To be honest, I didn’t think Tony was going to win the fight. BJ is a big cruiserweight. Looking at them side-by-side Tony is tall and skinny whereas BJ is wide, thick-set and can punch. However as the result shows it didn’t work out that way. That’s the beauty of boxing – no certainty. BJ is a good friend and it’s never nice to see a friend lose but Tony put up a good fight. He deserved the win.
What was your reaction when Bellew burst out of the ring to confront you?
It was a bit of a surprise. We have had our differences in the past and as soon as he won the belt he was calling me out, so I was expecting some verbal but didn’t envisage that level of a reaction. That said, he had literally just won the fight, adrenalin was flowing, and he felt invincible. He fought very well but he certainly wouldn’t get the same euphoria if he did step in the ring with me.
He’s not the first fighter to verbally attack – Shannon Briggs, Dereck Chisora, and Tyson Fury among others have lost their cool. What do you think it is about you that drives potential opponents so crazy?
With big fights come big pressures. It’s all part of the build-up and the tension of a fight. It seems to be quite the running theme of late, being screamed at by boxers wanting to get in the ring with me. They know a fight against me is incredibly commercial, perhaps it frustrates them that they can’t generate those numbers independently. I’ve mellowed with age, I’ve had my time of reacting and responding. Now I tend to take a deep breath and smile. That probably irritates them even more but it keeps me out of trouble.
What was your reaction when Bellew first called you out earlier this year?
My reaction has been clear from the get go. He needs to step up to heavyweight if he wants a fight. If he can do that, and it works with my plans to regain the world heavyweight title, I’d be happy to meet him in the ring.
Where exactly does the ‘grudge’ stem from?
That’s hard to say. We have known each other for a very long time and I guess we have never really quite seen eye-to-eye. Two characters who have always rubbed each other up the wrong way. It’s not a big deal though. Let your fighting do the talking.
What is your recollection of the sparring sessions Bellew describes – that he gave you a hard time several years ago?
I have absolutely zero recollection of this. He is either such a hard hitter that he KO’ed me and my memory, or it’s a total fabrication. What do you reckon?
Would you be willing to drop in weight to make the fight?
I’m not dropping in weight. He needs to come up. One of the great things about the heavyweight division is there isn’t a need to manipulate your weight. Tony must have to restrict his food to boil down to cruiserweight, I’m sure he would be a more effective fighter if this element is removed from his fight preparation.
His comments about your comeback opponents are shared by many fans. Do you accept the criticism?
I was out of the ring for three-and-a-half years. When I came back, I wasn’t ranked, and obviously you can only fight the people that are available. We worked hard to find fighters that were a good match. Both my opponents had good records, Mark de Mori hadn’t lost in over a decade was ranked in the WBA top 10, [Arnold] Gjergjaj had been unbeaten for seven years, while also being ranked in the EBU’s Top 10. They weren’t exactly chumps. My boxing style means I don’t have toe-to-toe slugfests with my opponents. I hit hard, they hit the canvas. The same would be the case for Bellew. It’s easy to knock their credentials once I’ve knocked them out, reality is I’ve made them look bad. Their records are a different story.
Does it frustrate you that some people seem to forget all that you achieved during the first stage of your career?
Have they? I’m the only fighter since Evander Holyfield to unify the cruiserweight division and then move up to become heavyweight champion. I think people still remember that. I’m really lucky to have a loyal fan base who have supported me for so long. When I came back I had record breaking viewing figures over over 3.2m and that is testament to that support.[Floyd] Mayweather is a great example, he is arguably one of the best pound-for-pound boxers we have ever seen, yet people are still quick to criticise him in the ring. I try not to let uneducated keyboard warriors effect me. It’s much more rewarding to light someone’s flame than blow it out.
Has the recent controversy surrounding Tyson Fury hurt the division?
It’s been very sad to see. Fury is obviously battling some serious demons and just because it is not as obvious as a broken arm or leg, depression is still very very real and something that needs to be taken very seriously. However, he is still young and I think he will be back. The whole of the boxing community is behind him and we wish him a speedy recovery.