Aftermath: Bellew vs Usyk
On Saturday night Oleksandr Usyk defended his undisputed cruiserweight title with a spectacular stoppage of Tony Bellew. Danny Winterbottom, Lee Gormley, James Oddy, Callum Rudge, Andrew Harrison, Craig Scott, Tom Craze, Chris Williamson and Colin Harris are here with their take on the fight, where next for Usyk and Bellew's legacy...
BM: How did you see the fight?
DW: Bellew gave Usyk some trouble early but once he got into his trademark rhythm and found a home for his jab and left hands down the middle he began to break the Brit down and the finish was truly sensational, one of the KOs of the year. At the time of the stoppage I had Usyk up 67-66.
LG: Bellew started brilliantly, quickly finding his range and nicely countering the southpaw jab to win the early rounds. But Usyk's constant pressure and body work laid the foundation for the eventual stoppage. He was rewarded for his early patience and avoided falling into Bellew's traps from those taunts. The finish was typically clinical and one of the best knockouts of the year.
JO: Bellew really shocked me in terms of how well he started and the manner in which he did it as well. His counter punching was accurate and his jab a real weapon. Usyk, howeve, never looked panicked and it seemed inevitable he would find his rhythm as the fight wore on. Usyk had Bellew hurt before the stoppage, but he was so patient and clinical not to rush it.
CR: I thought Bellew started really well and showed excellent footwork and range control. But after three rounds I thought it was all Usyk. Bellew was landing occasional potshots but Usyk was walking Bellew down and slowly chipping away at the tired Liverpudlian before finding the knockout.
AH: Bellew made a great start, countering so sharply it inhibited Usyk from getting into range to land much of anything. Bellew was putting a lot into his counter shots, though, and was obviously very emotional. The consistent pressure Usyk exerts began to take its toll on the home fighter and while it looked like Usyk couldn’t crack an egg with his punches early on, his accuracy had Bellew woozy before he took that final shot. It was a great performance from Usyk.
CS: I was impressed with Bellew and how he started the fight. I thought his footwork was effective and, as in his last outing, we witnessed that boxing ability that has often been spoken of. However, when Bellew slapped his thighs and was met with an eerie grin slapped across Usyk's face, I felt the tide may be about to turn. The Ukrainian is so accurate and remained composed throughout. Excellent finish to a great contest.
TC: Few will have imagined Bellew would come out and box Usyk in the way he did for the first few rounds - let alone nick a few - but this is a fighter who’s made a habit of springing a few surprises late in his career. Bellew set some cute traps and the right hand to the body and some impressive defensive movement was working well for him initially. However, this is Usyk. Not known for his quick starts, he took his time in assessing the threat in front of him and began to move through the gears. Bellew began to tire as he did, and the end came at a point when Usyk was clearly the man in the ascendancy. The scary thing is that I think he could’ve gone up a few more notches late on if he’d needed to.
CW: Full disclosure: as a scouser and Evertonian it was tricky to maintain impartiality while watching an engrossing main event unfold from ringside last night. Bellew won a handful of early rounds with cute movement, feints and well timed right hands to the Ukrainian’s body and head. By the middle rounds, Usyk began to take over and it seemed as though the mental as much as physical effort required had Bellew flagging. This led to the Brit taking more chances, swinging increasingly wildly and opening more opportunities for the champion, who ominously turned up the heat, landing with fast, accurate punches. The ending was stunningly emphatic. I can’t wait to watch the whole thing again on tape once I’ve allowed the live experience to breathe a little.
CH: Bellew was brilliant early, and after four rounds it was as though he was going to make fools of everyone who'd bet against him: I was half-tempted to stick a mid-fight wager on him after four rounds, but my head was still saying that around halfway Usyk would shift through the gears a little. After six rounds I had Bellew ahead, but there was a real sense that the tide was turning, and it was very impressive how rapidly the momentum changed when the Ukrainian started to up his game: the sixth was when he started to go through the gears, the seventh was when Bellew started to look a little distressed and a little wobbly, and the end in the eigth was an awesome shot. I was worried the ref would let Bellew continue, so I was relieved that the fight was stopped as that shot drained everything out of the brave Evertonian.
BM: Do you think Usyk deserves to be named fighter of the year?
DW: With Usyk’s run at cruiserweight being one of the best in the division's history, his dominating victories in the WBSS and a highlight reel KO over Tony Bellew, yes, I’d say he is fighter of the year.
LG: Usyk has to be fighter of the year for sure. No question about it.
