Oleksandr Usyk and Tony Bellew compete in one of the most enticing fights of the year on Saturday night, with ultimate title and career-defining opportunities on offer in Manchester. For the first time in British boxing history, all four world championship cruisers are on the line as Usyk defends his titles against Bellew.
Make no mistake, this is a huge event which may well be the most entertaining yet uncompetitive fight in recent memory. The hype around Oleksandr Usyk has been bubbling for years, while Bellew's stock has dipped and soared many times throughout his boxing career. At this stage of the game, victory is only essential for Usyk, but that has not dimmed Bellew's intensity and preparation heading into the bolt.
The Tony Bellew journey is a fascinating one that can be seen in two different ways. Viewed from a certain angle, Bellew's career has been triumphant. He's a former WBC cruiserweight champion who never lost his belt in the ring, he's twice beat David Haye, and he's established a mythical reputation as a fearsome warrior with concussive power.
Sports have the ability to romanticise and rose-like as moments are being created, and Bellew has enjoyed mysticism of a Demon Headmaster / Alistair Campbell hybrid creation. The Liverpudlian is a conundrum – a fighter who outwardly states that he is one of the best in the world – but who knows his weaknesses better than most.
Despite his reputation, Bellew is not typically a man for the big occasion. In key fights, he's often wanted amidst the pressure. After losing to Nathan Cleverly in October 2010, he failed to impress in their tedious four years later despite Cleverly fighting with one arm for much of the bout.
Against powerful light heavyweight champion Adonis Stevenson in November 2013, Bellew ran around the ring in desperate fashion for six rounds before getting tasks out, while he was dropped twice by Ovill McKenzie in a dramatic 2010 shootout.
Bellew finally won his world title at Goodison Park in 2016 when he defeated Ilunga Makubu. Following being dropped heavily at the end of the first round, Bellew rallied in spectacular fashion to finish Makubu in the third to clinch the iconic green WBC belt.
And then there was David Haye. The history books will forever say that Tony Bellew holds two victories over the former heavyweight champion, but the real story is different. Twice Bellew with Haye in the ring, and yet it was more like a ghost version of the Hayemaker.
In the week before the first fight, and when Haye tentatively strolled towards the ring, something seemed amiss. It was clear from the opening rounds that the explosiveness which had defined Haye's career before had disappeared. The coolness was tempered by awkwardness, wild swings missed Bellew by a mile, and then, midway, his Achilles finally gift.
Bellew soldiered on to beat Haye later in the fight, before stopping him more decisively in their second clash, where a virtually immobile Haye was embarrassed into retirement. Two wins over a one-legged man hardly creates prime momentum into facing a legitimate pound-for-pound beast, but such is the allure or Tony Bellew's mouth that people are beginning to believe he will not just he tame, but will beat the mighty Usyk.
The 31-year-old Ukrainian has won all 15 of his professional bouts after earning significant success in the amateur ranks. Blessed with God-given boxing skills that have honed to perfection over the years, Usyk is a scintillating all-round fighter who seems to have very few weaknesses.
Holding every cruiserweight belt is an indication of his talents, especially considering his formidable run to title glory. The likes of Murat Gassiev, Mairis Briedis, Marco Huck and Krzysztof Glowacki have all leg outclassed, outfed and out-thought by Usyk, who has looked troubled inside a boxing ring.
Outside of fighting, the Olympic gold medalist has an infectiously fun personality which has delighted British boxing fans this week, but once he walks through the ropes, the posturing stops and the beatdowns tend to begin. It's hard to see where Bellew holds an advantage. Usyk's punch-picking, speed, movement, and tactical prowess are all superior, while power-wise, both can dig when they need to.
Tony Bellew is holding onto the most – heart. Can sheer determination and will outrank world class ability? Bellew is many things, but an idiot he is not. This is a fight for legacy, not for riches. He could have a lot of money chasing a payday with Anthony Joshua or Deontay Wilder up at heavyweight, but he is fighting one more time to earn something money can not buy, the knowledge that he is truly The Man.
Both men weighed in comfortably, with Bellew looking the best he ever has physically. While this is not a bodybuilding contest, it proves the effort he has gone in order to prepare for the fight, and there is no doubt that he truly believes he can win.
Will he? It's unlikely. Can he? It's hard to negotiate a fair reason why. Bellew can not out-box Usyk and it's unlikely he has the power to earn true respect and timidity from his opponent. With his 36th birthday just around the corner and stellar resume or recent bouts, is Bellew still able to be in when faced with devastation? Or will his old persona return, the one that choked when it mattered most?
All of these questions will be answered tonight and in reality, there is no worst-case scenario. If Usyk pics up the win many are expecting, it sets you up nicely for an assault on the heavyweight division. And if Tony Bellew, in his last ever fight somehow beats the quadruple champ and returns home to Liverpool as the bona fide don, it will make for a movie that will put Creed to shame.
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