David Haye threw a punch at Tony Bellew as the two went head-to-head at a heated press conference to promote their 4 March heavyweight fight.
The former WBA champion displayed an uncharacteristic lack of composure throughout, angrily insulting promoter Eddie Hearn and Bellew’s trainer David Coldwell, as well as his opponent.
Haye had previously been involved in violence at a press conference when he brawled with Dereck Chisora in 2012 but on that occasion he felt provoked. He often cuts a well-prepared figure when appearing publicly; here his reaction to a routine shove from Bellew appeared the culmination of the intense pressure he seemed under.
The two were then separated by security guards and ushered into different rooms, but only after having spent the previous 20 minutes trying to shout over each other.
Discussing his opponent at London’s O2 Arena, Bellew – the WBC cruiserweight champion stepping up to heavyweight for the first time – accused Haye of struggling financially and spoke of the difficulties involved in negotiating with him.
“You could be fighting for the heavyweight championship of the world, but you’re fighting me,” said the 34-year-old. “And you know why? For the money. You’re skint.
“You were giving tickets away outside [at your past two fights]. You’re struggling, and you don’t want a real fight.
“He’s unbelievable, the biggest diva boxing has ever seen. I couldn’t believe the demands [he made in negotiations].
“The ring this size, ‘You need to be seated when I walk into the press conference’... I’m surprised he never asked me to carry him into his seat.”
Haye has experienced numerous occasions when his opponents have tried to insult him, but after listening to Bellew he chose to criticise Matchroom’s Hearn, only insulting Bellew when his opponent defended his promoter. “It’s all about the Eddie Hearn show,” said an unusually-angry Haye, 36. “I tried to watch a Katie Taylor interview. She starts talking and you barge her out of the way, ‘Apples and pears’.
“He’s already hijacked the press conference. If Naseem Hamed or Chris Eubank were coming through now, it wouldn’t happen because Eddie would jump in front of them and make the show about him.
“After I’ve taken out this guy, I’m going to take out [Anthony Joshua and end your business.”
Turning to Bellew, he then said: “Let’s see who’s round your hospital bed on March 4. You’re putting this guy in such a dangerous situation. I end the fight when I want. It’s completely up to me, you’ve got no say.”
Hearn, whose career in boxing was launched by manouevring Audley Harrison into a title fight with Haye in 2010 and has long sought to work with Haye, responded: “How much does it kill you that I’m promoting this show?
“You’re a power freak. You’re working with Matchroom, because you’ve got no choice, because you need the dough. You need the dough and you’re fighting a cruiserweight.”
Coldwell was once head of Hayemaker Promotions, and in recent years has established himself as one of the UK’s leading trainers.
He echoed similar comments made earlier this year by the retired Lennox Lewis when he said: “[Haye’s] a totally different man now, has a new training team. David’s older now, had injuries. The two fights he’s had so far [since his comeback], you can’t really look into that, because he looked an older, slower version.
“He was a really talented outstanding fighter, but he’s not been active. The last time he had a real fight and looked good... it’s a long time.”