Tony Bellew is set for the toughest test of his career on Saturday at the Manchester Arena, as he takes on undefeated champion Olexsander Usyk for all the Cruiserweight marbles.
Despite securing his family’s financial future and achieving his lifelong dream of becoming a world champion, Tony Bellew continues his quest for greatness. By accepting the monumental challenge posed by the current undisputed cruiserweight champion of the world, he has once again demonstrated the courage that he has become synonymous with.
The Liverpudlian finds himself going into this fight as the underdog; a position that has he found himself in many times throughout his career. He became accustomed to this role during his stint at heavyweight, where he twice faced former cruiserweight and heavyweight world champion, David Haye.
The boxing fraternity was anticipating that Haye would dispatch Bellew with a minimum of fuss but things took a dramatic turn when the Londoner ruptured his Achilles in the sixth round. The Bomber took full advantage of the situation and eventually stopped the defenceless Haye inside eight rounds.
Probably due to Haye’s injury, spectators seemed reluctant to award Bellew with due-credit because Haye wasn’t able to perform to his usual capability. This warranted calls for a rematch and this time Bellew left few doubters, silencing the critics by hammering Haye inside five rounds.
After proving his worth in the heavyweight division, rumours followed of another potential domestic showdown, against Dillian Whyte or Tyson Fury. However, both men’s pursuit of silverware proved too much of an obstacle. The former WBC champion was left with two options: hang up the gloves or drop back down to Cruiserweight for a final payday – with Oleksandr Usyk being the most lucrative option.
Usyk cemented his place as the ruler of the division in August, where he was crowned the winner of the Super Six Series; a tournament which saw the division’s top eight fighters compete for the right to become the main man.
Entering the tournament as the top seed and WBO champion, he kicked off his campaign with an impressive stoppage victory over seasoned, former world champion Marco Huck – defeating him in his own backyard. He then travelled to Latvia to take on unbeaten WBC Champion, Mairis Briedis. The fight was competitive, but Usyk was the clear winner over twelve rounds, which set up a mouth-watering encounter with WBA and IBF champion, Murat Gassiev, for all the belts.
The Russian Gassiev carries devastating power, and, on paper, presented Usyk with the toughest test of his professional career, made none the easier by travelling to Gassiev’s home country of Russia; a hostile location for a Ukrainian.
On fight night, Usyk was far superior in every department, demonstrating his agile movement, slick combinations and relentless work ethic. He claimed a unanimous decision victory and walked away with all five belts, including the prestigious RING Magazine strap, draped across his 6ft 3inch frame, along with the Ali Trophy raised high above his head.
Having wiped the floor with all the top contenders and champions at the weight, he decided to entice Bellew by calling out his name in the post-fight interview. Bellew happily accepted his offer and now we are eagerly anticipating the blockbuster showdown between the pair on Saturday.
Styles and Game Plans
Starting with the challenger. Bellew is an intelligent fighter, who does nothing spectacular but does everything well. He studies his opponent religiously and identifies their strengths and weaknesses. However, his biggest assets are his grit, determination and resilience.
In the build-up to this fight, he has openly stated that he isn’t capable of outboxing Usyk and therefore has to knock him out. Gassiev spent the entirety of his fight with Usyk waiting for the right moment to land his deadly left-hook, which made him far too predictable. Bellew, though, is too smart to just launch power shots and assume that one will land at some stage. He will look to time his counter punches to perfection, as a precursor to an all-out attack.
During the opening half of the fight, dynamism will be key for Bellew. He has to maintain an intense work rate and force Usyk to exchange with him. Conserving energy during the earlier rounds, with a plan to drag his opponent into deep waters during the later rounds, is unlikely to work against an opponent like Usyk. With a limitless tank of fuel, Usyk will be prepared to up the pace in the concluding stages. Bellew’s best option is to box smart and drain energy from Usyk during the early periods, with a view to landing the killer blow in the later rounds.
The left hand to the body may be a crucial tool for the Bomber. By repeatedly targeting Usyk’s right side, he could force Usyk to gradually lower his guard. As fatigue begins to restrict movement and affect concentration, Bellew will look to deploy the dangerous left hook to the head.
Although Usyk isn’t regarded as a one punch knockout artist, he does have 11 KO’s in just 15 fights, and when he plants his feet he does generate considerable power. I don’t expect him to pursue the knockout, but if Bellew becomes reckless, Usyk could send him face first into the canvas.
Some people are expecting the home crowd to be an advantage for Bellew but Usyk has beaten his last three opponents on their home turf and I suspect he won’t be perturbed by the rowdy Manchester crowd.
The champion won’t have to adjust his style or game plan considerably to defeat Bellew, instead, he just has to continue to do what he does best. Sustain a high work rate and utilise his elusive movement to force his opponent to work for every minute of every round, whilst pushing out the jab to maintain distance and set up his usual swift combinations.
I anticipate that Usyk will be ahead on the scorecards by the later stage, so it is important that he prepares himself for a late rally from Bellew and doesn’t get careless like he did against Briedis. With all this in mind, how do I see the fight panning out?
You would think I would have learnt my lesson by now when it comes to making Bellew the underdog. I expected him to be flattened at Goodison Park by Illunga Makubu and then wiped out twice by David Haye. He has certainly matured and improved in the past two years and deserves all the plaudits for his recent performances. However, I do feel he has bitten off more than he can chew with this fight.
Winner: Usyk via Unanimous Decision.
I would love to hear your thoughts about the fight and how do you foresee it unfolding? Tweet me @JayTB__ and get involved in the pre-fight discussions.