By Tris Dixon
TONY BELLEW was on his honeymoon in Mykonos, Greece, when Oleksandr Usyk cleaned up the cruiserweight division, emphatically outscoring Murat Gassiev to capture the World Boxing Super Series title and any silverware that means anything at the top end of the sport.
Despite being away with new bride Rachel, the Liverpool ‘Bomber’ tuned in and watched the Russian showdown from round four onwards.
And at the end of it, he heard the winner call him out.
“It’s crazy,” he admits, before adding that it had not gone over well with his wife that he had the boxing on.
“Usyk could have called out anyone. It is madness. He’s the one with all the belts, the Olympic gold medal around his neck, the Ring magazine belt… In amateur and professional boxing he’s done it all. He’s at the pinnacle of the game. He’s at the top of the tree and he shouted my name.”
The two quickly exchanged pleasantries on Twitter and negotiations between the camps got underway.
So why did Usyk, on such a vast platform, focus his attention on the self-proclaimed fat Scouser?
“I think when I left the cruiserweight division, which was 18 months to two years ago, I thought I was the best cruiserweight in the world and I firmly believed I was,” he says. “But he [Usyk] was fighting 10 rounders then or whatever and I think now he wants to prove he can empty out the cruiserweights and he has done it. There’s no one left, but I’m still looked at as a cruiserweight and I think that’s where he’s come from. I haven’t been a cruiserweight for quite a while now. I haven’t made that weight for quite a while but I want to make the weight and both sides are speaking as we speak and it’s a fight we both want. It makes sense for both of us.
“It’s got to be for all the belts. There’s no point in it being for anything else. I know he’s trying to accommodate me saying he would fight me at heavyweight.
“He’s saying that because he struggles doing cruiserweight.”
Bellew, 30-2-1, last boxed as a cruiser in October 2016, when wiping out BJ Flores.
Of course, he infamously struggled to get to light-heavyweight for his first aborted clash with Welsh rival Nathan Cleverly, but he does not think it will be anything like as problematic to make 200lbs now.
“I wouldn’t say it’s anywhere near being a bridge too far, it’s just been a bit of a while since I made 200lbs,” he insists. “I can do it, no problem. It will probably hurt him as much as it hurts me but ultimately I get the opportunity to take all four belts and I 100 percent truly believe I can knockout Oleksandr Usyk.”
This is the same Usyk who looked so imperious on Saturday, who raced up the pound-for-pound lists.
“I’m always impressed with him,” Bellew continues. “I mean, [Murat] Gassiev was out of ideas by the time I caught up in the fourth round. He looked like he had no ambition but basically I’ve predicted how this tournament would go fight by fight. I knew what was going to happen and I’ve known Usyk for a while, I’ve sparred with him when I was in a camp in the Ukraine or Russia [in the amateurs] and he’s a brilliant fighter, he really is. But he’s only as good as a fighter allows him to be. Gassiev was very heavy legged, very flat-footed, predictable and when he landed and it didn’t have the effect that he wanted it to have he kind of just stopped and it was like he was in awe.”
Bellew himself is a man of options. Having defeated and retired David Haye in May, he had been linked to fights with both Tyson Fury and Andre Ward. Ward might still be in play, but he has doubts over the possibility of a Fury fight.
Some speculated Ward could be on the lips of Usyk, but Bellew says it would be tough for his friend, the American.
“To beat Usyk I believe you’ve got to stop him, and I think with those little 10-ounce gloves on that can be done,” Tony states. “I don’t think Ward has the punches to do that, I think he outworks Ward.”
And even though providing financial security for his future has driven Bellew, he sees the Usyk fight as his legacy.
“There is more money in a Fury fight but in all honesty I don’t think he wants it,” the Liverpool man believes. “I think I’m too dangerous for him and he’s looking at me as if there’s enough reward for him, so in reality he doesn’t want to do it.
“It’s not going to happen. I could possibly get the Ward fight to happen and there’s probably more money in that but ultimately it’s a legacy I like the sound of. And I know I’ve been a boxer in the past that’s said it’s not about legacy, it’s about finance and as I’ve got deeper into the game I’ve understood things more.
“But what’s important in fighting this fight against Usyk is it can give me the chance to do something that no one in this country has ever done before, and that’s to walk away with all four belts and leave the game at the very top.
“Because if I fight Oleksandr Usyk it is my last ever fight. I’m not stupid enough to think I’m going to go in there and it’s going to be easy. This fight is going to be damaging even when I win. I’m going to take a lot of punishment, I’m probably going to be behind when I win and I can accept that. I know what I am. I know what I can and can’t do. And I know that Oleksandr Usyk will not outlast me.”
