by Keith Idec
Paulie Malignaggi admires Tony Bellew’s ambition.
The Showtime and Sky Sports analyst just can envision Bellew beating Oleksandr Usyk on Saturday night. Handicappers have established the unbeaten Ukrainian southpaw as at least a 7-1 favorite against Bellew entering their 12-round fight for Usyk’s IBF, WBA, WBC and WBO cruiserweight titles at Manchester Arena in Manchester, England (Sky Sports Box Office; DAZN).
Malignaggi completely understands why the 31-year-old Usyk (15-0, 11 KOs) is so heavily favored to beat Bellew (30-2-1, 20 KOs).
“Usyk, to me, is just elite level – one of the best fighters to fight in the cruiserweight division, if not the best, with all due respect to [Evander] Holyfield and [James] Toney,” Malignaggi told BoxingScene.com before an open workout Wednesday for the Usyk-Bellew bout. “Usyk is an amazing cruiserweight. And what he did in the World Boxing Super Series really, really impressed me. I find it probably very difficult for Tony Bellew to win this fight. Usyk is in his prime.”
Usyk is fresh off cleaning out the cruiserweight division during the World Boxing Super Series tournament. The 2012 Olympic gold medalist’s three victories in the WBSS over former WBO champ Marco Huck (41-5-1, 28 KOs), ex-WBC champ Mairis Briedis (24-1, 18 KOs) and onetime IBF champ Murat Gassiev (26-1, 19 KOs) made him the undisputed champion in his division.
Usyk could move up to heavyweight after battling Bellew, who moved back down to cruiserweight after defeating David Haye by technical knockout in their two heavyweight bouts. The 35-year-old Bellew figured he would retire following his second stoppage of Haye, but the Liverpool, England, native couldn’t resist returning once Usyk called him out after his easy win against Gassiev in the WBSS cruiserweight final July 21 in Moscow.
“I think Tony has kind of reached the pinnacle of his career, you know?,” Malignaggi said. “And he’s done well, especially of late, being in the ‘Creed’ movie, winning the [WBC] world championship at cruiserweight, getting the two wins against David Haye. He’s been a solid fighter and I think he’s always been an all-heart guy. So I think that’s why he’s also gained a lot of notoriety and fanfare here, obviously aside from his accomplishments.”
Keith Idec is a senior writer/columnist for BoxingScene.com. He can be reached on Twitter @Idecboxing.