JO: Undoubtedly. He's cleaned out a division, a rare feat these days, and done it with a fluid, exciting style and a relaxed charisma outside the ropes.
CR: Undoubtedly. Usyk has travelled to the backyards of three top fighters in the best and hardest division in the sport. While there are other contenders, Usyk is the standout candidate. He’s established himself as the one of the greatest cruiserweights of all time. It was a pleasure to watch him in the flesh.
AH: Undoubtedly. Not only in terms of the quality of his wins (all on the road, too) but the way he has wiped out a division. The World Boxing Super Series made it possible but, like his good pal Vasyl Lomachenko, Usyk has shown a willingness to prove he’s the best – rather than merely talking about it. For all of the cash grab catchweight fights masquerading as special tests, the tried and tested method is to beat all of your key rivals in your own weight class.
CS: A hundred times, 'yes'. I'm trying to think of anyone comparable. There's been some impressive wins this year, but Usyk looks leagues apart when facing been facing established world champions.
TC: Without question. Show me another man who cleaned out his division, beat every main threat via way of a best-vs-the-best tournament, and then proceeded to knock out the next in line in the division’s biggest money fight - and, remarkably, did all of that in each man’s respective back yard - and I’ll show you a liar.
CW: Usyk stands alone. I can’t remember many occasions where the fighter of the year award is more of a lock than this one. If any magazine or media outlet plumps for anyone else then they have an agenda and shouldn’t be taken seriously.
CH: Yes: in 2019 he's had three fights (which, sadly, is one or even two more than we usually see from top fighters these days), he's won two unification fights, and then beaten the only remaining threat in his division. He's unified all four versions of the title, defended all four versions of the title, and he's won a thrilling shoot-out.
BM: What can the Ukrainian achieve at heavyweight?
DW: It will be interesting to see how Usyk copes at heavyweight. Given his skill level, I’d say we can expect him to make a big impression. Whether or not that will be enough to defeat the real giants of the division remains to be seen but it will be fascinating to watch.
LG: Usyk can definitely deal with the lower level heavyweights and it may be wise to test the waters before going up against the bigger names. But he's likely to jump straight in against those guys, if he does make that move. He has the ability to outbox anyone in the division though and has the amateur experience of fighting at heavyweight (albeit not super heavyweight). The only question will be if he can take the shots from monster punchers like Joshua or Wilder etc. Bellew caught him early, he took plenty of big shots against Briedis and Gassiev did manage to hurt him on one occasion. Other than that I would find it hard to back against him in any of the big match-ups at heavyweight. Bring it on!
JO: Usyk isn't perfect - both Bellew and Briedis got the better of him at times. My concern is against a Joshua or Wilder, is that the power difference would really come into play when they got the better of him. Am I confident Usyk could outbox them? Yes. Am I confident he could outbox them for every minute of 12 rounds? No.
CR: I think guys like Parker, Whyte and Ortiz are tailor made for him. He is a similar size but has a far better skill set than those men. Moving up to the giants like Wilder, Joshua and Fury it’s a completely different game but think he can compete with them.
AH: That’s what we all want to see now. He’ll bulk up, so his power may improve and his skill and accuracy will make some of his prospective opponents look pedestrian. Today, I think Anthony Joshua will prove too big and powerful but that could change, depending on how Usyk gets on.
CS: I think he gives Wilder nightmares. Joshua would be a tough test, I think AJ hits a lot harder than anyone Usyk has faced. How about his entry into the division being against someone of Breazeale's level?
TC: The question here - as with everything we’ve seen of Usyk - is more this: what can’t he do? There’s little doubt that he has the frame and athleticism to carry the extra weight, but as Deontay Wilder’s continuing to prove, 215lbs or so is plenty when you’re good enough, and Usyk’s comfortably in reach of that. It feels inevitable he’ll be back on these shores after a much-needed winter break, or next summer at worst, and what a privilege it is to see him from close quarters. I’d love to see him against someone like Povetkin, but stylistically, a taller, rangier opponent would hold him in better stead with a Joshua fight being the ultimate end game. Put him in against anyone outside the Joshua/Wilder/Fury triangle and I wouldn’t hesitate in picking a winner. He won’t fear any of the ‘Big Three’, either.
CW: Usyk signalled his intent last night and, as Tom Craze has pointed out, the Ukrainian seems to view heavyweight supremacy more as a question of when than if. Until Michael Spinks decisioned Larry Holmes the adage 'a good big man beats a good little one' was a truism for lighter men moving up to heavyweight. The re-alignment of the cruiserweight limit, proliferation of titles and - perhaps more cynically - development of new methods for gaining muscle have opened new opportunities for those with smaller frames. I wouldn’t bet against Usyk winning titles at heavyweight and can’t wait to see what he can do in the glamour division.
