By Terence Dooley
Liverpool’s Tony Bellew (30-2-1, 20 KOs) knows he has a huge task on his hands when he meets Oleksandr Usyk (15-0, 11 KOs) for the IBF, WBO, WBA and WBC cruiserweight belts at the Manchester Arena on Saturday night yet the 35-year-old former WBC holder is adamant that he will upset the odds, register a final win, and then walk away into the sunset to enjoy the rest of his life.
The former British and Commonwealth light-heavyweight titlist has been written off by most ahead of this challenge, and the bookies have also delivered a damning verdict, but Bellew has told BoxingScene that he is no stranger to springing an upset — he believes that a lot of betting slips will be torn apart and thrown to the ground once the dust settles on his final fight.
“Someone told me that I’m a bigger outsider than I was for the Haye fight, which I struggle to believe, but it is just a really good, hard fight and I don’t listen to the bookies anyway,” he said. “If I’d have listened to the bookies I’d have quit boxing after I won my first ABA title. We will see how it goes. The odds are against me again and I can understand why as he is brilliant boxer. It is down to me now to show people that they are wrong, again.”
He added: “He is a very, very unique fighter, I will just do what I have to do on the night. Get it done then see how it goes from there.”
Bellew likes to get under the skin of his opponents yet the build-up to this one has been sedate by his usual standards as “Bomber” realised early that trying to wage a psychological war with the Ukrainian would be a fruitless task.
“In this one I won’t be about getting under his skin in the slightest because he can’t speak too much English so it wasn’t a factor,” he admitted. “There is no point trying to get into this fella’s head because of the experience he has, I just have to see how it develops on the night then go from there. I’m very confident in my ability.”
In his early days as a pro, Bellew used to tap out on the heavy bag while doing interviews. There would be a tap, tap, followed by a “You have to take this game serious” then a few more taps to bridge the gap between that and the next quote. It was his way of letting you know that there was an intensity there, a desire to reach the very top of the game. It was a long time coming, and there were a few detours, but he now believes that he is in the place where he deserves to be.
“I am a driven person,” he said. “It has always been that way. There is no way to explain it other than by saying I’m insanely driven. I will stop at nothing to get what I need to get. I can’t put my finger on why I am who I am, I am just driven and that means you demand the highest from yourself. I’m always moving forward. Right now, I am very happy with what I’ve done and continue to be insanely driven about this fight and my life.
“It might not be enough on the night, though. Up to this point in my career that drive has been enough. I’m not going to lie to anyone, it might not be enough to get me through this one and I can’t say otherwise to everyone out there.
“When I talk my world title win over [Ilunga] Makabu up, you’ve got to remember that people I’ve been involved with in the past went on to say I had no chance of becoming world champion. People wrote me off but Tony Bellew did become world champion and has been to the top of boxing. Hopefully, people will look back on my career and say: ‘Tony Bellew was a man who didn’t fear anyone.’ I have that respect from my peers already and my fans, and I hope the others will also remember me in good stead.”
Bellew weighed in at 14st 3lbs 5oz to Usyk’s 14st 2lbs 4oz. For years he tortured his body to boil down to 175lbs and left too much of himself in puddles of sweat on the gym floor. This time, though, he felt comfortable making the poundage and insists that win, lose or draw there will be no excuses.
“The weight is not an issue, I’m in great shape, and if I fail to beat him on the night then it boils down to the fact that I’m just not good enough,” was his candid response when asked about his training camp.
“What I could not live with is getting the weight wrong and losing or not living the lifestyle and having regrets that would eat away at me for the rest of my days. What I can live with is losing to him simply because he is better than me, if that makes sense? There is no pressure on me in this one, no worries at all.
“I knew I had to take this fight once the call came. Once he called my name I knew that was it. I just knew it was done once I saw those four belts around his waist and my name came out of his mouth. It was all there. We are here now. There is no point even talking anymore, we are going to settle it either way and I’m ready to go to war.”
There is an assumption that there is a deep divide between Manchester and Liverpool. Sure, there is a rivalry between the two cities yet there is also a lot of mutual respect. Bellew used to train under Anthony Farnell in north Manchester so in his eyes it is fitting that his final fight is taking place here.
“I love Manchester,” he declared. “It has been a lucky place for me. I know we have this Scouser and Manc thing, but it isn’t like that for me and I have a special treat for all the Mancs in the crowd on the night because one of the city’s finest will be performing for me. I want people to be trying to work out who it is, but it will remain a surprise until it happens. The city has been good for me, I only ever win at the Manchester Arena so I’m back there to try to get another one.”
When people find out that I know Bellew, they are always fascinated and the question I get asked is: “What is he really like?” I get a similar response when Tyson Fury is mentioned. Bellew has become almost like a walking, talking optical illusion to many people, you see what the mind wants you to see and hear what it filters through for you.
On one occasion we bumped into one another at a fight. As yet another interview got underway a group of fans behind us started to get a bit rowdy. A glare for Bellew did not settle them down so he wrapped an arm around me and ushered me away. “I don’t want you to get hurt,” he said before resuming our conversation.
It looked a bit odd. A 6’ 1’’ guy wrapped in the long arm of a 6’ 3’’ fighter in the midst of a thriving fight night crowd. For some reason this always springs to mind when I give people my assessment of the man who lives beyond the glare of the Sky cameras.
“There is nothing wrong with looking out for people!” chuckled Bellew when I pointed this out to him. “I’d like to think they are going to with go with an opinion about me based on my recent fights, but some people will still judge me on five-seconds of footage on Sky Sports and go from there. There is nothing I can do about that, I try not to think about it and just want to be happy within myself as I’m doing what I’m doing.”
Indeed, the three-time ABA Champion sees this fight as one that will not only define his in-ring career but will also cement his position among boxing fans. “I will be happy if people see me as a man who was willing to fight anyone — I’d be extremely happy if that is the way it goes,” he declared before adding that he could have taken an easier swansong.”
“I’d like to think that this has shown people that it isn’t just about the money for me,” he added. “If I really wanted the money, I could have taken what is an easier fight on paper, had a little tussle and a roll around with Dillian Whyte for the Gloves Are Off and done a million buys while taking the monster size of the purse share — I can generate those numbers. I wanted to chase something different, something I never dreamed possible, and that is purely what it boiled down to when I made this decision.”
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