THIS Saturday (November 10), at Manchester Arena, Tony Bellew will take part in what he has said will be the final fight of his 11-year professional career. Having proved the doubters wrong in recent times by winning a world title and stopping David Haye twice, the 35-year-old is aiming to cause one last surprise by toppling the supreme Oleksandr Usyk – undisputed cruiserweight champion of the world. Here, Bellew speaks in depth about his imminent retirement, why he couldn’t resist challenging Usyk despite his wife’s fears, and why the Ukrainian’s pursuit of Anthony Joshua will lead to his downfall this weekend.
How serious are you that this is going to be your last fight?
Very serious. Deadly serious. [Promoter] Eddie [Hearn] will have no say if I come back or not. It’s over. The most important reason is not just my wife telling me. I’ll tell you the reason why it’s over at the post-fight presser. There are underlying factors why it has to be over. I’ll discuss and explain that when the fight is over.
Does that put pressure on you or take pressure off you?
It takes everything off. This is genuinely the first time in my whole life I can’t feel any pressure. Obviously, there is big pressure to get home safe – that is the greatest thing. [But] this is the first time I’ve been in a fight of this magnitude and I’ve felt zero pressure. [Actually], going into the first [David] Haye fight I felt zero pressure. For the second fight I felt a bit of pressure because I had to prove to people that his injury played no part in that first fight. I had to prove that, so it brought a bit of pressure on me.
For this fight I’m being written off that much and people are telling me I’ve got no chance, so I genuinely feel no pressure. If I’m being honest, I think he’s feeling it a bit more now. I think the more and more he looks into my eyes the more he understands that it’s like he’s looking into the mirror. Oleksandr Usyk has definitely got a screw loose… but so have I.
No matter what happens against Usyk, nothing would top winning the WBC cruiserweight title at Goodison Park back in May 2016, would it?
It would detract a bit from me if I was to lose, but I can accept it. This is the first time in my life I could ever accept losing. What I couldn’t have accepted is retiring and saying, ‘He called my name and I declined the chance to become the undisputed cruiserweight champion.’
The main reason I didn’t go in the WBSS [World Boxing Super Series] is because I’d seen in the past how boxing politics can take its toll on tournaments. I watched how injuries play a factor. The belts became fragmented. I phoned Eddie when the WBSS came out and said, ‘Have they been in touch?’ And he said, ‘Tony, they have been in touch. If you go in, you’re the number one seed, but you can’t choose where the fights are and you have no say how much money is in each one.’ So I said, ‘Absolutely not, we’ll go forward with Haye.’
I had two options – fight Haye or go in the tournament. One Haye fight amounted to what the winner made in the whole tournament. It was pretty conclusive. What I thought when the tournament started was, ‘How are these fighters going to get through these wars and perform back to back over a three-month period between each fight?’ There were injuries in the super-middleweight tournament and replacements came in. Usyk got injured in the cruiserweights at one stage, and they had to delay his fight [with Murat Gassiev]. I didn’t want to be part of anything like that.
Eddie and his dad [Barry Hearn] quite openly said they didn’t think I had a chance in hell in the first Haye fight. [But] they still took their percentage, by the way! They thought I had no chance, but I knew that once I had defeated Haye, no matter what happened in the WBSS, I was going to be the man calling the shots on the winner, so it was a calculated risk and a gamble, but that’s the reason why I placed all my eggs in one basket. I knew by beating him, my name goes global. That’s why we’re in this position.
I beat Haye twice against all the odds, but the minute [Usyk] got them four belts and said my name, it showed that my gamble paid off, because he took the bait. Now we’re in this position and I never dreamed this would be possible. I’m facing a man for all the belts. They’re all at stake. It can’t get any bigger than this. There is no greater step and there is no bigger reward. All the belts are at stake. What else can I win? There’s nothing.
I don’t want to sound like a pompous gobs***e who goes, ‘I’m rich, I’m this and that,’ but I’ve earned fantastic amounts of money. I’ve told you it’s not about the money, it’s genuinely not. If it was about the money can you imagine the amount of numbers me and Dillian Whyte would do rolling round in a Sky Sports studio on the Gloves Are Off? We could possibly do two million buys if I slapped him at a presser. You know I’ve got it in me, I could do anything. I’m unpredictable and Dillian wants to fight anyone. I could have generated so much more money. I’m happy that people understand that this fight isn’t about the money.
