David Haye and Tony Bellew will lock horns next year, it has now been officially confirmed. Promoters Matchroom Boxing announced on Thursday (25 November) that the British rivals are set to go head-to-head at London's O2 Arena on 4 March 2017 in a heavyweight fight that Eddie Hearn has labelled "an explosion of concussive punchers riddled with bad blood and desperate to score a knockout victory."
Bellew first signalled an intention to fight Haye after winning his first world title courtesy of an emphatic knockout of Ilunga Makabu at Goodison Park in May. He has attempted to provoke the 36-year-old on several occasions since them, publicly referring to him as a "Bermondsey b**ch" and insisting that he stops "fighting those clowns" and instead join him back at cruiserweight.
'The Bomber' successfully defended his WBC belt for the first time with a third-round stoppage of American BJ Flores last month. With Haye present at ringside to commentate on his friend and former sparring partner, Bellew again called out the ex-WBA heavyweight champion with a memorable WWE-style rant in which he accused him of "conning the British public since this pathetic comeback".
"The public demand for me to violently knockout Tony 'The B***-End' Bellew was simply too strong," Haye said in a spicy press release to confirm that the bout has now been agreed. "The country is fed up of his constant yapping. Even in his home town of Liverpool, I would be stopped in the street by people begging me to spectacularly send him into retirement.
"Bellew is completely delusional if he thinks he can beat me. He still thinks he's on the set of Creed and there will be some kind of Rocky style happy ending. But come March 4th at The O2 in London I will bring reality crashing down on him. I've earned my credentials the hard way inside the ring, not on film sets.
"There will be no second takes, no stunt men taking the blows and no flashing lights on the red carpet, the only lights Bellew will see are those of the spot lights shining down on him when he wakes up from his nap on the canvas."
Haye has fought only once more since ending a three-and-a-half year absence from the ring with an easy KO win over Mark de Mori, breezing past the little-known Arnold Gjergjaj inside two rounds. A prospective fight against Shannon Briggs never materialised, while Vladimir Hryunov claimed earlier this month that he and Manuel Charr were both being considered as prospective opponents for a WBA interim title contest against Alexander Ustinov. 'The Hayemaker' is also said to be the future number one contender for the winner of December's WBO championship clash between Joseph Parker and Andy Ruiz in Auckland.
"I've backed him into a corner, left him nowhere to go, and now I have what I want," Bellew said. "I'm not under any illusions, I know exactly what I am going up against, it's big risk, big reward. I cop him with my best punch, he's going to sleep. He cops me with his best punch, more than likely I am going to sleep too. I know what I am up against but the big factor for me is, I'm a very active fighter, I've had no breaks and I've got very little wear and tear on me. If it comes down to a question of heart and determination I win hands down. If it comes down to one punch, it's a 50-50.
"He hasn't been in a hard fight for over five years. The last time he had a gut check, he failed it. Going into this fight I 100 per cent know that he does not want it as much as me and he is not going to be as brave as me. Everyone knows I get off the floor and I fight until the finish. I know the minute it gets tough for David Haye, he's going to spew it. He thinks he can beat me up in one round with one hand. He's in for a rude awakening, because if this fight gets hard, and I expect it to be the hardest night of my life, this clown expects a walk in the park and he's in for a bad night."