Tony Bellew: ‘I’m better than Masternak in every area’
A myriad of top British fighters will see pre-Christmas action this Saturday in London, England, but former two-time light heavyweight title challenger Tony Bellew (25-2-1, 16 knockouts) has been given arguably the most difficult assignment of them all.
Bellew, now a full-fledged cruiserweight, faces off against Poland-based puncher Mateusz Masternak (36-3, 26 KOs) in a 12-round European title bout and the habitually honest 33-year-old views this fight as his most significant challenge at 200 pounds to date.
“Without a shadow of a doubt,” said Bellew, who moved up to cruiserweight in March 2014. “Masternak is solid and, although he doesn’t do anything great, he does everything quite well. He actually has the same qualities as some of the champions in this division; he’s gritty, strong, durable and relentless.
“This guy only has one genuine loss on his record and that was to Grigory Drozd, who is now the number one man in the division. His other two defeats (split decision losses to Youri Kalenga and Johnny Muller) were highly disputed and I personally thought he beat Kalenga. He is a very well-rounded fighter but, in my opinion, I’m better than Masternak in every area.”
Bellew is on a quest to capture a cruiserweight world title after falling short in two attempts at 175 pounds. In October 2011, he lost a majority decision to Nathan Cleverly (avenged at cruiserweight in November 2014) and he was stopped in six rounds by Adonis Stevenson two years later.
“I stayed at light heavyweight for too long,” said Bellew, whose battles to make the 175-pound weight limit were beyond arduous. “That wasn’t good for my body and although the move up was inevitable, it should have happened a lot sooner.
“I’m much fitter at cruiserweight than I ever was at light heavy and I’ve shown different sides to my game. I’ve proven that I can overwhelm opponents early on, or pull a one-punch knockout from nowhere and end a fight late. My boxing skills are still there and I know when to be patient.”
Patience comes with experience and Bellew has that an abundance. As a personality, however, he can be volcanic, an attribute which probably led to him being cast as the main antagonist in the movie “Creed,” the latest installment of the “Rocky” franchise. Now, with Hollywood on the back burner, Bellew has crosshairs locked on becoming world champion.
He said, “Everyone knows I wanted to fight a world champion next. That’s just the way I am. I was chasing Yoan Pablo Hernandez, who I felt was the best out there, but unfortunately he’s out the picture with an injury. With that being the case, I’d now take a fight against any of the champions.
“In my eyes Masternak is better than two of the reigning cruiserweight titleholders. He’s better than Victor Ramirez (IBF) who’s crap and, being honest, I think he’s a better fighter than Denis Lebedev (WBA). Drozd (WBC) is the best, followed by Krzysztof Glowacki (WBO), although his win over Marco Huck may have flattered him a little. I question how much Huck really wants it now.”
When Bellew analyzes the field, he doesn’t specify which world titleholder is on top of his wish list. In his own inimitable style, the Englishman is quick to point out the strengths and weaknesses of each fighter and he also had some interesting observations about two unbeaten cruiserweight contenders.
“Krzysztof Glowacki only poses problems because he’s a southpaw,” Bellew said. “It’s not so much the fight, it’s the preparation and the sparring that’s required for that one. I know for a fact I would smack Ramirez’s arse, he’s just a durable punch bag. Really, the only tough one for me is Drozd, who is very good at what he does.
“Being honest, I actually don’t think the best fighter in the division is a world champion. For me, the best cruiserweights around are Oleksandr Usyk (8-0, 8 KOs) and Murat Gassiev (22-0, 16 KOs) who are both extremely talented. It’s like a pond full of sharks at cruiserweight right now, that’s the best way to put it.”
Before Bellew can secure a third world title shot, he must first overcome a strong and dangerous foe who is determined to test him to the full. Masternak has arrived on U.K. shores fully confident of tearing up the script but while the home fighter respects the visitor, he left no doubt of his intentions come fight night
“This will be a hard battle but I think I’ll be the first man to put Masternak on the floor and knock him out,” said Bellew after a moment of deliberation. “Just watch the look on his face the first time I connect clean. I’ll have to take a few punches myself but worse-case scenario, I’m going to hospital afterwards with a broken hand and a messed up face.
“One thing is certain, I’ll be going to hospital as a winner.”
Bellew vs. Masternak is an undercard attraction at the O2 in London, topped by Anthony Joshua vs. Dillian Whyte which will be contested for the British and Commonwealth heavyweight titles. The show is available in the U.K. via Sky Box Office.
Tom Gray is a member of the British Boxing Writers’ Association and has contributed to various publications. Follow him on Twitter: @Tom_Gray_Boxing