Would a fight against Whyte have been easier than taking on Usyk?
I can beat these heavyweights. If you’ve got a heavyweight that just has size on me, I’ll beat 90 per cent of them. I genuinely believe that. I think I could beat Tyson Fury. This Tyson Fury right now. I don’t think I could beat the one in Düsseldorf [who defeated Wladimir Klitschko], but I’d beat the one that beat [Sefer] Seferi and that other clown he faced [Francesco Pianeta].
I hope Fury beats Deontay Wilder, and I think if the Fury that turned up in Düsseldorf turns up in America on December 1, I think he can win. I’d love nothing more than to see Fury beat Wilder. These other fighters at heavyweight wouldn’t touch me. I would school them. I would make a fool of Wilder for about six or seven rounds, but then, I’m not going to lie, he would get me after six or seven. The length of him, he’s a huge cricket and would clean me out. He’s got the longest arms I’ve ever seen in my life.
What if Fury beats Wilder and then calls you out? Would you be tempted?
I’m fighting for all the belts [against Usyk]. Nothing can top it. The argument I had with [wife] Rachel was I kept telling her while we were away [on honeymoon] that the [Usyk] fight wouldn’t happen, but I was texting Eddie on the sly saying, ‘Do you think this fight is big?’ And he said it was a mega fight, superstar stuff, so I said, ‘OK, we’ll see.’
I got home and Eddie told me they had agreed to every term. It was very easy to make. Rachel’s biggest worry in the build-up was that I told her that I can win, but it’s what I’ll lose in the process. It can be a very damaging fight. I wasn’t studying him to fight him at this stage, at this stage I was just watching how good he was. I would tell her that I know I can beat him, but it’s how much damage I’ll take. She kept listening to me saying that and she kept not agreeing to the fight, saying, ‘You’re not doing it.’ We sat down one night and I asked her why she didn’t want me to fight him, and she said it was because I kept saying I’ve got to go through hell to beat him.
I was saying that because I was looking at him from a fighter’s perspective of how you would beat him. I’ve never taken hell in a ring. I’ve never taken a stern beating off nobody. Even the night I lost to Adonis Stevenson, and I believe that’s the only genuine loss in my career, he didn’t beat me up, he copped me and I was out on my feet and stopped on my feet. Believe me, I was out on my feet. That referee saved my life because I would have fought until I was dead, but nobody has ever beaten me up, it’s never happened.
Usyk will not beat me up. He will not come into range and fire off four, five, six-punch combinations like you’ve seen him do against the likes of Gassiev, because if he comes into range with more than three, I will sling the biggest bazooka right back at his chin that you’ve seen, and I will not miss as wildly as Gassiev. No matter what he does I have an answer for. We can have a chess match, I’m ready for that. We can have a war, I’m ready for that. Whatever this guy wants to do or play, I’ve got an answer. I’ve studied him long enough. I know his weaknesses and I know his greatest assets. All boxers have faults. Nobody is unbeatable. Yes, fighters have gone undefeated, but nobody is unbeatable. There isn’t a fighter in history who hasn’t been hurt in a boxing ring, down or felt a punch, and that means we can all be beaten. Nobody is unbeatable.
Is there a reason why you’ve been praising Usyk so much in the build-up?
Because he is a superstar. There’s no point lying. There’s no point saying, ‘He’s s**t, he can’t take a punch,’ because I’ve seen him do it. I told him he is a superstar and he should feel like one. It’s the only time I’ve allowed a fighter to say he’s looking past me and so he should. He’s earned that right, he’s never tasted defeat.
Do you think because he wants the Anthony Joshua fight he will take more chances and look to impress?
The reason why he has taken this fight is because he wants to become a pay-per-view star in the UK, as that’s where the money is. He’s done all the hard work, he’s won all the belts. He needs, not recognition, but popularity, even fame to a certain extent. He needs what I have. His accolades have not been enough for him, so far. He cannot afford to come to England on Saturday and just run away with a boring points win. He has to come here and make a statement. He does not get to Anthony Joshua by coming here and scraping past me. He has to come here and make a statement, he has to beat Tony Bellew up.
