Real-life Rocky: Tony Bellew interview

Mark Butcher
04/08/2017 8:02am

In the wake of his sensational victory against David Haye earlier this year, Tony Bellew spoke to Mark Butcher...

Tony Bellew is unashamedly his own man. The Scouser’s no-nonsense candour has always made for compelling copy yet often rubbed more sensitive souls up the wrong way. But it’s been a rough 12 months for Bellew’s detractors as the man they labelled ‘a blown-up light-heavyweight’ has seen his profile blow up in quite spectacular fashion.

A rousing WBC cruiserweight title win over dangerous southpaw Ilunga Makabu at Goodison Park in May 2015 might have seemed like a career pinnacle, but Bellew aimed higher and set his sights on the behemoths of world boxing. The long shot paid off handsomely on Pay-Per-View in March. Bellew’s stirring, upset win over David Haye shook up the heavyweight pack and made the Scouser the division’s marketable wild card.

With the success over Haye opening up new lines of opportunity, Bellew was subsequently upgraded to privileged, ‘Emeritus Champion’ status by the WBC (meaning he can drop down to 200lbs to contest his old title) and the Liverpool fighter remains in a state of flirtation between the two divisions.

“I just keeping calling me a fake heavyweight. And, you know what, I’m not damn lying – I’m not a heavyweight. But I know how to beat some of them,” Bellew told BM over the phone in May. “Especially the smaller ones. And maybe some of the bigger ones as well, but I’m not getting carried away with myself. I’ve beat one huge name at heavyweight and I’ll just take my time and see where it leads.

“I don’t think I’d be favourite going in with any heavyweight in the world. I was such a wide outsider against David Haye. I’m a cruiserweight but I’m a big, big cruiserweight. I’m very, very strong so I’m bordering on the verges of a small heavyweight. [So] I’m a ‘heavyweight’ who can fight on the inside and who is not scared to take a punch. I trade punches no problem at all. I’m not like your modern day heavyweights who are giants and scared to take a shot.

“[Haye] did nail me in the first two rounds and he nailed me hard, but my judgment of distance is very good,” recalled Bellew (29-2-1, 19 KOs) of his shock 11th round, two knockdown victory (which was aided by an achilles tendon injury to Haye).

“I said from day one my footwork is better than David Haye’s and he laughed it off in the press conferences. He said in ‘The Gloves Are Off’ that I’m absolutely dreadful. He said I’m probably the worst champion he’s ever seen. I don’t look great on videotape. I look very easy to hit. I go down when I get nailed clean as anyone would at this weight and I don’t look particularly quick. What I stressed to him is that, ‘Trust me, it looks easier from the outside’ – I’m much harder to fight against than I am to watch. David Haye got the shock of his life in that very first round in that first exchange and it just went on from there. All these other guys are going to get a shock.”

In November 2013, any heavyweight odyssey would have seemed inconceivable as the weight-drained apparition of Bellew succumbed in six rounds to WBC light-heavyweight champion Adonis Stevenson (Bellew refers to himself back then as ‘death on legs’). Critics argued the Scouser had been exposed, but in reality Bellew was a former amateur heavyweight ludicrously boiling down to 175lbs. At cruiser and heavyweight, fresh life has been breathed into Bellew’s once emaciated frame.

Now Bellew is campaigning in the land of the giants with heavyweight title-holders regularly namedropping him as a possible opponent. WBC champion Deontay Wilder has openly courted Bellew as a potential foe but one might feel that smaller WBO title-holder Joseph Parker (in terms of height, at least) is a healthier option.

“You’re making sense when you point to the size of Joseph Parker, but he is a super-heavyweight - in his last fight Parker weighed in heavier than Deontay Wilder so he is a true heavyweight. Deontay Wilder is a very tall heavyweight [6ft 7ins] but he’s a very thin, very athletic heavyweight,” said Bellew. “He’s obviously too big for a cruiser, but he’s strong enough for a heavyweight. Wilder is stuck in a ‘Catch 22’ [situation]. The kid is going well so far but the best name on his record doesn’t come anywhere close to the best name on my record. Ultimately, I’m looking for the best deal for me. If Deontay Wilder is the best deal – so be it.

“When you look at him, he’s very crude, he’s very wild. What does he really do that’s great outside of that big, big punch? I’ve been at a level in professional boxing where that big punch isn’t always enough and I don’t believe that big punch would be enough against me alone. Why should I not be confident – that’s the question in my eyes?”

Bellew was drawn into a bizarre verbal altercation with Wilder’s brother Marsellos following the Joshua-Klitschko weigh-in in April where the WBC champion’s younger, and considerably shorter, sibling challenged Bellew and proudly stated: “I fight in the streets!” to hoots of laughter and derision from observers.

