By Keith Idec
Eddie Hearn’s concern for Tony Bellew was obvious when Bellew’s promoter jumped up from his front-row seat and almost moved Bellew’s head off the bottom rope Saturday night.
A few minutes later, once Bellew was counted out, the British promoter’s eyes welled with tears as he spoke about Bellew’s performance against Oleksandr Usyk. Bellew was very competitive with the unbeaten Ukrainian southpaw through seven rounds, before the strong, skillful Usyk cracked Bellew with a left hand that knocked out the brave Brit in the eighth round in Manchester, England.
“I thought he won the first three rounds,” Hearn told Sky Sports about Bellew after his knockout defeat. “And he was starting to fade a little bit, whether the weight made a difference or just coming up against a great, great fighter in Oleksandr Usyk.”
The 35-year-old Bellew (30-3-1, 20 KOs) moved back down from heavyweight to cruiserweight to challenge Usyk for his IBF, WBA, WBC and WBO titles. The 31-year-old Usyk (16-0, 12 KOs) was consistently listed as at least a 7-1 favorite, but Bellew boxed well at times, landed numerous right hands against the defensively effective Usyk and was ahead on two of the three scorecards when referee Terry O’Connor stopped their scheduled 12-rounder exactly two minutes into the eighth round at Manchester Arena.
Hearn was particularly proud because Bellew once again surprised people by boxing as effectively as he did. Bellew assured everyone in the ring that this knockout defeat is “definitely the end” of his 11-year pro career.
“Tonight should be a night to remember a great fighter and a great man, who’s been a great servant of British boxing,” Hearn said, referring to Bellew. “He’s given absolutely everything to this sport, and I’m so pleased. Look, I’m so pleased that people got to see the real Tony Bellew. You know, he used to be a loudmouthed scouser, who used to struggle to make weight. He’s gone on to fight the very best in the world, achieve everything in the sport. We are so proud of him, his team is so proud of him and I know Sky Sports is so proud of him.”
Bellew won the then-vacant WBC world cruiserweight title in May 2016, when he got up from a first-round knockdown and knocked out Congo’s Ilunga Makabu (23-2, 22 KOs) in the third round in his hometown of Liverpool. He later defeated David Haye by technical knockout in back-to-back heavyweight bouts that enabled Bellew to earn life-changing money because those domestic pay-per-view fights did such big business in the United Kingdom.
“He will go down as a true great of the sport, in my opinion,” Hearn said. “But more importantly, he’s one of the best men I’ve ever met. And I promise you, he gave everything tonight for the crowd. I wanna thank everybody for supporting Tony Bellew after all these years. It means the world to him. And I’m pleased that he finally got out of the game what he deserves.
“He’s secure for life and he can leave the sport knowing he fought the very, very best. He didn’t duck anyone. He won British commonwealth, European, world championships, and he lost to a great, undisputed champion. Honestly, Tony Bellew deserves all the credit in the world. And he’s a wonderful individual.”
Keith Idec is a senior writer/columnist for BoxingScene.com. He can be reached on Twitter @Idecboxing.