There is acrimonious, and there is acrimonious. The build up to the Bellew versus Haye fight has very much been in that category. On any occasion the two men are in the same vicinity, the atmosphere has quickly become toxic. On Saturday night at about 11pm, the talking will have to stop.
This is not the first time that boxers who display a visceral hatred of one another have been paired up and it will not be the last. The trading of insults at press conferences and the occasional brawl are nothing new. Let us be frank, there will be those who love it. The promoters will be wringing their hands in delight at the public interest that has been created by the hype. Similarly, the broadcasters will not exactly be disappointed that their profits are likely to be increased by the antipathy exhibited by the protagonists. The average boxing fan, if we are being honest, will also have had their interest increased by the prospect of an all out war on Saturday night in a contest that is difficult to predict. The boxers are happy, the promoters are happy, the broadcasters are happy and the fans are happy. What is there to complain about?
In my humble opinion, in addition to being outstanding fighters in their own right, both boxers come across very well away from their own contests. Both often feature on the television and speak very knowledgeably about the sport. Neither fighter is in the first flush of youth and have considerable amateur and professional experience behind them. This experience has made it arguably more surprising that the hatred appears quite so pronounced and in the public domain. Our old friend social media also appears to have added an extra dimension to the build up. However, there is a responsibility to the sport that should not be forgotten among all this hype. The excellent Johnny Nelson clearly had quite a job managing their showdown on "The Gloves are Off" and the presence of steely eyed security guards at the most recent press conference would seem to indicate that no thawing of relations has occurred.
An expectation that boxers are going to like one another is highly optimistic but there is the future of the sport that needs to be thought about. The recent contest between Anthony Joshua and Dylian Whyte threatened to descend into chaos at the end of round one when a punch was thrown after the bell and a ring invasion followed. Thankfully, that was calmed down and a fascinating boxing match was able to proceed. These circumstances threaten to occur again and what happens in the ring, could easily be replicated in the audience at ringside. Crowds fighting at boxing rings are nothing new either; particularly when there is an underlying football based rivalry, flowing alcohol and a fight within the ring that is threatening to boil over. Unsavory antics in and out of the ring make it difficult for those of us on the periphery to continue to mount defenses of this most polarising of sports.
With due respect to other sports, this is professional boxing. This is going to be brutal and uncompromising and, when blood is spilled, no one should be surprised. As I have pointed out in previous blogs, the ringside medical care will need to be of a high standard. For all the build up and the hype, the hope will be that the contest matches expectations. There is however, need for reflection as to how far visceral hatred should go in the interim period. Both boxers have a responsibility to respect the traditions that boxing has and the followers of both boxers need to understand that the fighting must stay within the ring.
There will be those who may accuse me of being soft and failing to understand the emotion of the occasion. For those of us that seek to defend boxing against a wave of criticism that would close the sport down, our job is made easier if those at the centre of the sport understand where the line in terms of behaviour has to be drawn.
For someone who expects Anthony Joshua to knock out Vladimir Klitschko in round five of their eagerly awaited contest later in the year, this particular fight is too difficult to call and it will depend simply on who performs the better on the night.
Best of luck to both of you. Seconds out...