Opinion: in defence of bellew

Tony Bellew is a divisive figure in boxing. That’s probably a polite way of saying lots of people think he’s a prick.

The Liverpudlian is brash, self-righteous, hypocritical. He’s been the archetypal loud mouth at times: shouting obscenities at press conferences and making promises that he failed to deliver. The pay-per-view snoozefest against Nathan Cleverly was further damaging to his – and, at least temporarily, Matchroom’s – reputation.

Bellew’s social media presence has further alienated some fans. ‘Bring back hangings’ for this crime, ‘chop hands off’ for that crime. The social commentaries have made him something of a caricature. So much so that you have to double check parody accounts for authenticity. But there’s more to Bellew than spouting drivel. He’s one of the most underrated fighters, both physically and mentally, in the sport.

The idea that Bellew is pedestrian, a plodder with limited ability is lazy. He has solid boxing fundamentals. His nickname Bomber was gifted after he knocked out all but one of his amateur opponents on his way to winning consecutive novice ABA titles. Further glory and knockouts materialised in the senior amateur championships.

Bellew has collected titles at Commonwealth, British, European and world level. He still holds the WBC Emeritus belt, giving him the option of fighting for the main title at any time. There are some, usually arm chair social media users, who dismiss these achievements, citing that these were vacant titles. But that level of success cannot be fluked. It’s achieved through talent, graft and intelligence.

And it’s Bellew’s intelligence, which is so overlooked, mocked even, that makes him dangerous. He’s far more cunning than the profanity and clichés suggest. He is a student of boxing that thoroughly studies the game. He’s insightful into his and his opponents strengths and limitations. ‘I’m a realist’ Bellew has repeatedly declared in the run up to Bellew-Haye 2. And, as grating as some find that, it’s true.

Bellew has followed Haye’s career and calculated the risks involved in taking the fight. His assessment that Haye was an elite fighter that became distracted by ambitions of celebrity is spot on. His understanding that Haye remains dangerous in the opening rounds, but his power and stamina over 12 has been significantly diminished through injury is correct.

Bellew’s confident and secure identity lies in contrast to Haye. Bellew is a proud scouser, a working class lad that has grafted to world success, matured and earned millions for his family. These elements of his life, particularly his commitment to his family and community, define Bellew. What motivates Haye is less clear. He’s arrogant, materialistic and strikes as a person lost, dissatisfied even with his superior achievements. Haye wanted to be the Anthony Joshua figure, the icon that transcended the sport, recognised and celebrated across the world. But he’s not and, even if he knocks Bellew clean out, never will be.

I take Bellew’s honesty and integrity, even when littered with contradictions, over Haye’s ego every time. And with the right game plan, and some luck, he beats a flawed Haye again in more convincing fashion.