CH: He's a brilliant boxer and I think natural size disadvantages aside, he should already be favoured to beat anyone outside of the behemoths: I think he can outbox anyone who is not a top heavyweight. The trouble I see, when we're talking about the very best heavyweights, is that the size difference is going to be a little too much to overcome the Joshua/Wilder/Fury combo. Yes, I think he can even outbox those three at times, but I just don't see him being able to outbox them for a full 36 minutes, and at some point I'd expect any of those three to connect. Anyone else aside from them, I think he has every chance to beat - and as soon as he officially rises to heavyweight I think he's going in to the rankings at fourth.
BM: What's your assessment of Tony Bellew's career?
DW: As a weight drained light heavyweight who struggled at domestic level it would have taken a real stretch of the imagination to envisage Bellew going on to achieve what he has in the game late in his career. A move to 200lbs breathed new life into his career and he looked a different animal. His loss against Usyk came against a man at the very top of his game but he should be very proud. All the best in retirement, Tony.
LG: Bellew must be admired for the way he has finished his career. He has done prize-fighting right, by talking his way into big paydays against David Haye, upsetting the odds on both occasions and then capping it all off with a brave loss to one of this generation's great fighters. He has plenty of great memories to look back on, most notably that dream night at Goodison Park, and got out in good health. Fair play.
JO: Bellew has somehow managed to be criminally underrated whilst also becoming an unlikely box office draw. For me, the win over much hyped Ilunga Makabu was the pinnacle. Although the wins over Haye were thrilling, Makabu seemed to be set to be a new destructive force in the division. Bellew took his best shots, and came back with more - and at Goodison Park as well!
CR: Bellew was a fighter that wrung out every last drop of talent and continued to improve until the very end. After losing to Cleverly and Stevenson it was very easy to see him tiptoeing around world level without reaching the top. Instead he won a world title in a football stadium, knocked out David Haye twice and gave one of the best cruisers of all time a decent test. He should be proud of his career and he will be remembered by scousers as one of their very best.
AH: Bellew’s improvement after teaming up with Dave Coldwell was marked and produced a remarkable career turnaround. He had three brilliant nights against Makubu and Haye and will be remembered as one of the better fighters to come out of Merseyside. John Conteh remains the benchmark ahead of the likes of Nel Tarleton, Alan Rudkin, Ernie Roderick and Paul 'Hoko' Hodkinson. Bellew would be part of that chasing pack.
CS: Bellew has achieved more than most would have thought possible. His two wins over an ageing Haye were exciting and great to watch, but winning that world title at Goodison Park will be everything he needs to be remembered for. From swearing on a lunchtime broadcast of Sky Sports News sitting opposite Cleverly to world champion and PPV star... It's been a hell of a journey.
TC: A remarkable story. From being expelled at school, to excelling in the amateurs, from promotional and legal wrangles to British and European belts - and then to Hollywood, to winning a world title in his beloved football stadium, to an undisputed title fight against an elite, pound-to-pound talent. Oh, and plenty more besides. Usyk was a bridge too far, but there were no illusions about the size of the challenge he faced on Saturday night. In a sense, he will have preferred the decisive ending handed to him than, say, a contentious loss against him that sparked a lingering feeling of ‘what if?’. Bellew - a far smarter man than some would have you believe - will be first to admit that he’s not always done everything the right way, but he’s a fine example of how sheer bloodymindedness, grit, and a dedication to your craft can take a man further than they might have ever imagined.
CW: I’d like some more time to assess this properly but he’s absolutely one of the best the city has seen. In retrospect it is clear he should never have boiled down to light heavy and his career as a cruiserweight and occasional heavyweight was incredible. I’ll never forget the experience at Goodison Park when he beat Makabu. The pressure he put himself under taking that fight in that special venue is almost unimaginable and Bellew delivered, big time. After that win everything else was gravy really and it says a lot about the man that after the Haye windfalls, he dared to challenge the undefeated, undisputed champion in one last test of skill and will. That Bellew fell short in a pulsating contest adds to his legacy in my opinion.
CH: He's a tough working man who's been a good honest pro and exceeded expectations. His crowning moment was surely becoming world champion on his home turf, but the two fights against Haye are what took him to being known outside of the generic boxing fan and having general sports fans know who he is. He has a great collection of belts, a career to be very, very proud of and he should enjoy every second of his retirement.
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