“THE work is now done.”
Tony Bellew felt like death. He has just finished his final hard workout, a brutal bout on the treadmill. The tank has been emptied. The last session of his last training camp ahead of his last fight.
“It’s over,” he tells Boxing News. “I’ve just got to go do it one last time.”
But it he means one final fight. A contest that he never saw coming and a challenge that he couldn’t resist. One last job pulled him out of retirement and back into the sport. Earlier this year the Liverpudlian, in his second fight at heavyweight and second fight with David Haye, hammered the former world champion to defeat inside five rounds, starring in a lucrative pay-per-view event and seemingly finishing his career with a flourish. He could step away from the sport, enjoy his honeymoon and surely retire a happy man, a former cruiserweight champion, an unlikely heavyweight victor and a very wealthy man. He could leave the Spartan life of a boxer, let his weight drift up to 17 stone, live the good life.
Yet the call out caught his attention. Oleksandr Usyk won not only the WBC cruiserweight belt Bellew once held but in the final of the World Boxing Super Series he unified the division, adding the IBF, WBA and WBO crowns to his collection. “He was standing there with four belts round his body and the first name out of his mouth was Tony Bellew,” said the Liverpudlian.
Bellew has all the instincts of fighting man. He is not inclined to back down. He might have already done everything he’d hoped for in the sport, and more. But this offered him the chance to become the undisputed champion. “I’ve achieved all I wanted to achieve when got into this game, British, Commonwealth, European and world champion. I’ve earned a fortune but this is just now purely dream stuff,” Bellew said. “90% of people said I wouldn’t even take this man on. Why would Bellew take on this monster when he doesn’t have to? He’s financially secure, why would he want to do this? People don’t understand that, because it’s the same thing that drives me – the thought of being undisputed, unified champion. I speak as a man who’s loved boxing since he was 10 years old. I do this because I want to try and do something that I never dreamed would ever be possible, that truly amazes and makes me an all-time name. I beat this monster and this goes down as something special.”
“I’ve done the impossible,” he says and he plans to do it again.
Beating Usyk in this fight should be impossible. The Ukrainian is an Olympic gold medallist. He unified the division in only 15 professional fights. He’s a big cruiserweight and while his one-punch power may not be devasting he is superbly skilled. His footwork is outstanding and no one yet has found the solution to his quick combination punching. Bellew has the added burden, after settling at heavyweight, of having to move down in weight to cruiser.
But he insists, “I’m going to beat this monster and he’s going to come back and still win a version of the heavyweight title. Believe me, he’s going to do it. I know how good he is and I know the problems he can pose other fighters and I know that other fighters don’t look at boxing the way I do. They don’t see things the way I see them. They can’t break a fighter down purely based on his attributes, his strengths and his weaknesses. I’ve got a gift that I can do that.”
“There’s things I have to do in this fight that will take away what he does so well. This is not about what I do. This fight is about what I take away from him. That’s what it boils down to,” Tony continued. “It’s a mentality. He underestimates and overestimates certain guys. And that’s clear to see. Let’s not forget here, as great as he was against Murat Gassiev who I believe he overestimated and thought he was more than he actually was, he criminally underestimated Mairis Briedis… He drew on one card and he beat him 115-113 on the other two. If one of them two judges see one round different, they could have because it was such a close back and forth fight, then he draws that fight. He’s not unbeatable.
“I will not get tired, not at any stage in this fight will I be tired. I am prepared to fight 20 rounds never mind 12. So I will not tire. I will not lose hope. I will not be in awe of this man in any way, shape or form. I am not afraid, I’m not in awe of him. I admire how great of a fighter he is and I think he’s absolutely fantastic and I am not in awe of him. I’m not going to stand there and let him rattle five, six, seven punch combinations off my head. That can’t happen. That will never happen once in this fight. He will not rattle a five punch combination off without getting one back off me. And if he does rattle five off, I guarantee four of them will miss. I pose a lot different problems than all the fighters he’s faced before.
“I might not hit harder than Murat Gassiev, but you know what, I don’t need to. I just need to hit more than Murat Gassiev did.”
Usyk is not, Bellew maintains, a cruiserweight Lomachenko. “He’s got to look at himself. It shows me quite clear that that’s the difference between him and Vasyl Lomachenko. Vasyl Lomachenko prepares for every fight like he’s preparing for a fellow pound-for-pound world champion. Oleksandr Usyk prepares for some like he knows he’s going to go in there and stroll it,” Bellew said. “You can’t go into world title fights with the mentality of thinking I only have to turn up to beat this guy. When you’re at world title level you’re facing guys who, number one, they’re trying to achieve their dream, number two, they’re fellow world champions so they’re just as good as you. No one’s giving away world titles in boxing. Once you’re at a certain level, you’re at a certain level and you can’t underestimate anybody. He shows that he has got mental flaws. But technically he’s exceptional, he’s supremely fit, he’s got the best footwork of any cruiserweight of all time. He’s brilliant at what he does.
“But there are flaws and I can expose them, I’m one hundred percent confident I can do that.”
The training is done. The work is done. Now all that is left is the fight. “I’m trying to emotionally detach myself from it, because it makes you reflect, makes you upset at times, makes you think do I really want to let go? Is it really over? I do know. It is over. I’m trying my best to detach myself from them kind of things, if you get me. I’m trying not to reflect on it’s my last ever camp because believe it or not, going into that last Haye fight, that was my last ever camp and I just didn’t foresee that Usyk was going to call my name. I really didn’t. It is what it is,” Bellew said.
This fight, his last fight, is everything for Bellew. “This is the ultimate test,” Tony said. “I kind of know I’m going to win but there is a part of me that knows I can lose this fight too. Because he is that good.”
“That is why I’m retiring,” he adds. “There’s nothing left after this. This is it.”