equally, it could be the perfect time to walk away. Both scenarios will appeal and both have been earnt. I know which path I hope he takes though, and it’s one that winds back to Goodison Park.