Boxer Tony Bellew Bows out but not without Leaving a Remarkable Legacy
By Bob Melling
On Saturday night, Tony Bellew brought down the curtain on an exceptional career, which saw him hold titles at British, Commonwealth, European and world level. Despite being stopped dramatically in the eighth round by dogged Ukrainian Oleksandr Usyk, Bellew left the ring with his reputation intact and in many ways enhanced. Unlike compatriot Anthony Joshua, the Liverpudlian was always willing to take on any opponent and he amalgamated this resolution with a boxing brain that has undeniably improved over the course of his career.
The first three rounds Bellew fought against Usyk were arguably the finest of his career, as he came out of the blocks at an impressive pace, immediately looking to take the fight to Usyk. In those initial stages, we saw the ‘Bomber’ transcend the performance levels we were used to. However, Bellew was exerting too much energy winning those early rounds and this would inevitably prove to be fatal. Whilst he was winning the battles, Usyk was winning the war. Usyk has shown throughout his career thus far that he is a diligent fighter with an ability to set up shots and keep himself busy. This ability began to prevail as the fight wore on and Bellew began to tire.
Yet, even a victory for Bellew on Saturday night would not, in his eyes, surpass the feat of May 2016, when he fulfilled his dream of becoming a world champion. Bellew flooring formidable opponent Ilunga Makabu to attain the WBC Cruiserweight title at his beloved Goodison Park. The lifelong Evertonian climbed off the canvas in the first round, before rocking Makabu with a barrage of potent blows, rendering him unconscious in the third round. It is important to remember that the Congolese southpaw had broken Bellew’s nose with a stiff left hand in the opening exchanges. Fighting through adversity was something that came to characterise Bellew’s career.
There was the broken nose obtained in the first round against Makabu and even before that very fight, Bellew admitted his training camp was a “disaster”. Four weeks prior to the fight he had a detached rib and then with a mere two weeks to go he was in a hyperbaric chamber. In his heavyweight bout against David Haye, Bellew sustained a broken right hand in the early rounds, yet fought through the pain to win the fight in the eleventh round. Time and time again, the ‘Bomber’ drew upon his abundant reserve of grit and valour to defy the odds and cement his position as a top fighter.
Tony Bellew had in his possession all the fundamentals to reach the top. He had a decent amount of power, agility and most crucially an insatiable desire to drive himself to his limits. He breached the realms of possibility and dared to be great by challenging for the undisputed tag. I think it’s fair to say he got the most out of himself and met an exceptional fighter in Oleksandr Usyk last Saturday.
The Ukrainian has earned and defended the IBF, WBA, WBO and WBC titles in his last three fights, all of which have been fought and won on foreign soil. He is most certainly a threat to the heavyweight division, yet it is far too early for a shot at unified heavyweight world champion Anthony Joshua. First and foremost, Usyk will have to work on that equilibrium between packing on extra poundage and ensuring he does not deplete the skills he has crafted in the cruiserweight division. Undoubtedly, many heavyweights will fancy a bout with Usyk as for them he would be a great scalp to take and it is these fights in which the Ukrainian will have to find this new balance between weight and speed. Already, the Body Snatcher, Dillian Whyte, has expressed his desire to bully Usyk around the ring and exploit his own physical advantages.
So, whilst it was Oleksandr Usyk who moved the sport into a new chapter, Tony Bellew has plenty to be proud about. Whether it be the fairytale narrative of Goodison Park or the two heavyweight wins against David Haye, Bellew bows out of the sport with financial security, health and an impressive legacy.