Tony Bellew was stopped in the eighth round by the imperious, undisputed world cruiserweight champion Oleksandr Usyk, but the Liverpudlian summoned the classiest, most complete performance of his career against the master boxer from Ukraine.
The challenger tired after a brilliant start, taking the first three rounds, but Usyk purred into the contest thereafter and slowly took over to use his powerful left hands and retain the WBC, WBA, IBF and WBO titles, as well as The Ring Magazine belt.
Remarkably, according to the scorecards, Bellew was ahead by a round on two of the judges cards, but his modus operandi here was always to turn it into a fight, not a boxing match.
“You are the greatest fighter I have ever shared a ring with, you are a great champion, you beat me fair and square,” said Bellew afterwards. Classy to the last.
In a cagey opening round as the two 200lb fighters felt each other out for size and range, Bellew landed more punches, moving smartly to avoid the southpaw’s traps. The Ukrainian was immediately more active in the second, but it brought the fight to light with great vigour. Usyk landed a fine jab, a left hand, but Bellew stabbed to the body with his right and landed a left hook himself, shaking the crowd into rapture.
The Liverpudlian punched his gloves into his own thighs and urged his foe on for a fight, toe to toe, mano a mano. Bellew wanted war, and the champion looked ready to oblige. The third stanza saw the battle fully lit, Bellew looking to counter with big right hands to Usyk’s sliding jab and dangerous left hand. Then a big left did land flush on Bellew. “Nah”, he mouthed to the undisputed champion. It was Bellew’s steady aggression, strong jab and right hand which certainly had the respect of the Ukrainian.
Usyk won the fourth, in a compelling battle of big punches and clever avoidance – by both men – but once again it was belief, and no little strength and power, that had the champion cagey in attack, out of respect for the real-life Rocky Balboa.
A sign of the fight’s ultimate denouement came at the end of the sixth round when Bellew was wobbled momentarily on the bell by a left hand. In the seventh, Bellew took to a neutral corner on the ropes for a long period, seemingly needing to either rest or choosing to play possum to land a big counter right or left hook.
When the challenger finally landed a big left-right retort of his own, landing flush, Usyk dropped his hands this time, and waved his rival in for more. But Bellew, albeit in the shape of his life, was tiring. Usyk saw it, knew it, sensed it. Two left hooks wobbled Bellew in the eighth and it was a straight left and a left hook that put Bellew down to end the fight, the challenger’s trainer, David Coldwell, urging referee Terry O’Connor to stop what had been a compelling contest.
This was Bellew’s last fight. Thirty wins, three losses, one draw. The Liverpool fighter will go down as a folk hero in British boxing and gave every ounce of skill, effort, heart and desire against a champion who is already rated in the top five pound-for-pound in the sport, and looks destined to go on to be one of the great champions the sport has produced.
The victory eluded Tony Bellew, but it was a proud finish to a great career.
Anthony Joshua on the horizon
Exemplary stuff from Bellew in defeat, who kisses Usyk on the head and encourages the crowd not to boo.
He reminds the world that it’s the end of his career, and hands the mic over to the victor.
“You know what, I had the most difficult years of my life, and only after the rest will I speak about my future”
His promoter takes over.
“He definitely needs to fight Anthony Joshua.” Nothing cryptic about that.
“He beat me fair and square, I have no excuses.”
He is a great champion, the greatest man I have ever shared a ring with.”
Bellew embraces Usyk and the crowd cheer for the winner, that’s good to see. Bellew was ahead on two of the three scorecards going into the eighth rough, but again, he couldn’t have kept that up.
“He’s just better than me,’ says Bellew”
Just too good
Bellew’s tactics were spot on in the first few rounds, but you can’t keep that kind of intensity up for 12 rounds. In this case, it was just eight.
Usyk looked a little rattled after five rounds, but he really is a quality quality fighter.
Vicious from the Ukrainian. A wide left hand that followed a left cross was too much for Bellew.
Tears stream down the Bomber’s face. Nothing to be ashamed of, he fought perhaps the best rounds of his career in this fight but Usyk just too good.
Bellew Counted Out
There it is! The knockout blow that lays bellow down and he’s counted out. A valiant effort but Usyk just too good.
Usyk landing and Bellew knackered
Bellew tried to make that last round a dogfight, but Usyk is smarter than that.
Big left hand from Usyk and a beautiful jab. Bellew’s chin getting plenty of attention now.
Usyk bouncing around the ring. It’s unflinching stuff from the Ukrainian. He punishes any mistake, Bellew just cannot let his guard down as he did at the end of Round Six. Scary.
Bellew dazed and tired, but he manages a counter. Usyk smiles every time he’s hit and looks like a 70s bond villain. It’s scarier than when he’s doing the punching.
Bellew regains his composure but it’s single shots with little effect. He’s connecting but Usyk just smiles his way back on to the front foot.
Bellew is getting backed up here, and are we seeing the first signs of fatigue?
Bellew has put a lot more energy into these earlier rounds and you now the longer it goes on the more it favours Usyk.
Usyk has Bellew on the ropes but the bomber lands a good right hand counter.
Oof and Usyk lands a big shot on the bell, and Bellew’s wobbled there. A bad finish for the Briton.
Trainer Dave Coldwell to Tony Bellew: ”What are you doing? You’re playing to the crowd. You walked on to a stupid shot.”
