Tony Bellew vs Oleksandr Usyk: Briton 'got pinged' by 'brilliant' Ukrainian during amateur training camp
The 35-year-old from Liverpool embarks on what he insists will be the final ring walk of his career on Saturday night when he challenges Usyk for all four of his major cruiserweight belts at the Manchester Arena.
Victory would represent by far the biggest achievement of Bellew’s career to date and rank highly in the list of all-time great British wins.
Usyk has boxed his way comfortably inside the top five pound-for-pound fighters on the planet over the course of just 15 professional fights which have already yielded the WBO, WBA, WBC and IBF titles in the 200lb cruiserweight division.
Having won gold medals at the Olympics as well as the world and European amateur championships, much was expected of Usyk in the paid ranks but his penchant for beating people up in their own back yards has marked him out as a special talent.
He despatched previously unbeaten Pole Krzysztof Glowacki in Gdansk in 2016 before inflicting the first defeat of Michael Hunter’s career in his native America.
German Marco Huck fell at his hands on the outskirts of Berlin before a trip to Riga to claim the WBC title from Latvian idol Mairis Breidis in January. He then unified all the belts by widely outpointing feared Russian Murat Gassiev in Moscow four months ago.
But Bellew actually tangled with Usyk on the 31-year-old’s home soil during an amateur training camp and their brief meeting left a lasting impression.
“He just pinged me,” said Bellew, recalling their sparring. “Although I was not the fighter I am now.
“It was in Ukraine, in 2006 or 2007. There was me, James DeGale, Stephen Smith, there were loads of us there.
“I didn’t take boxing as seriously as I should have done back then. Then my grandad died and I had to come home early after 10 days and that was the end of that.
“But I knew then he was special. I know class when I see it. He’s shit-hot mate, he’s brilliant at what he does. Show me something he can’t do. He’s a legend, mate.
“I’ve sparred loads of guys over the years and you could tell straight away he was good. You just know.
“He has something about him, the X-factor, and he’s also a bit loopy in the mind. He’s definitely not the full shilling, but then who am I to say that?”
Usyk has made no secret of his desire to step up to heavyweight to secure a showdown with heavyweight poster boy Anthony Joshua, the current incumbent of the WBA, WBO and IBF titles, once he has taken care of Liverpool’s ‘Bomber’.
As such, Bellew believes there is a chance that Saturday’s visitor might just overlook him, much like David Haye did.
This is Bellew’s first fight as a cruiser since he first moved up to fight Haye at heavyweight, in a 2017 contest which the Londoner insisted he could win just one-handed.
In the end, Haye had to do much of it one-legged after suffering a ruptured achilles tendon before he was stopped in the 11th round. Bellew then sent Haye well and truly into retirement by dismantling him inside five brutal rounds at the O2 Arena 14 months later.
“Forget all that humble shite from him, Usyk thinks I’m an easy fight,” Bellew added. “He was asking which heavyweight he can have after me.
“To be honest, I thought he would jump straight to heavyweight. But then I remembered I am a heavyweight!
“I thought ‘why’s he calling me out?’. Then I thought about it and it all made sense. I’ve got things he wants.
“He wants a way into the AJ game, he’s another fighter who is trying to go through me to him.
“He’s in for a shock. I know I will find a way to beat him. I see things differently from everyone else.
“We’ll find out on 10 November. I am not going to stand there in awe of him. He’s brilliant, but he does make mistakes. He’s not perfect.
“As great as he is, he’s an absolute monster, but he makes mistakes and I will make him pay.
“I’m gonna shock him… within the first 60 seconds I’m gonna shock him.”