He has to look electric, and to look electric he has to get into a firefight, and that is what I wish for. I dream of it every night. I just envision going to war with him. I know when he looks in my eyes he sees someone who genuinely does believe in himself and someone who knows he is going to win. I am going to ask him questions on Saturday. I’ve answered them all before. I’ve had to get up off the floor, I’ve had to get through gashes so big across my head, face-first knockdowns, I’ve had to come back from being down on points to knock people out, I’ve had to come up against guys who are stronger than me, faster than me, heavier than me. He hasn’t been in these scenarios yet.
This guy isn’t unbeatable. He’s brilliant, he’s outstanding, but he’s not unbeatable. One of his problems is that he has a mental flaw. He can underestimate some fighters, he can overestimate some fighters. I believe he overestimated Gassiev and underestimated Briedis.
Do you think he will underestimate you?
By what he’s saying he’s not, but it’s different when you look across the ring at me. He’s going to look across and see a skinny fella who doesn’t look all that. When he watches me on tape he is going to see a fella who gets knocked down, who doesn’t look all that, who doesn’t look fast, who doesn’t look that hard of a puncher. It’s different watching me on tape to being in there with me – ask David Haye. It doesn’t matter who I face, there are things they won’t expect me to do and that the cameras don’t pick up. If I wanted to go in the ring with any heavyweight in the world right now I could, but I would just go in there and make them miss. Anyone in the world. But could I win? No, because I wouldn’t be able to implement my style on them. I can implement my style on any cruiserweight in the world, though.
Where would a victory over Usyk rank among the best-ever wins for British fighters?
I wouldn’t even compare myself to anyone. In my eyes, the greatest fighter to come from my city [Liverpool] is and will always be John Conteh. He will always be an icon and an idol. To be mentioned alongside him is flattering. What I will say is I’ve been carrying my city on my back for the best part of 10 years. I’ve been topping bills at the Echo Arena and selling 8,000 tickets. That doesn’t sound like a lot, but boxing went dormant in my city.
The brilliant Shea Neary and Andy Holligan had their war in Stanley Park, and then boxing just died in my city. It became non-existent. Certain people tried to revive it, but I’ve felt that strain and pressure of carrying it through since I turned professional. I felt like the hopes were put on me and I had to be that mouthy Scouse p***k who everyone wanted to see get f****d. I carried that burden a long time.
I want to see the next generation of fighters come through and shine. I want to see Anthony Fowler, I want to see Callum Smith. I don’t want to be the only Scouser who has done this, done that, I don’t want to be looked upon. I just want to finish this game and live a normal life and be known as a normal guy. When I win on Saturday night, I’d be more than happy if you wrote about me as the f****r who fought anyone. A good fighter who feared nobody. I know I have that among my peers, and having that in the press would mean something.
I’m going to win on Saturday night, but regardless of what happens, I’ve won. I’m sitting here and fighting for all four belts. I’ve been a world champion, this is nothing new. I’ve been in big events, topped bills. This is the icing on the cake. I’ve won. I’ve made a great life for myself. I live in a f*****g boss house, I drive a boss car, my bird drives a boss car. I’ve got a boss life. I don’t know why I’m doing what I’m doing. I do it because I’m trying to do something that has never been done.
On Saturday night I’m trying to be great. I remember when Mike Tyson had one belt on one side, another on the other side, all the belts draped over him. It makes me think to myself, ‘Wow, never did I think I’d have more than one belt draped over me, but on Saturday night, I’m going to have all four.’ I will sit there emotional and think, ‘How the f**k did this happen.’ I genuinely felt like that on the Sunday after I beat [Ilunga] Makabu. ‘How the f**k have I done this? I just won a world title at Goodison Park.’ That is the same feeling I will have this Sunday.
This is the only fight in my whole career that I’ve come into without a plan of who is next. When I fought Makabu, Haye was always the goal. I put that in play. I’ve always been antagonising someone. This is the first fight in my whole career where I’m going in and I’ve got no plans of next. You won’t see me call out Andre Ward or that midget Adonis Stevenson. It will be over. I’ve got no plans of facing anyone else.