It was truly ugly from the very first moment the crowd of 500 caught a glimpse of David Haye and Tony Bellew at a totally unnecessary open conference in Liverpool on Monday night.
Haye and his trainer Shane McGuigan tried to speak when invited to the microphone by Eddie Hearn, the promoter of Saturday’s sold-out fight at the O2, but they were each shouted down by mostly good-natured chants. The conference was free and was always, given the location in Bellew’s city, going to be brutal, unedifying and compulsive.
The two boxers exchanged foul-mouth insults, both getting far too emotional and far too personal. A hefty set of hired hands kept close and personal watch to make sure the pair never came within ten feet of each other; there is every chance that a few extra men will be needed on Saturday night before the first bell and after the protracted ring entrances.
It is hate like I have never seen in over 30 years of reporting from ringside and they both seem to blame the other fighter and both seemed shocked at any suggestion of guilt or responsibility for the relentless unpleasantries. They have both taken the improbable moral high ground, a murky plateau where sweating slowly is somehow less offensive than shouting the same word in rage.
It is a compelling fight without the animosity, and with the additional dangerous edge it has become a tremendous fight; there are no belts, just too much pride.
The malice is new and just a few years ago the pair praised each other if ever they were asked to comment on a forthcoming fight. All modern British fighters have an irritating habit of heaping lavish praise on each other in what is mostly an insincere and false love-in; most are jealous of another boxer’s perceived easy route to the big money.
However, it looked like rumours of their fall-out were true when Bellew beat Haye’s friend BJ Flores last November; it was a poor fight and Flores a cynical choice of opponent because of the Haye connection. There was a comic “let-me-at-him” moment from Bellew at the end of the mismatch with Haye standing alone at ringside in a nicely cleared area. It was wonderful fun, but in private there were whispers suggesting that there was real nastiness.
The fight was announced shortly after and the fun instantly vanished as the dialogue lost its innocence. Later in November when they were allowed to get close enough for Haye to clip Bellew with a short left hook, it was obvious that the pantomime at the end of the Flores fight had taken a dark twist.
One has promised to crush a skull, the other to smash a face; both have lost their cool, let it become far too personal and unnecessary. The Board will probably have to send a serious cash message to the pair and the depth of that ransom will depend on whether the pair finish their hostilities on Saturday with a genuine hug. It is not guaranteed, trust me.