TICKET Usyk has travelled well and is on the road to greatness
TONY BELLEW does not need me to tell him the scale of the challenge he faces against Oleksandr Usyk in Manchester tonight, the toughest test of his career.
Only four years separate them, but at 35 Bellew has been in a lot of hard fights. In pro terms, Usyk is a young 31.
The Ukrainian is an outstanding talent, winning world amateur and Olympic gold at heavyweight in 2011 and 2012 respectively, beating current IBF light heavyweight champion Artur Beterbiev at each tournament.
In July he beat Murat Gassiev to become the first unified cruiserweight champion in history. He is packed into the weight, equally adept going forward or back and utterly relentless.
Bellew likes to bring it but no more than this fella.
Gassiev hits as hard as Bellew but couldn’t budge Usyk. Mairis
Briedis has a decent dig and found the target but he couldn’t shift him either.
Usyk has won and defended versions of the title every time in his opponent’s back yard.
He fought Gassiev in Moscow, Briedis in Riga, Marco Huck in Germany, Michael Hunter in the States and Krzysztof Glowacki in Poland.
And here he is on the road again for his 16th pro fight.
Bellew has only two defeats in a 33-fight career, both at light heavyweight. He should never have taken on Adonis Stevenson and Nathan Cleverly at 175 pounds.
He avenged the latter at cruiser in another bruising encounter.
I’ve come to admire Bellew. The bluster and hot air of his earlier career has gone. He proved a lot of people wrong against David Haye (below) in the first fight and repeated the dose as he said he would in the second.
But Usyk (above) is a fighter at his fearsome peak, an entirely different proposition to a diminished Haye.
Bellew is honest enough to recognise that.
The window for victory is narrow, between rounds four and eight I would say, when he might just engineer an opportunity to take out Usyk.
Bellew has to stay with Usyk for as long as he can. He might have to sacrifice the early rounds in order to fashion that chance to strike.
Usyk will be on him from the off.
Like Briedis, Bellew offers more variety than Gassiev and can go through the gears, but essentially presents the same puncher’s profile.
The longer the fight progresses the tougher it gets for Bellew. I see Usyk winning, probably by late stoppage.
If Bellew has enough left in the tank he might take Usyk the distance.
But that would arguably be asking too much at this stage of the game.
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