Once beaten, twice shy? David Haye and Tony Bellew an odd couple

At a press conference for David Haye vs. Tony Bellew I, Haye punched his opponent during a face-off. At a press conference for the return leg, violence gave way to bizarre professions of love.

Several factors have contributed to this drastic change in dynamic between the pair.

Firstly, the simple trigger of Bellew causing a sizeable upset when the pair met in March 2017 -- stopping an injured Haye in the penultimate round. The Liverpudlian, Haye assures us, has earned his respect.

Haye's praise for Bellew is disarming to hear and many -- including Bellew himself -- suspect it's feigned and hollow.

By Haye's own admission, he's making a conscious effort to prevent himself allowing animosity to poison preparation. "Dark forces", as he called them at Wednesday's press conference, proved counter-productive last time.

The two know each other well by this stage but their repartee at the Park Plaza Hotel conference was remarkable nonetheless. Each seemed to predict the other's move and lay in wait to pounce with a swift retort. "Haye 3.0," offered Bellew. "28.6 by the time I get in the ring," came Haye's instant and self-deprecating quip.

It became genuinely and unexpectedly entertaining watching Bellew try to draw Haye from his tranquil repose.

Bellew does what he says on the tin. A straight-talker and a straight-fighter, yet even he flouted the custom of minimising the achievements of Haye, admitting he "looked up" to his fellow former cruiserweight world champion.

After their public discussion, Haye scoffed at suggestions it was an act, stating: "I love Tony. I love his haircut. I love his little nose." With no disrespect to Bellew's barber, the twinkle is in Haye's eye as obviously as his tongue is in his cheek.

Of course, it's too simplistic to see this fight as a straightforward test of Haye's ability to operate with less emotion than he carried into their first clash. Even though he will again hear the first bell as an underdog, Bellew proved his point last time and nobody can say with great confidence he won't do so again -- even if Haye's body is fully functional.

Speaking to Haye, though, there is a convincing air he knows something now he didn't previously. It's almost certainly about himself. He won high praise for his bravery in defeat to Bellew as he furiously scraped the barrel of will to trudge on with a ruptured Achilles. His defiance was only ended by his corner's merciful towel toss.

It must be something more, though. As another former cruiserweight world champion, Glenn McCrory, observed, back-to-back defeats to Bellew would cause significant damage to what remains an impressive legacy. Glorious though last year's failure was, sport is primarily about winning.

The answer may lie in the mysterious of Ismael Salas; Haye's new trainer who sat at the top table but was economic with his conversational input, perhaps or perhaps not due to a limited grasp of English. Salas, Haye claims, may have "reinvented" him as a fighter.

The truth is, nobody -- not even Haye -- knows how his body will react to being forced to the well once again. Some say he's unlucky, some say he's made of glass, some say he isn't prepared to put it all on the line. Most say he's one of the most gifted British fighters of all time. The physical reality of this fight is unpredictable.

For now, though, Haye and Bellew are serving up a verbal jousting spectacle remarkable for its passive-aggression and subtle sniping -- an enjoyable rarity in boxing promotion.