LIVERPOOL -- It was a fight with some ferocity, accusations with a bit of anger and claims with a lot of comedy in Liverpool on Saturday night when Tony Bellew retained his WBC cruiserweight title.
The fight with BJ Flores was over before it had started in many ways and the American, who had struggled to make the weight, was a reluctant player in the latest Bellew drama. Flores was meant to be tough and had talked like a beast all week, but looked drained when he stepped on the scales the day before the first bell.
Bellew disdainfully bished and bashed his way to a third round win, sending Flores down four times in total before the merciful end and that was when the circus started. Flores was hastily forgotten, which is convenient because his abject performance would have been censored by the British Boxing Board of Control in a different epoch.
Flores is also a close personal friend of David Haye, the former world heavyweight champion and sworn enemy of Bellew, and long before the first bell promoter Eddie Hearn had tweeted that it would "go off" at ringside.
Well, shock horror, it did.
"An angry man, remember, would have sworn and not joked. The spat was beautifully stage-managed and all clean, good fun -- the modern boxing way." Steve Bunce
When it was officially over, Bellew tried to locate Haye at ringside. "He's behind you," he was told. Bellew quickly ducked through the ropes. The security was plentiful, the space for the "off" cleared and the pair started shouting and gesturing from behind the outstretched palms of the paid help. Bellew was persuaded to get back in the ring and then he was given a microphone, which was open to the crowd at the Echo Arena.
If it had been serious and nasty the Board would have surely intervened at this point, but it was not, it was a terrific circus act.
"I just smashed your playmate, your nightclub buddy," Bellew hollered, leaving pauses for 'oohs' and 'arghs'. "I will smash you the same way. You are getting smashed." The crowd booed and jeered and cheered.
Haye remained mostly silent, a bemused look on his face, as Bellew launched the tirade, which was equal parts sales and comedy, but there was just enough spite to keep it plausible. An angry man, remember, would have sworn and not joked; the spat was beautifully stage-managed, with members of the Board and the broadcaster's boxing team standing or sitting and grinning. It was all clean, good fun -- the modern boxing way.
"He's the same dimensions as me," Bellew told his audience. "I'm a bit fatter and he's a bit better looking. He's a cruiserweight, he went to heavyweight because he loves money. I'm the biggest payday he can get right now." Haye continued smiling.
The pantomime at the end helped disguise the dreadful performance by Flores, a fighter with a reputation for being hard. It looked like Flores was in search of a safe place to land from the first bell and that was a surprise. I thought he would survive the 12 rounds.
Bellew had absolutely no respect for the American and that meant he was caught with silly punches as he connected with his own. In round two Flores toppled over three times, once as he was complaining, and in the third a left hook from Bellew, which everybody in Liverpool saw, dropped Flores. The fight was over, the show was about to start.
"Bellew is what Belllew is," said Haye. "He can talk all he likes, but I would win easily. I could take him out with just one punch. It would be a knock out. I want him to just keep talking." Haye also pointed out that Bellew's defence was non-existent against Flores.
Haye was involved in a real post-fight scrap in Munich in 2012 when his banter with Dereck Chisora turned predictably violent. On that occasion one man ended up with a broken jaw, another had stitches in a head wound and people were fined and suspended by the Board.
The sales pitch has started for a fight that would put a minimum of 40,000 bums on seats early next summer. However, Haye could also find himself in possession of a lucky ticket for the heavyweight championship lottery during the next few weeks and that might scupper a fight with Bellew.