Haye taking detour in path back to top of heavyweight class

STEVE DOUGLAS (AP Sports Writer)
The Associated Press

David Haye is taking a detour on his journey back to relevance in the heavyweight division.

Back in boxing after a three-year absence because of injury problems, the former WBA titleholder hasn't been taken beyond two rounds in picking up routine victories over two journeymen fighters over the past 13 months. He craves a shot at Anthony Joshua - the IBF champion and the rising star among the heavyweights - but, for the moment, he has a grudge to settle.

On Saturday in London, the 36-year-old Haye will fight WBC cruiserweight champion Tony Bellew in a heavyweight contest at the O2 Arena. The build-up has been overshadowed by a stream of insults - some extremely distasteful - traded by both of the brash fighters, while Haye threw a punch at Bellew in a news conference in November.

''He's got under my skin, he's chased me for a year and a half, he's really made things personal,'' Haye said Thursday. ''If he wants to do that, I'll make sure he never, ever, ever does that again. How do I do that? I'm legally allowed to do as much damage to him as I can inflict in 36 minutes.''

There's clearly tension in the air - two security guards stood between the boxers at a face-off after Thursday's news conference - and the heavyweight appears to be taking the cruiserweight lightly.

He'd be wise not to: This is potentially career-ending fight for Haye. Lose to an opponent making a two-division jump and Haye will no longer be treated seriously among his heavyweight peers.

Moreover, Haye had a shoulder operation in 2013 and surgeons advised him to retire. If Bellew takes him deep into the fight, can Haye last physically? Nothing was really learned about Haye's condition in his first-round win over Mark de Mori in January 2016 and his second-round knockout of Arnold Gjergjaj in May.

''He's clinging on to me being a broken man, for his confidence,'' Haye said of Bellew, who queried why Haye had recently traveled to Munich to see a doctor.

An early knockout for Haye, though, would earn him good publicity and potentially put him in the frame for a big fight in the heavyweight scene. The clock is ticking for Haye, who said this week that he doesn't expect to still be fighting in two years.

Win or lose, Bellew is expected to make a swift return back to the cruiserweight division, where he beat Ilunga Makabu to claim the WBC belt in May at Goodison Park - the home of Everton, his favorite soccer team. He has made one successful defense of his title, against American boxer BJ Flores in October.

It is Bellew's first fight at heavyweight and he has had limited time to make the transition. Haye was also a world cruiserweight champion, unifying the division in 2008 before moving up to heavyweight.

''I am going in with a man who was absolutely fantastic,'' Bellew said. ''When he was in his prime, an immense athlete. But the tank is very, very low and it does not last very long.''

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Steve Douglas is at www.twitter.com/sdouglas80

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