Coldwell sets Bellew straight after some shoboating, and he plays it a little safer from in round five.
You do feel that Usyk is just getting going. Bellew over reaching as this round draws to a close, but there’s that counter again and he lands a left hook that has Usyk holding his mouthguard.
Usyk catches a left hook for himself, but Bellew gets a right. Another good round, but Usyk growing after a slow start.
Big left hand from Usyk and that’s the first real blow from the cruiserweight king.
Both fighters gunning for each other, no holds barred. Usyk looks unshaken from the first fewer rounds and this is much better from the champion. That’s more like it.
There! Big shot from Tony Bellew! This is breathless stuff. Usyk smiles as Bellew lands another right hook.
There’s real swagger about Bellew right now, but Usyk has gotten to him.
Usyk has Bellew pinned, but Bellew is countering well.
Ah, that’s careless from Bellew, and Usyk shows his pace with a fearsome jab. So little room for error.
Bellew with a shake of the head, that must’ve hurt. He gets himself back on the front foot, doing everything to avoid the southpaw’s big left. Boom, Usyk takes a jab straight to the face.
Bellew outfoxing Usyk at the moment. This wasn’t in the script.
Good shot from Bellew on the counter as Usyk dives in. He gets stuck into the body too with a looping jab. Usyk looking lively.
Some verbal sparring from Bellew as he implores Usyk to get stuck in and that gets the crowd going. Very confident from Bellew who gets stuck right into
Bellew took that round and made him pay for every hesitation.
Both fighters dance around each other in a tentative start – as expected.
Bellew grabs center ring and falls short of landing a few quick jabs. Pot shots from both fights. Both fighters relaxed and happy to find their feat in the first round.
Bellew just tempting Usyk in and catching his shoulder. No harm done.
Level playing so far.
There’s the bell.
Bellew vs Usyk
Pound for pound the best in the world, the undefeated, the undisputed, Oleksandr Usyk stands between Bellew and eternal glory.
Let’s do this.
Michael Buffer, is there a more iconic voice in sport? The master of ceremonies let’s the crowd know what’s at stake, helped by Usyk’s entourage who duly hold up the Ukranian’s many belts.
There it is, are you ready?
Let’s get ready to rumble!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
A Eurthymics Sweet Dreams mash-up sounds over the tannoy as Oleksandr Usyk makes the lonely walk to the ring amid a chorus of boos.
Are you not entertained?
Bellew is a performer, and he’s working the crowd here. He makes his way to the ring to the sound flanked by half a dozen men to the sound of Z-Cars – a perfect Evertonian entrance.
“Im looking forward to finishing up, I really am. This is the end, and you believe me, I’m going to go out with a bang. This is going to be the greatest night of my whole career.”
Crolla takes it 116-112
They battered eachother. Wonderful battle. Crolla will challenge for the WBA title all over again.
Now, it’s time for the main event…
Crolla vs Yordan
This is a fight worthy of the occassion. Into round 11 now and Manchester-born former WBA lightweight champion Crolla is well on top. He’ll take this on points, both fighters look exhausted.
Keeping us waiting
The undercard match between Crolla and Yordan is into round 10. The crowd getting good value for money, but we’l have to wait a little longer before the real ring walks.
Robbie Savage has been spotted in a crowd. He’d do alright if elbows were allowed.
Deep in thought
Big cheers in Manchester as the big screen shows Bellew in his dressing room. Looking stoic as ever.
What the fighters say
“Definitely yes. Tony is my best opponent ever.
“He is really dangerous. He is the same height, same weight. Look at his eyes – they are angry.”
Usyk and his promoter Alexander Krassyuk of K2 Promotions could not hide their laughter when trainer Dave Coldwell promised that his man, Bellew, hits hard enough to “knock out anybody”.
“I meet a man with exceptional talent. He has everything I have except one thing – I can switch someone’s lights out in one second.
“I learned that at school, and I can still do it now. I switch people’s lights off in the blink of an eye.
“I am about to take the biggest step that any British fighter has ever taken.
“I can lose this fight, he is very good, but I don’t think I will. I will beat him, stop him and break his heart.
“Time to let a monster catch a monster!”
What do you think will win?
Usyk is the big favourite tonight, but the man who has won against the odds so many times won’t pay that any attention. Bellew has strutted his way into this way with all the confidence we’ve come to expect from him, and he has the backing of his peers.
Amir Khan in Manchester tonight, and sitting about five feet from Kell Brook.
Watch out for potential handbags ahead of their anticipated fight this April.
The Bomber has called the fight the biggest challenge of his career, while Usyk says Bellew is his best ever opponent. The build up has been free of the petty dramas that often plague the sport, and the two fighters have been focused on the task at hand.
‘I will drag him into horrible places, places he has never been and I have no fear of him.’
Fighting talk from Bellew, the underdog tonight.
The main event at the Manchester Arena is under an hour away. 13 years ago it hosted Richy Hatton’s victory over Kostya Tszyu, a performance he described as his ‘Everest’.
Tonight, Bellew may face an even greater uphill struggle.
One last fight
All four world cruiser weight titles, and the sweetest of goodbye’s to the sport that made him a superstar.
That’s what’s at stake tonight as Tony Bellew faces sees off his professional boxing career against Oleksandr Usyk, the unbeaten Ukrainian who won gold in London six years ago, and who has unified the cruiserweight division.
He’s saved the best until last.
Stay with us for the big one.
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