Tony Bellew poised for ‘the ultimate test’ against Aleksandr Usyk
On May 29, 2016, Tony Bellew fulfilled his destiny.
A bodacious left hook from hell in the third round rendered hard-hitting southpaw Ilunga Makabu unconscious at Goodison Park soccer stadium, and 3-1 outsider Tony Bellew was the WBC cruiserweight champion of the world. The dream had come true on hallowed ground for the lifelong Everton fan, and nothing would ever equal that moment.
Enter “The Hayemaker”.
Immediately after disposing of Makabu, the boisterous Bellew issued a challenge to former cruiserweight and heavyweight titleholder David Haye. Fight fans and media laughed it off, figuring the only competitive action would be verbal altercations at the pre-fight press conferences. However, Bellew, despite being a huge underdog, knew exactly what he was doing. “The Bomber” predicted that Haye could no longer endure 12 rounds of combat, and he was absolutely right. Haye’s Achilles popped in the sixth, Bellew stopped him in 11, then repeated that result six rounds earlier in a direct rematch.
The Haye fights were financial blockbusters and Bellew was set for life. The 35-year-old boxer-puncher had won a world title, and now he’d secured his family’s future. Retirement time, right? Wrong!
Enter Aleksandr Usyk.
As Bellew (30-2-1, 20 KOs) sat relaxing on the tail-end of his honeymoon, Usyk was cleaning house in the cruiserweight division. Following a 12-round drubbing of Murat Gassiev in Moscow, the superb Ukrainian southpaw emerged as the inaugural World Boxing Super Series winner and the undisputed champion of the world. Whose name did Usyk mention during his post-fight interview? You guessed it, and now we have a massively hyped U.K. pay-per-view showdown which will take place at the Manchester Arena in Manchester, England, this Saturday.
There’s no serious animosity between the participants, although they do have history. The pair sparred together as amateurs in Ukraine, circa 2006, when Bellew was part of the Team GB squad. Usyk, a European bronze medalist at the time, was already making a name for himself, and Bellew cordially acknowledged that he was “outstanding” even then. However, unlike the battles with Haye, which Bellew foresaw years before anyone else did, Usyk was not on the radar until very recently.
“I didn’t think the financial goals would match up,” admitted Bellew in an interview with The Ring. “But once he got hold of all four belts, I forgot about the actual value of the fight. The financial rewards were massively outweighed by the hardware that he brought to the table.
“But the mad part about it is, the closer the fight gets, the less I care about the belts. I just want to beat him. This has now gone beyond belts. Once again, I just want to beat the man you all say I can’t beat. There’s nothing left to do after this. This is the ultimate test. This is the one. There’s no greater test, no matter what. It can’t get any harder.”
Bellew is right of course and the evidence is compelling. Usyk (15-0, 11 KOs) was an Olympic gold medalist at London 2012, and he possesses a dazzling array of skills. The 31-year-old pound-for-pound entrant won all four sanctioning body titles on the road, he’s The Ring champion at 200 pounds, and his most recent win over Gassiev was hailed as a fistic masterclass.
“I think Gassiev was in awe of him and he gave up,” said Bellew with disdain. “I also think that Usyk overestimated him. He underestimates and overestimates fighters and that’s a mental weakness. He underestimated Mairis Briedis and, let’s be totally honest, he beat Briedis by a single point. And he was getting tagged just as much by Michael Hunter. This man isn’t unbeatable – no fighter is unbeatable.
“That mental flaw is the only difference I can see between him and Vasiliy Lomachenko. No matter who he’s facing, Lomachenko treats it like he’s going in with another pound-for-pound fighter. Usyk is more unpredictable in his approach and, there’s no two ways about it, he will underestimate me. He’ll say he won’t, but he won’t be able to help himself. He’ll look at me and say, ‘How is this fighter even in the ring with me?’”
Usyk, like so many great champions, has the ability to adapt and adjust. For a large fighter, his feet are excellent and he is very much in the business of making you miss and making you pay. The champion can stand and deliver, but it’s unlikely that he’ll want to trade with Bellew early because the Liverpool man has the power to turn out the lights with either hand.
“He’s introducing himself to the U.K. audience, a pay-per-view audience, and he’s gonna have to demolish me,” argued Bellew. “Coming here and scraping by with a points win isn’t enough to push himself into an AJ fight. He’s got to dismantle me, dispose of me, and all the pressure is on him. He’s the one saying he wants Anthony Joshua, as did David Haye before him.
“I’m prepared for absolutely everything and I’m in fantastic shape. I can’t say too much on it because (trainer) Dave (Coldwell) will go crazy, but I’ve got to take things away from him. The jab is going to be a massive factor, but there are a few things we’re going to do in this fight. I’ve got a game plan in place but, ultimately, I have to pull it off and nobody has been able to do it so far. This will be a truly unbelievable fight. Everything’s on the line, I will not give up, and I can’t wait to get in the ring and prove the world wrong again.”
You write this man off at your peril.
This event will be aired live on Sky Box Office in the U.K. and DAZN in the U.S.
Tom Gray is Associate Editor for Ring Magazine. Follow him on Twitter: @Tom_Gray_Boxing
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