A price to pay: Tony Bellew interview
Shaun Brown speaks to Tony Bellew about his rollercoaster 2017, his plans for the future, why he doesn't see himself as a role model and much more, in a candid and revealing interview...
Tony Bellew never thought his career would be in the position it is now.
His life is better than he ever thought it would be.
He can wake up and choose to be in Dubai the next day with his soon-to-be wife Rachael and their kids. He also owns several properties and his family are set up for life.
Those luxuries are the reward for 20 years in boxing. Twenty years being 'Bomber', twenty years with his heart on his sleeve and with the never-changing image of 'what you see is what you get'.
The losses to Nathan Cleverly and Adonis Stevenson, the victories over his domestic rivals as well as Ovill McKenzie, Isaac Chilemba, Mateusz Masternak, Illunga Makabu and David Haye have all brought titles - including the WBC cruiserweight strap - but a variety of prices have also been paid.
At 35 the pro career which began a decade ago in Nottingham is reaching its conclusion. One year left, perhaps. Two to three fights, perhaps. Whatever the duration it will be memorable in more ways than one.
There remains, however, an element of danger to the former light heavyweight turned cruiserweight turned heavyweight and his boxing future. The danger may be himself. And in fights next year against David Haye (May 5, 2018) and potentially Tyson Fury, as well as challenging for the world heavyweight title, he will go in as the underdog on at least two occasions.
Bellew will never say "I quit" in a fight. He will never throw in the towel himself. And he's not even sure if his trainer and friend Dave Coldwell would do the right thing and save his man from something that would defeat Bellew's objective of getting home to his family in one piece.
"I fear the day I meet someone who wants it as much as me. It puts the shits up me because if I meet someone in a boxing ring and we get into a fight, and he wants it as much as me, one of us is going to hospital," Bellew stated when Boxing Monthly spoke to him recently.
"Especially if he's at a similar level to me," he added. "Because I'm never going to quit. There's no white towels where I'm from. No waving it off, no stopping it for a broken jaw, eye, smashed hands... we fight."
It is still somewhat disturbing to hear those words despite having heard the Liverpudlian say similar before.
We don't know if Bellew has already faced that individual who is as hungry as he is. Maybe he has but we haven't seen the limits of both pushed to an edge that no-one in boxing likes looking over. Bellew wants to be able to enjoy life when he's older; to spend his money, treat his family all with his faculties intact, but that beautiful future can be forgotten about when someone is trying to put you on the floor with as many punches as it takes.
BM put it to Bellew that maybe it would be better to quit, should he beat Haye again, rather than keep on going and one day meeting that fighter who is willing to suffer the hurt of battle in hospital the next day.
"I'm not going to lie to you ... You've got a fair point when you ask could you risk it again and my true answer is, I don't know.
"People ask me what's next and I say the next thing is to get home safe. I've gone past the sky's the limit from what I expected from boxing. I really have. When I was a kid if you said to me: 'you're going to so this, this and this and you'll go here, here and there, and this is what is going to be at the end,' I'd have said: 'Are you taking the piss?'"
His world title win at Goodison Park against Makabu last yeat, his gameplan, mindset and determination that pushed David Haye back on his feet ending in victory for Bellew. And not forgetting his time in Hollywood starring in 'Creed', have risen his profile to levels that no-one, not even the most ardent Bellew fan - or his promoter Eddie Hearn - could have predicted.
Again, there is a price to pay.
"I don't like the fame because all fame really is is an invasion of privacy," Bellew said.
"It's hard when you've got a young family. Listen, my eldest goes to school and things get said to him that really piss me off that I don't like, and it's because of me. 'You're dad's going to get done.' People pass comment to him and that would really piss me off. That side of things I hate. I wish I could be a fella who fights with a fucking mask on. I really wish I do.
"To have everything I have but take the fame away That's the worst part of it. The expectancy that I'm supposed to be a role model but really I'm not."
Role models. Our youngsters need them unquestionably. The definition of a role model may have somewhat changed in the 18-25 demographic over the years. What we are fed on our television screens, through social media and the every day media means a role model could come from the pits of something where they might not be able to explain what one means.
Bellew firmly believes he is not one. Perhaps a reminder of the 'silly things' he has done in the past convinces him that he is not an option. Bellew seems to look at his volatility and how easily his switch is flicked as a negative. And of course it can be, but he relates both in the main to standing up for himself, telling people where to go if they don't like him... he's being human.
He tells his eldest boy to look up to the current unified heavyweight champion of the world Anthony Joshua.
"He's [Joshua] a lad who's made mistakes, stupid mistakes in his past but you look at how he carries himself now and the words that come out of his mouth and I just think he's the perfect role model," Bellew says of AJ.
"I'm never going to be a role model. I'm never going to be that. See me, I'm volatile at times and I can lose it at any point so that's why I don't want to be ever painted like a role model. I can just flip a switch. Any moment something can go wrong in my life and I can switch. That's not role model material in my eyes. It's a normal person, don't get me wrong, everyone's got that in him. You see the likes of Joshua and people like that... he's an ideal role model and I say that to my eldest boy."
Boxing is maybe lacking a conveyor belt of role models, but has the sport really ever had one? So many of those who fight for our entertainment have come from the scrapheap. From fighting on the streets, fighting the law and trying to fight to find a way out of rock bottom. Joshua can certainly be looked at as a role model but Bellew knows as well that he is an inspiration to those just beginning in the sport, particularly in his own city of Liverpool. It's not modesty on his part, in fact he was clearly uncomfortable when talking about youngsters at his old amateur club Rotunda who look up to him.
"I can definitely see how them kids look at me, and I'm definitely proud of why they look at me like that and I understand. First thing I say to them is 'I swear to you all in here, you can do everything that I've done. You have just got to live it and that's the hardest part'.
"See, I can degrade myself but it is hard what I've done. It is very hard. I've dedicated 20 years, so that is very hard, but there are others that can do it. I've got a certain set of credentials which make me good: Mental strength and I'm a determined bastard. They are big strengths, they really are. I'm so determined... I've definitely got a screw loose but I'm determined.
"I can't even lose to my son on FIFA. Sad ain't it? I've got to give him a good tanking. I don't know. I hate losing. Me and the missus will be messing around watching Countdown on the telly and it'll only be a word and I'll still wanna whoop her. I don't know. It's something in me, definitely. Was that taught? Ingrained in me? I don't know."
He knows he isn't the best athlete out there, the best boxer, the fastest or the strongest but he persevered and made many eat their words by becoming world cruiserweight champion and defeating David Haye - injured leg or not.
As 2017 draws to a close, though, the year is one of both triumph and tragedy for Bellew. Defeating Haye but not getting the amount of credit he deserved. Losing his brother-in-law and balancing grief with training for a rematch that is now rescheduled from this weekend to next May. More tests, more knocks and more periods of maybe wondering why he isn't off to Dubai with his family rather than putting himself through pain and agony on a treadmill at weekends.
He's managed the unthinkable for some, but there's still unfinished business and a new rivalry brewing with a man called Fury.
"At the end of the day I don't see my career going on for a long time but I've got some glory nights ahead of me, I really have," Bellew said.
"I have been in some hard fights and I've had one bad loss in my career. I don't feel shot worn. If the truth be known I'm actually getting better in the gym with the way I'm sparring, the way I'm dominating opponents who are good fighters as well to be fair.
"I'm not doing things just how I want to do them anymore. I'm cracking on. It's going alright."