In this corner with Russ Anber: 'You can't get a rest from Usyk'
Photo: Instagram @russanber
Respected Canadian trainer and cutman Russ Anber was in Oleksandr Usyk’s corner on Saturday when the Ukrainian KO’d Tony Bellew in round eight. Here is Russ’ account of the fight, as told exclusively to Boxing Monthly's Luke G. Williams...
“The day of the fight someone sent me a message on Twitter and asked me: ‘does Tony Bellew really think he has a chance?’ I answered back and said: ‘he thinks he has more than a chance. This is not going to be a walk in the park for us.’
“I knew Bellew was going to be tough. I knew he was going to rely on his power and look to land a big shot. At the end of the day I didn’t think he believed he was going to be able to outbox Usyk over the distance. I think he felt he had to knock him out.
“The plan was just to let those first few minutes and few rounds go by and then take control and I think that’s pretty much the fight as it happened.
“In the end, I think what might have got Bellew – and this is something which is going to be discouraging to a lot of other fighters – is that against Usyk you may win rounds when he isn’t doing anything, but you still can’t get to him… that’s hard to take.
“Bellew hit him a few times early in the fight but you never sensed he got the control that he wanted or hurt Usyk the way he wanted to hurt him early in the fight.
“Usyk thinks he’s a bloody middleweight for god’s sake! He fights with the intensity of a middleweight. He just throws punches. So even when it seems like he isn’t doing anything much the pressure he puts on you makes you expend an exorbitant amount of energy. You can’t get a rest from the guy.
“I mentioned this yesterday to someone: did you see one clinch in the fight? Was the referee even there? I didn’t see a clinch.
““[Some people gave Bellew the early rounds but] no, we were not concerned. It was the plan.
“Sometimes, and I think fighters will understand this, sometimes the rounds that you lose you end up winning, whether from a physical perspective, an emotional one or in terms of the mental battle. I think Usyk does that. Even the rounds he loses he’s still controlling the fact he lost the round if that makes sense!
“In the third or fourth round I think Usyk caught Tony and Tony buckled, but recovered. But I think that showed the kind of power that Uysk has. Obviously the punch that ended the fight was a debilitating shot and when he lands with authority Usyk is a good puncher. Believe me, l’ve seen him in the gym and he can punch.
"But I think if you speak to Tony he’d agree that what Usyk does first is he drains you of all your energy so then when a big shot comes on top of that, it’s just so hard to deal with.
“If you’re going to fight Usyk you better have as many gears in your gear-box as he’s got, because he’s able to hit that clutch and find a new gear in every round. He’s like [the great race horse] Secretariat for God’s sake – he can just pull away from the field and find a new gear time and time again.
“It’s going to take a hell of an athlete to stay with this guy. He’s arguably the greatest cruiserweight ever. It’s between him and [Evander] Holyfield but yes, we might be looking at the greatest cruiserweight of all time.
“People say Usyk has had three wins on the road this year but actually pretty much his whole career has been on the road! [Usyk’s last seven fights have all been outside his native Ukraine] He wins wherever he goes and he also wins the crowds over. It’s a shame he doesn’t speak English better because his personality is as big as Anthony Joshua’s if not bigger. He’s a good person and if people got to know him the way they know Anthony he’d be as big a star as Anthony.
“Working with Usyk in the corner is great but working with him in the gym is even better because he’s a guy who likes to try things. He likes to be creative and improvise. It’s rare to have a boxer like that, who tries new things, who is continuously on the edge of learning. That’s great. Those are the guys that continue to have success, fighters who can rebuild themselves and make themselves better, remodel themselves and add things to their repertoire. That contributes to a fighter’s greatness.
“Working with him, thank God, has been a dream so far. It’s been easy. He responds as well, which is an important thing when you’re in a corner. You ask him to so something and he does it. That’s massive. Although you have to be very careful of the instructions you give because you know he’s going to follow them so you can’t afford to make a mistake in what you tell him. At one point against Bellew we told him to go to the body and that worked well.
“Since the Michael Hunter fight in the States, which I trained Usyk for, we’ve actually been working on the very punch he stopped Bellew with. That was a punch I’ve been working with him on specially – we even gave it a nickname. When I yell out that nickname he knows exactly what it means.
“After the fight Usyk was really happy and he was chanting that nickname – I don’t want to tell you what it is, of course, as we might use it again in future fights!
“He was very happy with that punch and it made me really happy that he executed it and it was the punch that ended the fight.
“One of the greatest things about Usyk is his versatility. If you look back at the Super Series and many of his fights he enters with a different look or approach. It’s hard to get a gauge on what he’s going to do. He learns different things and fights in different ways.
"In the [Murat] Gassiev fight, he really ‘boxed’ and threw a lot of arm punches, there wasn’t a lot of power in his punches, he never really went forward, he was happy to control the centre of the ring and box behind the jab and move and box. It was a dominating performance but it wasn’t electric.
"But then in the Bellew fight he comes out, right in the lion’s den and kicks the lion right in the nuts with his power. It says a lot about the man and his character that he can adapt like that.”
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