Only a fool could cast an eye over the events of last Saturday evening and draw any kind of satisfaction from what was on display within the tarnished glitter of London’s rebooted Millennium Dome. The fact that a patently overweight Tony Bellow eked out a sloppy stoppage win over a sporadically active and in this case clearly injured David Haye was actually neither here nor there. Of greater significance was the fact that boxing, in once more raising its middle finger to both the casual and the committed, only succeeded in accelerating a descent into artifice and self-parody that threatens to turn the sport into even more of a microcosm of our disintegrating society than it usually is.
In fairness Matchroom’s boy wonder promotional figurehead Eddie Hearn did not require a double decker bus promising redistributed riches as a means of selling this tawdry excuse for a competition. Those who chose to purchase stadium tickets or paid the price of a round of drinks to watch on decrypted TV did not appear to require much arm twisting. The desire to see any kind of punch thrown in anger was apparently enough for punters to turn a blind eye to the fact that the protagonists consisted of an ex-cruiserweight who hadn’t touched gloves with a half-decent opponent in some five years and an ex-light heavyweight who had never shared a ring with anyone remotely of Haye’s physical stature.
In the build-up to the fight only the terminally naive could have been taken in by the excessive trash talk that tainted this promotion like so many dark streaks on a lung biopsy. For once there was no paper title at stake here and if a boxer’s principle function these days is as ticket vendor then neither fighter can be accused of sparing the rod. Sell the fight they did: in no uncertain terms; obliterating the boundaries of what constitutes good taste to a sub-level that is becoming increasingly common within the sport. (But then isn’t that the problem with boundaries? Once they’re down they’re down and one is forced to seek out other dividing lines to shatter.)
Yet in the days leading up to the fight, those who are paid wages to chronicle the sport agreed almost to a man that Tony Bellew, current WBA cruiserweight title holder, was in over his head. The general consensus was that Bellew would be lucky to make it into the fourth round. David Haye, despite the inactivity, the joke cameos on Dave, the injuries, the haircut, the thirty-six years, would simply have too much for an earnest Liverpudlian opponent who gave the appearance of having trained on Jaffa Cakes.
What transpired, of course, is what boxing is always capable of doing: it decided in its wisdom to turn a conspicuous mismatch into a genuine contest. Perhaps as promotional ballast some are claiming that Haye was nursing an Achilles injury prior to climbing through the ropes. While Bellew himself asserts that he broke his own right hand some time in the ‘second or third round’. This again demonstrates what boxing is eminently capable of: on occasions such as last Saturday it is so often the case that excuses are dispatched with more alacrity than punches.
Not that there were any shortage of punches thrown on the night. Few of them may have hit their mark cleanly but it is for certain that Eddie Hearn must have been smiling with dollar signs for eyes and thinking rematch as he watched the two combatants go through their unsteady motions: Haye, clearly in discomfort, dragging his feet across the canvas, more impediment than means of perambulation; Bellew alternatively trudging forwards and shuffling backwards; Haye’s ineptitude only succeeding in magnifying his opponent’s limited boxing skills. As spectacles go it was compelling enough so as not to begrudge the screams, gasps and jeers issued by ringsiders. In purist terms, however, the fight was certainly no Hagler-Hearns.
Watching Bellew slowly plough his way through an inadequate Haye’s defence was admittedly not without thrills. For witnessing an underdog bludgeon his way past the bookmaker’s odds is surely one of sport’s – and particularly boxing’s – more arresting visions. This fight, however, is surely not destined to become a YouTube stalwart. I, for one, cannot envisage myself being compelled to relive this dour, unsophisticated conflict in anything that resembles even partial regularity.
As a final thought what did we learn from Saturday’s proceedings? Not a great deal as it happens. We learned that David Haye – never a true, elite heavyweight in the first place – has certainly not been improved by his extended ring absences. We learned that Tony Bellew is an honest pro whose contributions will have probably have earned him a final big payday with which to climax his career. We learned that the general public are still willing and gullible enough to accept people such as Eddie Hearn’s approximations of what constitutes a pay-per-view event. And we learned that boxing, whatever we throw at it and however much we abuse the sport, remains unpredictable and dangerous.
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