When longtime Light-Heavyweight and Cruiserweight contender Tony Bellew challenged for the vacant WBC Cruiserweight world championship earlier this year and scored a thrilling and brutal third round knockout of top contender Ilunga Makabu, it seemed to signal what might be a new era for the Cruiserweight division, a division that has long struggled for mainstream exposure particularly here in the United States. Bellew, who had previously come up short against longtime WBC Light-Heavyweight world champion Adonis Stevenson in his only previous opportunity at a world championship had established himself as a fighter to watch with the “Game” effort he put forth in defeat against Stevenson.
Bellew’s victory over Makabu in winning a world championship in the Cruiserweight division clearly established him as one of the best Cruiserweights in the world. A fighter with a crowd pleasing style, who is almost always in an exciting fight. The world champion certainly has the credentials and name recognition both due to his accomplishments as a fighter as well as receiving mainstream exposure in appearing in the film Creed, a spin-off of the Rocky series as Ricky Conlan that could give Bellew the platform to not only elevate the Cruiserweight division to new heights, but also further establish himself as a star in the sport.
The first title defense for the new champion came on October 15th at the Echo Arena in Bellew’s hometown of Liverpool, England against longtime Cruiserweight contender BJ Flores. What interested me about this fight beyond how Bellew would perform in his first defense of his world championship was to see how he would deal with a crafty and skillful opponent in Flores.
Flores, a veteran of thirty-five professional fights prior to the encounter with Bellew had never been stopped in his career and had only lost two fights in his career by decision against former world champion Beibut Shumenov in July of last year and in his only previous world championship opportunity against then IBO Cruiserweight world champion Danny Green in November 2010. Although it was understandable how some considered Flores, who is also known for his work as a broadcaster in the sport including for NBC Sports as an underdog going into this fight, his fights against Green and Shumenov were competitive and there were varying opinions as to who won those fights.
What always interests this observer whenever a challenger faces a world champion in the champion’s hometown is whether or not the challenger can deal with the “Hometown Crowd” and whether that fighter can succeed in taking the crowd out of the fight by putting forth a performance that quiets support that is almost always universally in favor of the champion or “Hometown Fighter.” A task that has proven to be a difficult one for some fighters, but something that has also been proven to not impossible to accomplish.
It appeared for time that Flores may succeed in quelling what was an extremely vocal crowd of supporters of the champion early on in the fight as he was able to regularly land his right hand to the head of Bellew in the first round. The fight however, would change in the second round as Bellew was able to take advantage of an opening left by Flores following the champion landing a low blow that was not called a foul by Referee Ian John-Lewis when after being hit low, Flores stepped back and complained to Lewis that he had been hit low, but in the process left himself open for Bellew’s power punches that ultimately resulted in three knockdowns in the second round against the challenger.
Even though Flores to his credit was able to survive the round under circumstances where most fights would have been stopped after three knockdowns in the same round regardless of whether or not a three knockdown rule was in effect, Bellew did not allow the challenger time to recuperate as he dropped Flores for a fourth and final time in round three to retain his world championship. Although clearly the key moment of this fight centers on the missed call by Referee Ian John- Lewis of the low blow suffered by Flores in the second round, the challenger made the mistake of trying to alert the referee after the low blow landed and in the process neglected to protect himself and left himself open for the champion to take advantage.
It is clear that Flores did not recover from the low blow, but the champion did exactly what a fighter is supposed to do in that situation. If an opponent presents an opening by not protecting himself, why not take advantage of it? It may not be the most classy move in the eyes of some, but it is legal and a perfect example of why it says in the rule book and is instructed to fighters by the referee before every fight both in the dressing room and just prior to a bout beginning “Protect Yourself At All Times.”
Although it does not always happen when a fighter turns their attention to the referee that their opponent takes advantage of an opening, it has happened before. Some may remember the 2003 encounter between Jr. Middleweight contenders Alejandro Garcia and Travis Simms where in the fifth round Garcia lowered his hands after a brief clinch between the fighters in close with a clear expectation of Referee Samuel Viruet to step in and initiate a separation, but instead left himself open for a brutal left hook to the head from Simms that ended the fight. Most may more likely however, remember Floyd Mayweather’s knockout of Victor Ortiz in 2011 where after being deducted a point for head butting Mayweather, Ortiz left himself open and was hit with a combination by Mayweather when it appeared that Ortiz was waiting for Referee Joe Cortez to initiate the fight to resume. In both cases, Garcia and Ortiz cost themselves their respective fights by waiting on the referee. In both cases, it came down to the simple rule of “Protect Yourself At All Times.” Much as was the case in those fights, I believe Flores made a crucial error by turning his attention away from Bellew and looking for the referee to step in and call a foul. Even though in the case of Bellew-Flores, the end result did not come immediately following a fighter (Flores) taking his eyes off of his opponent, an argument can be made that much like Garcia and Ortiz, Flores cost himself the fight by making a split-second error in judgment that he was ultimately unable to recover from.
The situation regarding the low blow notwithstanding, it was an impressive performance by Bellew in his first championship defense and one that could lead to a more lucrative showdown. Shortly after Bellew stopped Flores, the champion immediately got out of the ring and got into an exchange of words with former two-division world champion David Haye, a friend of Flores who was in attendance. The exchange between the two outspoken world champions seems to create a logical encounter between the two at some point in the future.
For David Haye, a former world champion in both the Cruiserweight and Heavyweight divisions, who began a comeback after nearly a four-year hiatus earlier this year and was successful in two fights against overmatched opposition a fight with Tony Bellew could answer questions as to what the thirty-six year old Haye has left against a world champion who is at the height of his career. The only question beyond whether an encounter between the two will take place is whether it will take place in the Cruiserweight or Heavyweight division.
Although Bellew fought as a Heavyweight as an amateur and could move up in weight to fight Haye, this observer believes it may be more likely that a fight between the to takes place in the Cruiserweight division. After all, Bellew is a world champion in the division and could theoretically be in position to not only garner a higher purse for a fight against Haye, but is also a position where he may be able to make a run at unifying the Cruiserweight division. It will be interesting to see if David Haye would be willing to move back down in weight having not competed as a Cruiserweight in over eight years since winning a unification bout with a knockout win over then WBO Cruiserweight world champion Enzo Maccarinelli in March 2008 to unify it with his WBC/WBA crown. Haye has only lost one fight as a Heavyweight in losing the WBA Heavyweight world championship via unanimous decision in a unification bout against Wladimir Klitschko in 2011.
Despite the opposition for David Haye thus far in his comeback being overmatched, there may be some who feel that Haye could compete in either division or may feel that a move down in weight at this stage of his career may not be in his best interest even if a potential opportunity to regain a world championship could be available. In this observer’s eyes, it will ultimately be up to David Haye as to whether or not he wants to continue fighting as a Heavyweight or attempts to move back down to the Cruiserweight division. No matter where a potential fight between Bellew and Haye takes place, it is a fight that makes sense and one that Boxing fans would look forward to seeing.
If both fighters want to face each other it may boil down to how quickly the fight can be made and when it will take place. Anticipation for a showdown between the two appears to be brewing among both Boxing fans and experts alike. As we have seen in the past however, lucrative fights between stars of the sport does not always take place when such anticipation is at a high and may ultimately leave Boxing fans feeling disappointed when a fight they have waited for finally becomes a reality. We will have to wait and see if a bout between the two can be made.
“And That’s The Boxing Truth.”
The Boxing Truth® is a registered trademark of Beau Denison All Rights Reserved.
Follow Beau Denison on Twitter: www.twitter.com/Beau_Denison