This Saturday night at the Manchester Arena Undisputed Cruiserweight World Champion Oleksandr Usyk (15-0, 11KOs) puts all his titles on the line against the WBC ‘emeritus’ Champion Tony Bellew (30-2-1, 20KOs).
Ukrainian Usyk is considered by many as one of the best pound for pound fighters in the world right now after picking up every major Cruiserweight world title and becoming the first ever winner of the Muhammad Ali Trophy.
A few eye brows were raised when Usyk called out Englishman Bellew after producing a master class performance against Murat Gassiev in the final of the World Boxing Super Series (WBSS) earlier in the year.
Bellew has never been one to turn down opportunities like this and decided to come out of retirement for one last hurrah. The Merseysider is coming off the back of two career best victories against David Haye in the Heavyweight division so is confident he has all the tools to overcome the very talented Usyk.
Once again, the 35-year-old will go into the fight as the underdog like he was against knockout artist Ilunga Makabu and Haye twice. Bellew thrives off adversity and has an incredible desire to prove everybody wrong which does make him dangerous but Usyk is a formidable challenge that just might be a step to far.
Olympic gold medallist Usyk may only be 15-fights into his professional career but had an impressive amateur record winning every major honour possible. The Kiev maestro has an excellent combined opponent record of 325-62-8, since turning pro 5-years ago.
What makes the 31-year-old unique is his ability to win major World titles against tough opposition in their own backyards. Usyk won the WBO strap in Poland against undefeated Krzysztof Glowacki before retaining his title against Michael Hunter in the US and Marco Huck in Germany. He then added the WBC title against Mairis Briedis in Latvia and finally became the first boxer in history to hold all four major world championships at Cruiserweight with a win over Gassiev in Russia. Be rest assured that Usyk will not freeze on another big night on his travels to England, the county where he picked up his gold medal in 2012.
If this fight was run through Alex Pierpaoli’s ‘Title Bout Computer Game’ 100 times, then Usyk would win 90% of the time but this isn’t a game this is for real and when it comes to the crunch Bellew continues to defy the odds.
It’s incredible to think that 5-years ago to the month, Bellew was stopped for the first time in his career at 175lbs against Adonis Stevenson while Usyk was making his pro debut. Since then ‘The Bomber’ has moved up to Cruiserweight, avenged his first pro loss to Nathan Cleverly and won the WBC strap.
In an eleven-year career Bellew has raked up a combined opponent record of 604-317-29. The extra pounds in the higher divisions clearly suites the Evertonian who is currently 8-0 at Cruiser and 2-0 at Heavyweight.
Usyk is a slick southpaw that will look to work behind his right-hand jab before throwing shots from different angles to the head and body. The Champ has excellent footwork which makes him elusive but not impossible to hit so it’s important that Bellew doesn’t allow him to establish a rhythm behind his 4-inch reach advantage, otherwise it could be a long and painful night for the Englishman.
Against Gassiev the Ukrainian was almost untouchable and barely gave away a minute, let alone a round. The Russian was unfairly criticised in that final who was dealt a boxing clinic in front of his home crowd. A mirror performance will undoubtedly see Usyk win comfortably against Bellew.
Trainer David Coldwell and Bellew will have studied Usyk’s bouts but the one fight that can give them confidence is the WBSS semi-final against Briedis. The Latvian was able to demonstrate a blueprint that Bellew could follow in Manchester.
Coldwell was a former fighter that came out of the late great Brenden Ingle gym and was a switch-hitter himself as a fighter so has the knowledge of figuring out how to close the gap on Usyk’s southpaw style. Even Bellew admitted that he would not entertain a fight with a southpaw before he linked up with Coldwell. Briedis manged to overcome the awkward style by tagging Usyk with combos to the head and body. Bellew must combine a mixture of shots by varying his line of attack.
One of Bellew’s prized assets is the left hook so landing counter shots would allow the big scouser to set up his honey-punch which he will be hoping he can land flush on the whiskers of Usyk. The most effective way to beat a guy like Usyk is variation with counter punches and Bellew does have enough ring craft to find his range and establish his own rhythm.
The only way I can see Bellew winning this fight is if he can catch Usyk early enough to disrupt his rhythm, but the chances are slim. When Usyk is in the mood like he was against Gassiev it’s difficult to give the Everton-mad football fan a chance of glory. If Bellew faces a Briedis version and does get close enough to off-load that ‘dirty’ left-hook, then he has more of a chance. These guys are going to be 200lb plus by the time they enter the ring on Saturday, so one shot can change the whole complexion of the fight.
There is absolutely no doubt that this is a mammoth task for Bellew. A victory against Uysk would go down as one of the greatest upsets by a British fighter since Ricky Hatton’s win over Kostya Tszyu, which of course was also in Manchester.
I am a fan of Bellew and I hope he can prove everyone wrong again, but I can only see one winner in the Manchester Arena this Weekend and that man will be Oleksandr Usyk by a unanimous decision.
I will leave you with a quote by Dereck Trotter: “He who dares wins, he who hesitates….don’t”. Bonjour!