Been there, done that
Tony Bellew likes to talk about Everton Football Club.
He started supporting them when he was a kid as an act of rebellion toward his father who was a Liverpool fan – city rivals to Everton.
Bellew, nicknamed ‘Bomber’, loves Everton and loves football. He would rather be playing for The Toffees than in a boxing ring with an opponent looking to knock him out.
“I say to people do you think I enjoy getting punched in the face? At the end of the day you’ve got ten men backing you up when you walk on a pitch,” said Bellew (26-2-1, 16 KOs) as he chatted to Boxing Monthly on the phone last Friday night after an arduous day’s training.
On Sunday night Bellew will be walking out on to the pitch at Goodison Park, the home of Everton FC, not as a footballer but as a boxer. The crest of his favourite football club on his shorts and the sound of the club’s song (the Z-Cars theme tune) booming all around the old ground which has been standing since 1892.
Waiting for him in the ring will be Ilunga Makabu (19-1, 18 KOs), one of the most feared cruiserweights in the world. An African machine built to seek and destroy and who will be doing all he can to wear the Brit down to win the vacant WBC World cruiserweight title.
“He comes with a lot of hype and part of it is warranted and deserved,” a respectful Bellew said of his opponent.
“He’s very good at what he does. He’s explosive, he’s very, very fast and he’s powerful. I just think he tends to be lazy at times and against someone like me you cannot be lazy.
“If I was setting up a fighter to beat me it would be to get on him and work him every second of every minute and don’t give him chances to think and this guy is going to give me chances to think. If he does I’ll take his chin off.
“The big thing being made in this fight is like he’s this big puncher coming in to this fight and I’m just a normal boxer. There’s never been a man who I’ve fought or sparred with who I haven’t hurt, not a single man. Heavyweight, cruiserweight you name it. Everyone I’ve sparred with they’ve felt it. It’s going to be no different for him. He’s going to feel it, he really is.
Bellew believes his been there and done it t-shirt will stand him in good stead against Makabu. The Scouser fought for a world title (in 2011) after just 16 fights when Nathan Cleverly took his WBO World light heavyweight title into Bellew’s lion’s den at the Echo Arena in Liverpool. In an enthralling contest the inexperienced Bellew would lose a majority decision before avenging the loss to his great rival three years later and nearly 25lbs heavier.
“I’ve gone into fights in the past and I haven’t been so confident, like when I turned up for the first fight with Cleverly. I always thought to myself ‘Am I ready for this yet’? My sixteenth pro fight and I’ve only just won the British title previously. I’m turning up for this one at Goodison thinking I’m the f*****g king, that I’m the best cruiserweight in the world at this moment.”
Sandwiched in between the two Cleverly fights Bellew would travel to Canada in 2013 to take on one of the most highly skilled and powerful fighters in the world in Adonis Stevenson. An unsuccessful challenge from Bellew for the WBC World light heavyweight title ended with him being stopped in the sixth round.
“The thing for me is I’ve been hurt, I’ve been on the floor,” said Bellew when talking about his experiences.
“I’ve been stopped on my feet but ultimately I’ve been there and done it and I know the drill. Does he (Makabu) know what to do when he gets bounced off the floor? Usually this guy steps up the pace and people fall apart. If he steps the pace up with me I’ll step the pace up to another level.
“There’s things going to happen in this fight that he won’t expect. There’s nothing that can happen in this fight that hasn’t happened to me previously in my career. There’s no level he can take me to that I’m not prepared for.”
Before BM had the pleasure of talking to Bellew he had just finished a training session that included ten-four minute rounds with two different people trying, in his words, to take his head off. Bellew, as you might expect, sounded tired but his words still had enough life in them to remind him that this is what it’s all about. The pain, the sacrifice and ultimately the glory.
“I’m not a light heavyweight anymore. I’m not going to tire, I’m not going to stop, I’m not going to fall apart, it’s not going to happen and on the 29th I’m going to run a riot on him,” he declared.
Bellew knows every inch of Goodison Park including the home dressing-room having spent time with some of the current Everton players thanks to his long-serving association with the club.
The ground has provided him with an abundance of memories. His recollection of the first game he attended isn’t 100% clear with him but he does know that former winger Peter Beagrie scored two goals to send him home happy. Bellew remembers people screaming and shouting and himself, a youngster, being caught up in a high pressurised atmosphere all the while trying to blend in.
“It wasn’t too long before I became one of those mad fans who was losing his mind screaming and shouting,” he said.
On Sunday night a five-figure attendance won’t be screaming for the likes of Ross Barkley, Romelu Lukaku, Leighton Baines or any other of the 2016 Everton squad. They will be there to shout for one man and one man only; Anthony Bellew. The 33-year-old knows he has to detach himself from all of it if he is to handle the pressure and expectation.
“I have to or the Goodison dream can quickly turn into the Goodison nightmare,” he said with a harsh honesty that you come to expect with the man.
“I’ve thought about it a million times and I know what I’m going to do.
“I know how I’m going to walk to the ring, I know how I’m going to look and how I’m going to feel and when that bell goes I know what I’m going to do. I’m going to use my brain and going to win whichever way I have to. I don’t know how it’s going to come. I don’t know if I’m going to have to get up off the floor to win from a knockdown, which I’ve done in the past. I’m prepared to do every single thing and I’ve gone through every scenario possible in my mind, and every scenario leads to the same thing, a win. I have to win, I have to do it.”
Bellew isn’t exactly a stranger to the big stage. In his second professional fight he stopped Adam Wilcox (TKO 3/4), a bout that was the live TV float before Joe Calzaghe and Mikkel Kessler decided to throw it down for super middleweight supremacy in Cardiff in front of 50,000 people in 2007. Just under one year later and Bellew was fighting at the M.E.N Arena in Manchester just five minutes after Amir Khan gave a ringside interview in the wake of a brutal first round defeat to Breidis Prescott.
“I always wanted to be on the big bills and I always made it known,” said Bellew.
“It kind of stood me in good stead because when I’ve come to the big stages, I’m not saying I’ve always been exciting or I’ve done great but I’ve found a way to win. I’ve always come through.”