‘Re­mem­ber me for be­ing scared of no one’

Tony Bellew goes into his fi­nal, and tough­est, fight still strug­gling to cope with box­ing fame

The Daily Telegraph - Sport - - Boxing - Gareth A Davies BOX­ING COR­RE­SPON­DENT

Hu­mil­ity has been a dou­ble-edged sword in the clos­ing years of Tony Bellew’s ca­reer. It has earned the Liver­pudlian, who of­ten refers to him­self as the “the fat Scouser with a big gob”, grow­ing pop­u­lar­ity with British fight fans.

Yet, even now, as the 35-year-old pre­pares for tonight’s swan­song fight in Manch­ester against the bril­liant stylist Olek­sandr Usyk, of Ukraine, holder of ev­ery world cruis­er­weight ti­tle, Bellew is crav­ing noth­ing more than a year out of the lime­light, away from gyms, weight cuts and pro­mot­ing fights with that “big gob” of his.

Look­ing lean and ea­gle-eyed, he is play­ing down his suc­cesses. “I just strug­gle with the fame thing and peo­ple think­ing I’m some­thing I’m not,” ex­plains Bellew. “I’ll al­ways strug­gle with that un­til the day I die, I think. I’m happy for peo­ple to rate and rank me as they want, but it will never come from my mind.”

In Usyk, Bellew is up against one of the lead­ing pound-for-pound fighters on the planet, a boxer who won the Olympic heavy­weight ti­tle in Lon­don in 2012, ev­ery am­a­teur ti­tle avail­able, and is un­beaten in 15 con­tests as a pro­fes­sional. Fast, mo­bile, big for the weight, he is a left-handed fighter who has a phe­nom­e­nal work-rate.

Bellew – who has tenac­ity, power and self-be­lief – steps out as a clear un­der­dog, as he was twice against David Haye, and as he was on the night he won the World Box­ing Coun­cil cruis­er­weight ti­tle against Ilunga Mak­abu, two years ago at Good­i­son Park. With those wins, Bellew, the son of a bank rob­ber and the grand­son of a po­lice­man, be­came a Rocky Bal­boa-type fig­ure. Quite apt con­sid­er­ing he starred in Creed, the sev­enth film in the “Rocky” fran­chise.

Few be­lieve Bellew can win against Usyk, who will be watched by an es­ti­mated 15mil­lion com­pa­tri­ots, a 40 per cent share of the tele­vi­sion au­di­ence, on Ukraine na­tional state tele­vi­sion.

“No mat­ter what I do in this fight, I’ll never be the great­est cruis­er­weight ever,” Bellew says. “Even if I knock him out in 20 sec­onds, I shouldn’t even be men­tioned along­side the likes of Evan­der Holy­field. No mat­ter what hap­pens, I’ll never be the great­est cruis­er­weight, that ti­tle be­longs to Holy­field. I’m not even the great­est fighter from my own city of Liver­pool – that goes to John Con­teh [the for­mer world lightheavy­weight cham­pion].

“I sat with John last week in an on-stage in­ter­view. They said my name is ranked along­side John’s in Liver­pool among fight leg­ends and I just said I couldn’t ac­cept that. Rub­bish. No. He’s an icon, a leg­end. John couldn’t quite grasp why I was say­ing it, but I don’t feel I should be looked at in that kind of light.

“I want peo­ple to re­mem­ber me when I re­tire as a fighter who would fight any­one – that Tony Bellew was scared of no one. Peo­ple wrote me off even be­fore I took this fight, say­ing I was scared of Usyk like ev­ery­one else. And then I take the fight and I hear I’ll be given a box­ing les­son. Well, I’ve heard all th­ese things be­fore. I’m happy to start shut­ting peo­ple up.”

Dave Cold­well, Bellew’s trainer – “a mate first and fore­most” he calls him­self – says: “You can never get any sort of self-credit out of Bellew. You’ll never get that. But a vic­tory over Usyk will put him up there as one of the best fighters we’ve ever had. I’m not go­ing to say it puts him up there as No 1, but he’s one of the best we’ve ever had. He’ll def­i­nitely be the best cruis­er­weight we’ve ever had.”

What Bellew must do, not to be out­boxed and out­thought, is take his op­por­tu­ni­ties in the ex­changes he cre­ates for him­self. A puncher’s chance. But he has been here be­fore. Usyk should claim vic­tory on points, or even stop Bellew late. But vic­tory for the Bri­ton would be an im­mense achieve­ment.

“I’ve al­ways been the un­der­dog. I was never meant to earn the amount I’ve earned,” he said.

“I was never sup­posed to do the things I’ve done.”

It could be the per­fect send-off if Bellew can find that open­ing, a mo­ment of per­fec­tion to end his ring ca­reer. It is in his hands.

Fo­cused on the job: Tony Bellew works out for tonight’s fight in Manch­ester against ti­tle holder Olek­sandr Usyk

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