The clash of cruiserweight kings could happen sooner than many might think. Bellew is not looking to outstay his welcome in the sport and has a young family he wants to spend time with, rather than holing himself away in training camps with Dave Coldwell for weeks on end.
“It’s got to be this year, mate,” Bellew explains. “So it’s got to be before the end of the year. After this year I’m done.”
So we will not see him box beyond 2018?
“Hopefully not,” he goes on. “Unless there’s some kind of pull out or nonsense. “My career should have been over in March if the truth be known. That was the plan. I should have fought on December 17 last year – the rematch with David Haye – and the plan was to fight him and then fight Joseph Parker in the March. But David Haye pulled out of December, Anthony Joshua chose to get his hands on Parker first and that’s how that went. It is what it is. It happens sometimes. We could go into a camp now for later in the year and one of us gets injured… Is it my last camp? I like to think it would be, yes.
"If I fought Tyson Fury the strange thing is I don’t think that would be my last ever fight. I’d have to have one more, because I’d beat Tyson Fury a lot easier than I would Oleksandr Usyk. People will laugh at me when I say this and they have every right, but I’m telling you now Usyk is a much tougher fight than an underprepared Tyson Fury. Tyson Fury is not ready for any top 10 heavyweight now.”
Bellew is again full of praise for old sparring partner Usyk. It is a fight that could help him prove everything he has ever wanted to.
“I’ve got to give him credit,” Tony says. “He’s pound-for-pound up there with the big boys. He’s top five pound-for-pound. He’s outstanding at what he does but everyone has flaws and Oleksandr Usyk’s greatest flaw is he’s trying to show the world he can be exciting. Listen, he could win all these fights and be really boring on points, he really could. But he doesn’t want to. He wants to be in exciting fights and the reason he’s so exciting is because he allows fighters to get shots off at him and it will become ingrained. It’s not like Vasyl Lomachenko who doesn’t want to take many so he avoids them.
"But someone like Usyk in the division that he’s in, it’s not very exciting so he has to be exciting and as exciting as he is, he does get hit back. And you cannot afford to do that against someone like me. That Mairis Briedis fight showed me an awful lot. In my opinion, Briedis gave him a much better fight than Gassiev. It showed he’d learned from the Briedis fight but I think it showed he showed Gassiev an awful lot more respect than he showed Mairis Briedis. Briedis is a good fighter. I would take him to beat Gassiev.
“Everyone has been raving about how good Gassiev is but he has beat guys who have stood there and allowed him to hit them. [Yunier] Dorticos did not once use his legs or his range in that fight, he’s forgot the Cuban way, to come out use angles, fast punches and box. He was trying to load up against Gassiev and it just didn’t work. [Krzysztof] Wlodarcyzk was shot to bits.
"I don’t mean to take anything away from Gassiev, he’s a very, very good fighter on his terms. If you try to get in close and mix it up with him he’s going to get you. But if you give him angles and use height and speed you will get the better of him. But it was a brilliant fight [Usyk-Gassiev], it’s been a great success [the WBSS] but ultimately I said from the outset Oleksandr Usyk would walk it. There was no one who could beat him in anyway, shape or form.”
So what needs to happen to get the fight over the line if both boxers want it?
“All I can say is there’s talks going on right now,” Bellew concludes. “There are factors that have got to be ironed out and fingers crossed they can be. I couldn’t give him any credit any higher than I have. He’s the best fighter [at 200lbs] in the world. He’s fantastic. He’s a much better boxer than me. He’s a better fighter than me all round if your tallying up attributes. But one thing he’s going to struggle with is a certain set of tools that I have. He’s not going to be able to dictate the pace and the range like he did against Gassiev, who just stood there and let little tap jabs hit him and allowed him to pivot out all the time.
" I’m going to be throwing things and listen, I’m a heavyweight who’s in shape. And regardless of what people think, I know deep down I can really, really punch, and I only need one. I will tell you that now. If I hit Oleksandr Usyk with some of the shots I hit David Haye with, some of the shots I hit Ilunga Makabu with, some of the shots I hit BJ Flores with, he’s going down.
"The fighters I’ve just named, BJ Flores had never been stopped in his career and he’d been in with world champions, some top world champions, too. Makabu had never been left unconscious in his whole career and I left him unconscious in three rounds. No one has ever, ever done to David Haye what I done to him. I absolutely drilled him inside five one-sided rounds. So no one can tell me I’m not a puncher. I’m a completely different fighter at this weight than I was at light-heavyweight and Oleksandr Usyk is going to find that out if this fight gets done.”