“He spoke to me the night after and said it all helps to building towards a fight,” said Bellew. “I don’t know what planet these guys are on, but obviously not the same wavelength of thinking as I am. It got a bit hyper and emotions got involved a little but that’s boxing and I don’t take it personal. It’s business. Purely.”

There is one heavyweight Bellew wouldn’t touch with a barge pole – IBF, WBA and IBO king Anthony Joshua; a juggernaut with the size, power and speed that sets him apart from the other champions.

“Absolutely not!” laughed Bellew. “Have you seen the size of him? I wouldn’t. I’ve got a lot of respect for Anthony Joshua and, even though he is younger than me, I admire him purely because of what he has done. He’s taken the sport that I love to another level and that has allowed someone like me to shine and prosper. He’s given me a grander scale to work on even though I was a professional before him. The game had kind of dipped these last two or three years and boxing was on the backburner but, since he’s turned professional, it’s just gone from strength to strength. He’s king of the boxing world – he really is. The face of boxing globally, not just domestically. He has stepped up to the plate and is a credit to British boxing.

“He is the only one I would say an outright ‘no’ to – yeah - the rest of them can be negotiated,” continued Bellew. “I believe he’s the only heavyweight fast enough in the world for me not to see the punch coming. David Haye is the faster puncher with one single punch, but you will always see the big single punch coming. There is not a heavyweight in the world who is a combination fighter and as fast as Anthony Joshua. He throws four, five or six and maybe the first one or two might miss, but three, four, five and six will get you. Someone of my size and stature [6ft 3ins] - that could really hurt me. I’m not in this business to end up permanently hurt and fighting Anthony Joshua could possibly do that to me.”

Following his unexpected win over Haye at the O2 Arena, Bellew toyed with retirement – still in love with the sport, but worn down by the glare and intensity of the media spotlight.

“I was very close. If the truth been known [my missus] wanted me to stop. And she would be happy if I stopped,” Bellew, 34, told BM. “Listen, I ain’t fighting for money no more without sounding too pompous and up my own arse. My future and my kids’ future are secure. I’m fighting for the sport and the belief I could become heavyweight champion of the world.

“There are still fights at cruiserweight that I like and unifying the cruiserweight division is something I’d like to pursue as well. I’m fighting purely for legacy fights. I’m fighting because I want to make history. If it’s not a big fight, I could still walk away, but I do like the ring and the sound of ‘Tony Bellew heavyweight champion of the world’.”

Bellew, who maintains he can still make 200lbs with a clean diet for 12 weeks, has impressed as an analyst for Sky Sports but does not, at this current time, believe this to be his future career path after boxing.

“In all honesty, no. Don’t get me wrong, I do love talking about boxing, but I don’t like this fame game,” confessed Bellew. “I don’t like this celebrity kind of tag. I don’t like being followed or being looked at to set an example for people or someone to look up to – because that’s not me. I’m just a normal lad. I hate this fame stuff. I understand it needs to take place now, but when my career’s over I plan on disappearing for six to twelve months and letting it all calm down again. I love talking about boxing and will continue to do so while I’m fighting, but when it’s over that really could be the end of me. I’m hoping that financially I can make enough so I can just disappear - to come off this lifestyle and media thing that follows me around. I don’t like it all.

“It’s not nice when you go out to do a bit of shopping with your children. My eldest son said [recently]: ‘I don’t want to go because they are just going to hassle you all day’. I felt terrible when he said that – it made me feel like crying because I’ve worked very hard to get where I’ve got and I’m very proud of myself for what I’ve done but when my own child doesn’t want to go with me because he’s getting harassed…I can’t even go out and have a meal. I’ll stand and pose for a hundred pictures at a time if that need be. I’d just like some kind of privacy back where we can enjoy ourselves as a family and do nice things. I’ll be honest them days have gone. I think they will come back if I have a little break and go out of the media spotlight. But in the [present] situation they won’t.

“It’s great to give my boys a head start in life and it has its pros and cons. I’m very fortunate to do what I’ve done. There is a downside to it. You wouldn’t understand it unless you’ve been through it, especially for someone like me. I hate saying no to anybody or anything. So I never do say no and that can cause problems – I enjoy living a normal life and there are times I can’t do that.”

But Bellew’s story is an overwhelmingly positive one, fulfilling a childhood dream by winning a world title on the grounds of his beloved Everton Football Club as well as a successful foray into acting with a lead role in the hit movie ‘Creed’ and now unlikely heavyweight glory. And the journey isn’t over.

“It still seems like a dream,” admitted Bellew. “I’m not somebody who believes in the hype [of fame]. I don’t get caught up in it. I don’t allow myself. I don’t look back and think I have done this or I done that – I focus on tomorrow. I’m a normal fella who has worked extremely hard to pursue his goals and just tried to prove the best living he can for his kids. I haven’t really had five minutes to sit back and reminisce on what I’ve done. I’ve just carried on working non-stop and my plan is to continue on doing that right to the end.”