I don’t spend too much time reflecting and recollecting on my career. Overall I don’t give David Haye much thought anymore. It is what it is. It was a great rivalry. I enjoyed it while it was on. But when you’re in your career and your fighting and everything’s so dangerous and everything’s on the line, you don’t give the actual rivalry too much attention. You give your attention purely to the night of the fight and what he’s going to do, what you’re going to do. How you’re going to combat his strengths and how you’re going to make him pay for his weaknesses.

I was always knew I was going to be a huge underdog but I always knew I was going to end up fighting David. [In 2004] David Price phoned me up and said listen there’s some sparring going on here if you want to jump on with me. David Haye was coming to Liverpool and he’d give us 100 quid a day. I said he’ll pay us a 100 pounds a day just to get in the ring and box him, give it you in cash as well. I said I’d sign up for seven days running if you want.

David Price hit him so hard something happened to him I’ve never seen before or after. He spun him 360 degrees… He didn’t jump on him. I jumped in the next round. I gave him as good as I got and then I whacked him with a left hook and he took a knee. He claimed it was his hamstring.

The hardest I’ve ever been hit in my whole life was off him. It was actually in that sparring session. It’s the only time it’s ever happened.

He hit me with an uppercut and for no reason at all my backleg just kicked out like a donkey. It’d never happened before, it’s never happened since. That day it happened. I remember saying to him good shot and he looked at me to say how the f*** haven’t you gone down?

I knew from the minute that sparring session finished one day I was going to fight David Haye.

I was never intimidated by him. I was wary of him, especially his power and his speed. But what people didn’t take into context with me is I was used to fighting guys who were faster than him.

I just knew I had the tools to beat him. You see, fighting someone like David Haye it’s all styles making fights. If I would have went in there and tried to have a trade off and a tear up with him, I’d have got knocked out in a round. The biggest thing was can I make him miss? No one in David Haye’s career could ever make him miss. He was quicker than everyone he ever faced. He was more powerful than 99% of the people he faced. Those were his strengths and he fought perfectly to his strengths. My strengths were I had good footwork and I had a really good defence. I could make him miss. I knew if I was patient and beared with it and stuck with him and was there after four or five rounds, I would get him.

I knew his ego and his persona would override him thinking I was a danger.

You wouldn’t have believed some of the things that were in the contract, you’d have thought I was fighting Tina f****** Turner. Because the contract was just insane. I must be seated when he enters the press conference room. I must be here at this time, I must be doing this. I just said to Eddie Hearn, ‘Listen can I pick my own colour shorts, can I pick my own colour gloves?’ He said yeah, I said sign for the fight. Eddie said to me, ‘I think I can get you more for this.’ Because I was getting my pants pulled down a bit on the negotiating side. You’ve got to remember, at this stage now when we come to negotiating, David Haye has had two fights on Channel Dave. I mean, I’m not saying there’s anything wrong with Dave. I watch Dave all the time. But I watched Dave to watch Bull’s Eye. He was on Dave, I was on Sky Sports. I was a current WBC cruiserweight world champion.

So I had a lot of bargaining tools that were in my favour. I had the most important one, Sky Sports Box Office. [But] he’s put no rematch clause in there. I said just sign it.

When we done the rematch, the salt and pepper was well and truly on my side of the table then and I dictated terms… I was pretty fair with the terms of the contract with the split but it was in my favour obviously.

When the rematch did come around, the fight was originally supposed to happen in December [of 2017] and he pulled out of the December fight with a torn biceps. When he pulled out I was just heartbroken. I gone through an horrific time in my life and I was in a really bad place. To be honest it was a life saving moment. If I had fought David that December I really genuinely believe I could have done something crazy in the ring that night. Because mentally I was very unstable. So I genuinely think I would have got in the ring and went nuts that night. And I mean done something absolutely insane. I didn’t know what I was capable of. I wouldn’t even know what I was doing.

When I got the news [that Haye had pulled out] I remember thinking my life’s a mess as it was and now he’s pulled out, it’s even more of a mess.

You know when something springs into your mind. The person that sprung into my mind was Tyson Fury. So I just picked the phone up and phoned him. I phoned him up on a Sunday.

I said, ‘It’s Tony Bellew, I need to meet up with you.’

He said, ‘I don’t know you too well, you’re only Tony Bellew’s mate. Why would I come and meet you?’

I said, ‘It is actually Tony Bellew, you tit. It’s me, you dope, not Tony Bellew’s mate.’

He started laughing said of course we can meet up. He said meet at Haydock racecourse. Me and him met, sat down at a Holiday Inn in Haydock racecourse. We sat down and we agreed a deal to fight each other.

He turned round to me and said he [David Haye] has pulled out hasn’t he? I said yes he’s pulled out. I said what do you think about me and you fighting each other and he went I need a warm up.

I said, ‘What do you mean you need a warm up?’

He said, ‘I can’t fight you after being out the ring for three years. You’d have a chance of beating me.’

I said, ‘That’s the whole f****** point. You can’t have a warm up, mate.’

We shook hands on a deal, we’d agreed all the financial things, everything. I left that meeting and I was fighting Tyson Fury. I phoned Eddie Hearn and [Hearn] said he’s the most unreliable man in the world. He might wake up on fight day and say I don’t feel like fighting. I said Ed, it’ll be great… It’ll be gold. Eddie was like Tone, I don’t doubt you but he’s mentally not in a stable place [this was in 2017]. It would have been absolutely huge. And I’d have had an absolutely fantastic chance, if he never had them warm ups. As soon as them two warm ups happened I was never ever going anywhere near Tyson Fury. The only chance I had of beating him is when he was badly out of shape.

[For the Haye rematch] I just thought I’m going to prove to the whole world that his burst Achilles was not the reason I beat him. Now I had even more pressure on me than I ever did. There was no pressure on me for the first fight. Everyone just thought I was going to get blown away.

I felt I was at my very best in that rematch. I still think that was one of the best performances I’ve ever had. I was perfect on the night. I was razor sharp.

Don’t get me wrong, I had a bad injury going into the rematch but he didn’t pick up on it. I had a cracked rib. [Mikael Lawal] came in with two weeks to go before the Haye rematch and cracked my rib [in sparring]. He kept his mouth shut. We told him to, and gave him a couple of extra quid before he went home. Sparring got shutdown then.

On that 10th, 11th week [of camp] I was getting bad injuries. It happened for the Haye rematch but going in I had so much focus and I was determined to prove everyone wrong once again.

His style was just a match made in heaven for me. Brilliant fights, really good nights.

I miss punching people in the face, 100 percent. Do you know what, and I never thought I’d say it, I actually miss getting punched in the face. I never thought I’d say that but I do. I’ve been fighting for 20 years and when you’ve been doing it as long as I have it just becomes second nature and the last thing you want is have it taken away. But I’ve had a fantastic career… I done it against all the odds.

I’d like to be looked back on as someone who faced anyone. I wasn’t scared of no one. And then number two I showed immense loyalty to people who were loyal to me in the boxing world.

People out there will think, he’s got this, he’s got that. But I’ve been that person with a mortgage and out of the ring for five months because I broke my hand in a fight and I haven’t got a pot to piss in. No one can tell me nothing about how hard the struggle is, the money issues, stuff like that. I’ve been through it. Every single part of boxing I’ve experienced and it makes me so much more appreciative now.

I’ve earned it through blood, sweat and tears.