Comment & Analysis @JamesDielhenn
Last Updated: 14/09/18 4:17pm
The menacing Oleksandr Usyk stares a hole through your soul but, in Tony Bellew, he might have found the only man in Britain whose heart won’t skip a beat, writes James Dielhenn.
Book Joshua vs Povetkin now
Early booking lines are open for the Wembley Stadium heavyweight showdown.
Who truly expected this from Bellew, when he was gallivanting at heavyweight with David Haye and the World Boxing Super Series was in full flow? He has, once again, taken on an almost ludicrously uphill challenge and deserves recognition for doing so.
He is perhaps a late bloomer, Bellew, someone whose most high-profile opportunities have arrived at a time when retirement is also a genuine option. The critics who have willed him to lose, then made excuses when he won, must frantically be typing their rationale for why Usyk will school him.
Ukraine’s Usyk is, make no mistake, the most difficult opponent of Bellew’s career. That includes his two skirmishes with Haye but he is now back at cruiserweight, where he will challenge Usyk for all four major belts in the first undisputed title fight on British soil.
Haye was a heavy puncher going into those back-to-back fights but nearing the end of his ride, whereas Usyk will arrive in Manchester on November 10 at his absolute peak. His resume, bluntly, is stunning and scarcely believable.
He won the Olympic gold medal on these shores in 2012 in the division below Anthony Joshua. He has had just 15 pro fights, less than half of Bellew’s, but won his first world title in his 10th outing in Krzysztof Głowacki’s home country of Poland. This started something of a trend.
His violent insurgencies into opponents’ countries have now become a part of boxing lore, and could continue just down the road from Bellew’s birthplace of Liverpool.
Usyk won the World Boxing Super Series by beating Marco Huck, Mairis Breidis and Murat Gassiev as the away fighter on each occasion, in a total of just 10 months. You want home advantage? No problem. Usyk will come to you.
The Ukrainian ended the tournament by unifying his WBC and WBO belts with the IBF and WBA, becoming the cruiserweight division’s first holder of every major title. He has been a pro for just five years, is only 31, and is unquestionably among the best five fighters on the planet.
And then there’s his eccentricity.
“I am feel, I am very feel,” shook the boxing universe to its core when Usyk terrifyingly muttered his broken-English response to the question: ‘how are you feeling?’
His gap-toothed smile, elaborate haircuts which pay homage to his ancestry, and love of dancing are all part of the Usyk story. Back-flips are commonplace in the ring for post-fight celebrations, and the social media clip of him and countryman Vasyl Lomachenko boogying at a wedding is hilarious.
Bellew, the great underdog of British boxing and a former WBC cruiserweight champion, will be aware of his visitor’s intriguing reputation and will not care a jot.
This fight came about because Usyk challenged Bellew moments after his last victory for a fight that cynics claimed the Liverpudlian would avoid.
“It’s Usyk or retire. That’s what it will be now. It’s only really the Usyk fight that gives him the buzz,” promoter Eddie Hearn told Sky Sports.
Bellew is the puncher in this fight. That won’t matter if, like Gassiev before him, he spends 12 rounds chasing shadows. But the power in Bellew’s left hook is what makes this interesting.
Bellew will note the hairy moment that Usyk endured when Gassiev clocked him. It was the only notable shot he received in that fight but it was a hard punch, and it hurt Usyk briefly. Bellew will have faith that he can do more damage, and he may well be right.
There is an indiscernible attribute Bellew possesses that enables him to find a path to victory despite giving up obvious advantages. He will never need that instinct more than when he fights Usyk.
Watch Joshua vs Povetkin, at Wembley Stadium, on September 22, live on Sky Sports Box Office. Book via your Sky remote or book it online here.
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