The Manchester Arena will be abuzz with excitement this Saturday night as Tony Bellew dares for greatness in challenging the Undisputed Cruiserweight Champion, in the exceptional Oleksandr Usyk. Bellew has reigned as a WBC Champion at the weight before, making one defence before moving up to Heavyweight for a two fight series with David Haye. His financial legacy is secure of the back of those fights, but his hunger to retire at the very top is what drives him in his encounter with Ukrainian Usyk. Sky Sports Box Office is the channel to see the drama unfold here in the UK. Here is my preview and prediction.
Oleksandr Usyk (15-0, KO11) v Tony Bellew (30-2-1, KO20) – 12 Rounds WBC, WBA (Super), IBF, WBO & Ring Magazine Cruiserweight Titles
Tony Bellew has confirmed that his fight with Oleksandr Usyk will be his last. He couldn’t have picked a more difficult challenge if he tried as he returns to a weight he has never lost at, and a weight he reigned as World Champion in as recently as October 2016. The landscape has since changed however, as one man holds all of the Gold, and that is the man he faces this weekend in Manchester.
In Oleksandr Usyk, he meets a man at the pinnacle of the sport. He is fresh off winning the Cruiserweight edition of the World Boxing Super Series, winning all three rounds of the tournament in the back yard of his opponent. He beat Marco Huck in Germany, Mairis Briedis in Latvia, and in the final, Murat Gassiev was soundly outpointed in Moscow, Russia. This allowed Usyk to capture all available belts in the division to become a legitimate Undisputed Champion. Prior to his professional career, Usyk was an amateur starlet, much in the mould of his great friend and countryman, Vasyl Lomachenko. He captured European and World Gold, before he landed the Heavyweight Gold Medal in the 2012 London Olympic Games.
He turned pro in late 2013, and it only took ten fights for him to become World Champion. Krzysztof Glowacki was 26-0, and the WBO Champion going into their September 2016 meeting, but Usyk handled him with relative ease to widely come through on the cards. Two defences of the Title followed before he entered the World Boxing Super Series. Marco Huck was stopped in ten rounds in the quarter finals, before Mairis Briedis surrendered his WBC Title to Usyk in a tight majority decision win for the Ukrainian. Briedis took Usyk to the limit, and gave him all he could handle, coming up two points short on two cards, with the third judge scoring the fight a draw. Usyk saved his best for the final though, as Murat Gassiev was no match, losing nearly every round on the scorecards to hand Usyk the presigeous Muhammad Ali Trophy, as well as Gassiev’s WBA (Super) and IBF Titles, with the Lineal Title thrown in for good measure. He immediately threw Bellew’s name out in his post fight interview, and the always up for a challenge scouser was more than willing to accommodate.
Bellew is at the peak of his powers, despite this fight appearing to be his last. He started his career at Light Heavyweight after an unpaid career where he won the ABA Title at Heavyweight three times. He won British and Commonwealth Titles at 175lbs, before Nathan Cleverly beat him via majority decision in October 2010 in a challenge for the Welshman’s WBO World Title. After a draw and a win in two dour fights with the tricky Isaac Chilemba, Bellew failed once more for a World Title when WBC Champion, Adonis Stevenson stopped him in six one sided rounds in Canada in November 2013, Bellew’s last fight at Light Heavy.
He moved to Cruiserweight, where one year after the Stevenson reverse, he outpointed his old foe Cleverly via split decision in a stinker. Two tick over fights followed the Cleverly win, and he then picked up the European Title in an entertaining points win over Mateusz Masternak at the O2 Arena. This gave Bellew a shot at the vacant WBC Title at the home of his beloved football club, Everton in May 2016. At a raucous Goodison Park, Bellew entered as second favourite against Ilunga Makabu, and Bellew made the worst possible start when felled by a left hook in the opening round. Bellew rallied, and in the third, he fulfilled a boyhood dream, knocking out the Congolese man to lift the coveted green belt.
Furthermore, he made one defence, a third round stoppage of the limited BJ Flores, where post fight Flores’ friend, David Haye clashed with Bellew. A bitter rivalry ensured, and Bellew moved up to Heavyweight to take on former Cruiser and Heavyweight Champion Haye. Their first meeting at the O2 in March 2017 was a thriller. Haye started well and the fight was nip and tuck at halfway, but Haye’s Achilles snapped and was a sitting duck until Bellew finally ended matters in eleven rounds. A rematch was inevitable, and after the usual bad blood build up, Haye’s body was simply not up for the job anymore, and he was vanquished in five rounds in May this year at the same venue, having been down three times prior to the stoppage. So the question now is can Bellew take this form to a whole new level to wrest the array of crowns that Usyk owns.
I think Bellew will attempt to put the heat onto Usyk from the opening bell and will look to drive his opponent to the ropes for powerful assaults as early as possible. Usyk is adept at being able to adapt to most things his opponents throw at him however, and he will soon figure out the puzzle to seize control with his impressive jab and ability to stay out of trouble, while also setting intelligent traps for his foe. I can see Bellew becoming more and more desperate and frustrated in the later rounds, and this will play into the fresher Usyk’s hands. My feeling is that Usyk will halt the Evertonian late on in around ten rounds. Bellew may also taste the canvas before this. I feel Usyk is as special a talent in the pro game as he was in a sparkling amateur career, and will have too much in his arsenal for the rugged Bellew. Usyk will also not be phased by a partisan home crowd for Bellew, having fought as the away fighter many times in World Title contests. Bellew can look back on a fantastic career, that produced financial security as well as a spell as a World Champion, and there will be no disgrace in that. Usyk may then look at the big fish in the Heavyweight pond, and he would be a mouth watering addition to the blue ribband weight class.