This Saturday’s big boxing clash sees Creed star Tony Bellew stepping up from Cruiserweight to Heavyweight in order to fight his fierce foe David Haye. But just how much do The Hayemaker and ‘Bomber’ Bellew really dislike each other? Well, the hatred certainly seems real. This bout has been lined up for a good few months now and the pre-fight build-up just gets uglier and uglier. Sure, we know it’s all good business and you can never truly tell what’s hype and what’s real. But the stinging verbal attacks and press conferences punch-ups seem pretty convincing to us.
Haye and Bellew may well respect each other’s boxing ability, but there’s very little love lost between the Liverpudlian and his ‘Sideshow Bob’ opponent (Bellew’s words – not ours!). And as we look forward to the seeing David Haye Vs. Tony Bellew, we thought we’d kill a little time by looking back through the boxing vaults a little. Which other all-British grudge matches did we get a kick – and punch – out of down the years? Here are our top five picks:
Nigel Benn Vs. Chris Eubank
No use wasting time, eh? Let’s get down to it. We’re kicking off with the best example of the all-British boxing grudge. Two men who truly hated one another inside and outside of the ring. Now? The two are friends. Despite Benn recently calling his old foe ‘a numpty’ after Eubank suggested he was considering getting back into the ring at fifty.
Back then, though? The two truly couldn’t stand each other. There was no pantomine, even with Eubank’s famed theatrics. The dislike was real. The reason behind it? They were chalk n’ cheese. Been was an ex-squaddie, a real man’s man. A brawler and an old school type, the fella’s style couldn’t have been more at odds with Eubank’s odd, eccentric and flash approach.
The fights themselves? There were two absolute classics. The first, in 1990, saw Eubank stop Benn in the ninth. Then three years later, a controversial split draw in front of over 40,000 fight fans at Old Trafford was seen by many to be the wrong result. Benn edged things, by most spectators’ reckoning. A third fight never happened and the hatred softened over time… The two now frequently appear together publicly for after-dinner speeches and at a charity events. How lovely, eh?
Lennox Lewis Vs. Frank Bruno
When Lennox Lewis and Frank Bruno met in 1993 for the WBC heavyweight title, it was billed as ‘The Battle of Britain’. A celebration of the health of the Heavyweight division in the United Kingdom. But it soon turned nasty when Bruno questioned the legitimacy of Lewis’ nationality. Despite the fact that his opponent was born in the East End of London. He had won Olympic gold for Canada, though. So that was enough to set things off…
Lewis didn’t hold back. He blasted Bruno back, rather shockingly called him ‘an Uncle Tom’ and mocking his extracurricular activities. “He makes a fool of himself, dressing up in girls’ clothing on television,” Lewis said. It was a surprisingly tense build-up to a fight between two ordinarily polite and charming men. Lewis went on to stop Bruno and the hatchet was soon buried.
Joe Bugner Vs. Sir Henry Cooper
In 1971, 36 year-old Heavyweight legend Henry Cooper was one of the most popular sporting figures in the country. After two hugely impressive performances against Muhammad Ali, the hard-hitting Londoner could do no wrong in the eyes of the British people. But he failed to impress referee Harry Gibbs, who controversially declared up-and-coming kid – and future I’m a Celebrity… star Joe Bugner the decision when the two met in the ring. And by ‘a quarter of a point’ too (a daft rule that no longer exists).
Cooper took it personally. He let the fight get to him. He refused to speak to the referee or Bugner afterwards. The kid – who had fought defensively throughout – won all of Cooper’s belts and disillusioned him immensely. Soon after, Cooper retired. With a deep, deep resentment for the new young champion he felt had robbed him of his titles, his career and even his love of the sport. They can be a surprisingly sensitive bunch sometimes can boxers.
David Haye Vs. Dereck Chisora
And now onto the first of Saturday nights fighters. Both have form when it comes to beef. Let’s start with the older fighter. David Haye isn’t afraid of winding up opponents and – as we saw recently against Dillian Whyte – Chisora’s happy to get dirty before a fight too. So when the two faced off, it was never going to be pretty. And the rivalry started early. A mere hour after Chisora lost on points to Vitali Klitschko, back in February 2012, the two were at each other’s throats at a press conference. The scrap got nasty and the police became involved…
The British Boxing Board of Control refused to sanction the bout. So the fight – bizarrely – happened because of the Luxembourg equivalent giving it the go-ahead. A steel fence divided the two camps at the fight. A nice bit of theatre, that. Haye stopped the fight with a fifth round KO.
Tony Bellew Vs. Nathan Cleverly
Now let’s move onto our co-star, Tony Bellew. His grudge matches with Nathan Cleverly got pretty personal at times too. With the Liverpool-born fighter leading the charge with the barbs. Cleverly shot a few insults back, but the build-up to both fights was dominated by Bellew’s insults; the nastiest of which included unfounded mentions of the Welshman and his history of ‘AA meetings’.
Cleverly rather cleverly took the first fight (fought at Light-Heavyweight), out-boxing and out-thinking Bellew. But vengeance was gained in the rematch (at Cruiserweight). Yet at one win each, that was it. Despite the dislike appearing real, a third fight – a decider – never happened. Cleverly went back to Light-Heavy and Bellew remained at Cruiser. Where he’s staye. Until this Saturday night…
Bellew’s WBC cruiserweight title isn’t on the line against David Haye. This one’s for pride. And money. And, well, let’s face it, hype or no hype – Haye and Bellew would love to drop one another, wouldn’t they? We’ll have to see who manages it.