By Keith Idec
Paulie Malignaggi made sure Saturday night to tell Tony Bellew how smart he fought against Oleksandr Usyk.
England’s Bellew is more known for his grit and power than his boxing ability, but Malignaggi noticed how his approach versus Usyk disrupted the undisputed cruiserweight champion’s plan at points during their tactical battle.
Bellew (30-3-1, 20 KOs) was ahead on two scorecards when Usyk connected with a left hand that knocked out his tricky challenger in the eighth round (68-65, 67-66, 67-67).
Malignaggi, who called the fight from ringside for Sky Sports Box Office, broken down Bellew’s performance for BoxingScene.com during a post-bout interview in Manchester, England.
“I thought he played the cat-and-mouse game in a very clever way,” Malignaggi said. “And I was just telling him, ‘You know, people are gonna know you for your toughness and you’ve got a big punch and your heart. But tonight you’ve got nothing to be ashamed of because tonight you showed something that very few people give you credit for, but you have plenty of, and that’s that cleverness.’ He’s as sly as a fox in there, you know?
“And he was playing that cat-and-mouse game so precisely early in the fight, and he was making Usyk overthink. And I thought Usyk was very frustrated. And you can tell because he stopped feinting, he stopped doing some of the things that create the openings. But then, little by little, you started seeing the championship level that Usyk is on and started making the adjustment and getting there. But at first, he had this great champion frustrated, just on the cleverness and his experience.”
As well as Bellew boxed, Malignaggi doesn’t necessarily think the former WBC cruiserweight champion provided a blueprint for how to beat Ukraine’s Usyk (16-0, 12 KOs). The former junior welterweight and welterweight champ figures it’ll be difficult for other opponents to replicate how the 35-year-old Bellew went about their fight.
“I don’t think he’s as hittable as Tony showed,” Malignaggi said. “I think that was Tony’s cleverness, fighting in little spots, once in a blue, otherwise defending very well. I thought he played the cat-and-mouse game in a very clever way, because it’s very tough to fight Usyk that way. Most guys aren’t gonna be that clever. And if they’re gonna be that clever, some probably can’t be that good. Tony was both good and clever early on.
“It’s just, you know, he’s older. Usyk is a great champion and eventually a great champion will make the adjustment. And he made some good adjustments that I went over on the air, and that led to the closing of the show.”
Keith Idec is a senior writer/columnist for BoxingScene.com. He can be reached on Twitter @Idecboxing.