Bellew’s ca­reer brought to a bru­tal end by Usyk

The Independent - - Sport / Boxing - LUKE BROWN

And so, this is the way Tony Bellew’s ex­tra­or­di­nary pro­fes­sional ca­reer ends, with the bang he had promised all those who cared to lis­ten. With the wide-eyed con­vic­tion of a trav­el­ling priest Bellew had in­sisted the only thing more glo­ri­ous than his in­evitable vic­tory would be a crush­ing de­feat, laid out on his back with the con­stel­la­tion of ring lights bor­ing through his eye-lids. It came. Bellew was too brave, Usyk too bru­tally bril­liant.

This dev­as­tat­ingly en­ter­tain­ing fight painfully con­firmed then what we have al­ways known to be sadly true:

there are no fairy­tale end­ings in boxing.

In re­al­ity, Bellew was quite pos­si­bly the only man who ever se­ri­ously be­lieved the great Olek­sandr Usyk could be top­pled. And to Bellew's great credit, he showed ab­so­lutely zero def­er­ence to the undis­puted cruis­er­weight king, beck­on­ing his ri­val for­ward and hurt­ing him with well-timed hooks from ei­ther wing. It wasn’t enough. The fin­ish came in the eighth: a straight left from the heav­ens which saw Bellew col­lapse to the can­vas and fail to beat the count.

Un­der the pan­icked glares of pro­moter Ed­die Hearn and trainer Dave Cold­well, Bellew peeled him­self up from off the can­vas be­fore break­ing into tears on his stool. As ex­pected, by both book­mak­ers and boxing fans alike, Bellew did not have enough in the arsenal to as­cend to the empyrean oc­cu­pied by Gene Tun­ney, James J Brad­dock, Muham­mad Ali, Leon Spinks, Evan­der Holy­field and Tyson Fury. A fine, for­tu­nate boxer, one of the sport’s great­est ever up­sets was to prove just beyond his wea­ried grasp. There is no shame in that.

“I tried my best and I gave it ev­ery­thing, but Usyk is a great, great cham­pion,” a mag­nan­i­mous Bellew said im­me­di­ately af­ter­ward, just be­fore he em­braced his wife. “He beat me fair and square and I have no ex­cuses. He is the great­est man I have ever shared a ring with and only the very best and very great­est will find a way to beat him.”

As one sto­ried cruis­er­weight ca­reer ends, an­other emerges into the full glare of the global spot­light. And not be­fore time. For Usyk, big­ger, more dan­ger­ous fights are al­ready on the hori­zon. “With Ed­die Hearn we can make some great fights. Usyk def­i­nitely needs to fight Anthony Joshua,” his pro­moter, Alex Krassyuk, said. “I will have some ex­tra pasta for din­ner,” dead­panned the cham­pion.

There had been a re­spect­ful, above all re­strained build-up to this most seis­mic of con­tests — just the sixth time in his­tory that two men have fought for all four ma­jor belts — but that went out the win­dow as soon as a wild Bellew made his en­trance. He im­pa­tiently beat the ropes af­ter mak­ing his way into the prize-ring and, sud­denly there was Usyk, eyes fixed on the cam­era, that ever so bizarre bowl sharp­ened to a point.

Yet it was a phoney war, at first. Bellew cau­tiously prowl­ing for­ward, flick­ing out rather than throw­ing that fa­mous left hook. And Usyk on the back foot, cal­cu­lat­ing, com­pet­ing. Such a state of af­fairs was never go­ing to last for long and, mid­way through the sec­ond, Bellew lost it: slap­ping his knees and scream­ing at his ri­val with all the de­mented rage of a mad­man.

It did the trick. And from ring­side the pace was dizzy­ing. Usyk hopped, skipped and danced his way around the ring as Bellew be­gan to tear around in pur­suit, with one club­bing right hook land­ing, earn­ing the Ukrainian’s re­spect. Stung, he upped the ag­gres­sion, lead­ing to the in­cred­i­ble sight of Usyk wildly throw­ing leather while Bellew ef­fec­tively bobbed and weaved for dear life, like a big, bald Va­syl Lo­machenko with a fort­night-old beard.

It was as bril­liant as it was bizarre. But Bellew — 35-years-old and in a fight that he had spent all week in­sist­ing would be his last — could not main­tain the pace for­ever. As the fight ticked over the half­way point he be­gan to vis­i­bly tire, and a sting­ing counter oblit­er­ated his by now com­pletely ab­sent de­fence a frac­tion of a sec­ond af­ter the bell for the end of the sev­enth round.

As the ball con­tin­ued to re­ver­ber­ate around a packed Manch­ester Arena, Usyk re­clined back into his cor­ner like a man sink­ing into an arm­chair, cigar in one hand and whiskey on the rocks in the other. Bellew mean­while stag­gered to his cor­ner and the writ­ing was on the wall. He re­turned for the eighth only to walk onto that crush­ing left, and the war was over.

“I thought he won the first three rounds but he was start­ing to fade a lit­tle,” was Hearn’s verdict. “He's given ab­so­lutely ev­ery­thing to this sport, and I'm so pleased that peo­ple got to see the real Bellew. We are so proud of him. He can leave the sport know­ing that he fought the very best.”

As the lights went up in the Manch­ester Arena the cur­tain came down on Bellew’s ca­reer. His is the story of hard work and good for­tune, a Com­mon­wealth, Euro­pean and Bri­tish cham­pion whose ca­reer ap­peared to be wind­ing down in 2015 be­fore four thrilling fights in three years el­e­vated him to a spe­cial place in the na­tion’s af­fec­tions.

He is now free to fi­nally va­cate this most dan­ger­ous of stages and de­vote him­self to what comes next. He has his rep­u­ta­tion, his health and his mil­lions. And so while this may have fallen short of the fairy­tale end­ing the well lubri­cated Manch­ester masses roared for, per­haps it wasn’t quite so far off af­ter all.

Ear­lier in the night, Anthony Crolla was tough enough to grind out a vic­tory over the un­gainly and awk­ward Daud Yor­dan, but drew the line at pub­licly call­ing out Usyk’s equally freak­ish com­pa­triot, the great Lo­machenko. “I’m never go­ing to be dis­re­spect­ful enough to call him out,” said Crolla. “But I would love to have that fight. And this is my home­town and a very spe­cial arena to me.”

Knock­out of the night mean­while went to Scot­land’s three-weight world cham­pion Ricky Burns, whose stiff right hand sent do­mes­tic ri­val Scotty Car­dle top­pling over in a sick­en­ingly lurch­ing fash­ion. “I'm al­ways wait­ing on the phone call and I hope there are still big fights for me,” Burns in­sisted. There were also wins for do­mes­tic favourites Dave Allen and the ever im­pres­sive Josh Kelly. The wel­ter­weight will re­turn next month with a fight against for­mer world cham­pion David Avanesyan.

There are no fairy­tale end­ings in boxing (Getty)

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