by Nick Parkinson, courtesy of The Daily Star
TONY BELLEW had two weeks of spar wars in New York gyms to get him battle-hardened for Saturday’s world title eliminator.
The Scouser will earn a crack at American Chad Dawson’s WBC world light-heavyweight title if he beats Malawi’s Isaac Chilemba in Liverpool.
“Bomber” Bellew, 30, has been training at Gleason’s Gym in the Big Apple, where he had some spiteful sparring partners.
And he insists he has improved his defence as he bids to get another world title shot, following his points defeat to Nathan Cleverly two years ago.
He said: “I was in New York for two weeks because the sparring is a lot more brutal there. It’s not Queensbury Rules and that’s what I needed.
“I’ve got a reputation in the UK and I’m friends with some of the guys I spar with, so it’s difficult. You need some hard sparring sometimes and it’s difficult to get that in the UK at times.
“There are a lot of different styles in the USA and they have a different mentality to sparring. There’s no chatting or shaking hands before you start and it’s a bit nasty – they fight to the death.
“I will always be able to punch even when I’m old with a walking stick – but I want to become a complete fighter and that’s why I went to these gyms in New York with other coaches.
“I’ve worked with a couple of different guys in New York and you’ll see who it is on the night of the fight.
“Without a doubt, I’ve got a better defence now than when I fought Ovill McKenzie. I get hit a lot less now. I’m not saying I’m Floyd Mayweather or anything but I carry out a game-plan if it is to go 12 rounds.”
Bellew claims he will have the ringside support of most of the Everton team, who will rush off after their 5.30pm game against Stoke City at Goodison Park to head for the Echo Arena before the first bell at 10pm.
He said: “I train at the club two days a week and I’m friends with all the players who will be coming to the fight.
“They’ve got a box and will be sitting ringside for the fight.
“Sylvain Distin and Tim Howard are big boxing fans and they don’t miss many fights. I’m also big mates with Tim Cahill, who I’ve just seen out in New York.
“I’m blessed that I’ve got a club who I support, that supports me like that. It’s a bit surreal to say the least. I stand in that ground every other week and shout like a lunatic. Then the players come and do the same for me.”
Bellew reckons he is just two victories away from being considered the best light-heavyweight on Earth.
Bernard Hopkins, at 48, beat Tavoris Cloud – 17 years his junior – for the IBF version of the world title earlier this month – but Bellew insists Dawson is the man to beat.
He added: “Hopkins picked the right fighter in Cloud. Hopkins got manhandled by Dawson. At 48, you can’t hope to maintain the work rate of someone young like me who is approaching their prime.
“Bernard Hopkins is a great fighter and a legend but he will not work off the pace I work off.
“But I firmly believe that the best fighter in the world is the WBC’s Chad Dawson.
“If I beat the IBF, WBA or WBO champion, people will still say I’m not the best champion in the world.”