An unsettling trend which has emerged in the world of boxing in 2016 is the mismatch superfight, and with news that WBC cruiserweight champion Tony Bellew will move up and square off with heavyweight and fellow Brit David Haye this coming March, the trend is set to continue into the New Year.
Some readers are no doubt scratching their heads over my labelling Haye vs Bellew a “superfight,” and to be fair, they have a point. However, given the cult of personality that seems so fundamental to the mechanics of British boxing in particular, the collision of ‘Hayemaker’ and ‘Bomber’ is sure to be a bonanza. Insofar as a “superfight” can be defined as a contest that provokes discussion and engenders hefty gate and pay-per-view receipts, Haye vs Bellew fits the bill – and even more so after their bust-up the other day.
But the truth, which most of us know, is that Tony Bellew does not stand a snowball’s chance in hell of beating David Haye. How is a guy who failed in two bids to win the world light-heavyweight title going to defeat a naturally bigger man and a former heavyweight champion? It is virtually inconceivable. Haye is not only stronger and heavier, but also sharper and slicker and much more powerful. This match-up is barely competitive.
But the bout is signed and sealed and the principals have received advances on their seven-figure paydays off the back of what is essentially an unashamed cash grab. And now the hype machine is running full steam ahead and there’s no stopping it.
This happened more than once in 2016, first with Canelo vs Khan (or “Khanelo,” if you prefer) and later with Golovkin vs Brook. Like Haye vs Bellew, these so-called showdowns pitted an imposing physical force against a far weaker entity. They were successfully sold on the premise of fairytales, “what if?” narratives, which those in the know found nauseating, and they were commissioned mainly because they were economically viable.
Neither bout made sense from a competitive standpoint, only a commercial one, and though Khan and Brook had their small successes, they were undersized gunslingers shooting blanks. As predicted, Khan got knocked unconscious, and a characteristically marauding Golovkin literally broke Brook’s face.
Don’t get me wrong, mismatches in boxing are nothing new. What’s troubling is that, increasingly, we are fed blatant and unethical mismatches, fights devoid of intrigue and fraudulently portrayed as significant. These are matches that make little sense but earn a big buck, for better or worse. Some fans are conscious of the bait-and-switch manoeuvre that is taking place but simply shrug while reaching into their pockets; others don’t know any better and are duly duped. But for a few uncontainably angry voices on online message boards, you generally don’t hear much condemnation.
“What’s wrong with that?” you might be thinking. “If it makes dollars, it makes sense. So chill out. Deal with it.” And yeah, there is that argument. But there’s also a sense that unscrupulous moneymen are pillaging what was once a noble sport, that economics is trumping competition. Those who care about boxing fear that farce is all too easily being cloaked in a veil of legitimacy.
I think part of why the aforementioned matches bother me is less that the results are foregone conclusions, but more that the odds are so heavily stacked in one fighter’s favour. Golovkin vs Brook was contracted at the full middleweight limit, despite Brook having competed as a welterweight for a number of years. A similar gulf in weight characterised Canelo vs Khan. Now Haye will face Bellew at the full heavyweight limit.
Ahead of this latest barmy blockbuster, Eddie Hearn has repeatedly referred to Bellew as “the best cruiserweight in the world,” just as he referred to Brook as “the best welterweight in the world” before he battled Golovkin. Somehow it’s irrelevant that Bellew hasn’t yet shown his superiority over Lebedev or Usyk or Glowacki or Drozd; nor did it seem to matter that Brook hadn’t vanquished Pacquiao or Thurman or Garcia or Bradley. When a touted fight is so patently a mismatch, it becomes necessary to exaggerate the underdog’s talents, to hyperbolise, to overplay one’s hand. This is part of the problem. Although one might note it’s also in the promoter’s job description.
Spin doctors will point out that Haye used to be a cruiserweight too, but that was a long, long time ago. Make no mistake about it, this is a thoroughbred going up against a Shetland pony. It’s also Haye’s third “gimme” fight on the spin; easy work if you can get it. Bottom line: there’s nothing to suggest Haye-Bellew will be anything other than a routine blowout, an anticlimax after months of Twitter warfare. And a reinforcement of boxing’s famous truth: the fans come last. — Ronnie McClusky