Tony Bellew’s final fight against undisputed cruiserweight champion Usyk spells the final chapter in the storied and eventful career of the polarising Liverpudlian. Perhaps the word polarising is a little harsh, as the once aggressive and mouthy scouser has mellowed with age and become adorned by the majority of the boxing public. Regardless of the public’s perception, he faces his stiffest test in a professional career spanning over a decade, when he takes on the supremely talented Usyk . The Ukranian was one of the best amateurs to have graced the sport, and since turning professional he has continued to impress with dazzling footwork, flashy combinations and a boxing brain rivalled by few. Usyk comes to England this Saturday night with four belts in toe, and a reputation that has him installed as a prohibitive 1.20 favourite over Bellew. But there is an unerring familiarity with this storyline – Bellew was supposed to have been crushed by monster punching David Haye in his last two bouts, but on both occasions he upset the applecart and scored decisive victories. Can he do it again?
TOP TIP! – 1 point win Oleksandr Usyk decision @ +175
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Before we delve into the particulars of this fight, it is worth taking a look at the respective journeys of Tony Bellew and Oleksandr Usyk. Bellew was a very good amateur at heavyweight, and with dynamite in both hands, he quickly earned the name ‘Bomber’. When turning professional, it was decided that the Liverpool native would cut down and compete at 175lbs, the light-heavyweight division. With a 6ft 3 frame and heavy limbs, the real fight for Bellew before each contest was with the scales – it was patently obvious to even the most casual boxing fan that it was killing him to make the weight. Despite depleting himself before each bout, Bellew managed to secure himself a world title shot against vaunted puncher Adonis Stevenson. That attempt was ultimately unsuccessful but prompted a move to cruiserweight in 2014. Bellew found the 200lb weight much more suitable and improved with every contest until he fulfilled a lifelong dream, winning the world title at the home of his beloved Goodison Park, knocking out African puncher Illunga Makabu. Since then Bellew beat BJ Flores and then secured his financial future with two huge paydays and victories against David Haye, with both fights up at heavyweight.
Oleksandr Usyk has been down a somewhat different path to Tony Bellew and has only been a pro for 5 years. A standout amateur, he won gold at the 2012 Olympic games in London, and big things were obviously anticipated in the paid ranks. He is yet to disappoint, and won a version of the cruiserweight title in just his tenth fight. Afterwards, he entered the World Boxing Super Series and defeated Marco Huck, Mairis Briedis and Murat Gassiev to lift the crown as the undisputed king of the division. It was, in particular, the way he dominated highly regarded Gassiev in the final that has had most boxing aficionados ranking the flashy Ukrainian towards the summit of their pound for pound rankings.
So just how do they match up stylistically? Well Bellew is a fundamentally sound orthodox boxer who is deceptively skilled and has good foot movement. Although he can seem to load up on it, Bellew’s left hook is a thing of beauty and has rendered many a foe unconscious. Bellew is not body beautiful, but is intelligent in the ring and his punch power often surprises opponents. Usyk on the other hand probably doesn’t possess that one shot and you are gone dynamite in his fists, but it would be foolish to give him a free shot, that much is certain. A high-volume southpaw with fantastic variety and angles, he really is a difficult fighter to try and prepare for. What is the way to counteract what Usyk does? Well as a pre-requisite, good footwork is essential. Without the ability to pivot and move quickly, any fighter will be cannon fodder for the Ukranian phenom. Fortunately, as mentioned, Bellew is fleet of foot, so that is a start. Power is essential to get Usyk’s attention and again that is something Bellew possesses, although he will have to be cuter than just looking for the left hook all night, as that will be expected. Finally, it is important to break Usyk’s rhythm, and fight dirty if necessary to put him off his game. Of course these are all big asks, but stylistically, Bellew matches up with Usyk better than the vast majority of top cruiserweight fighters out there.
In order to have success, it may be best for Tony Bellew to fight cagily early, moving around the ring and trying to avoid engaging with Usyk. He is a fantastic counter puncher, but is not unhittable, and by frustrating him early, Bellew could potentially throw him off his game plan. With all of this being said, it is easier said than done. There is a reason Usyk is an undisputed champion after just 15 fights and the likelihood is that he will come out with his hand raised. Naturally there doesn’t appear to be value in the win only market, but there does seem to be an overpriced selection. Usyk is favoured to win the fight by stoppage as opposed to decision, but looking back at his last six fights, and we can see he has gone the distance on four occasions, with the other two fights ending in the ninth and tenth rounds respectively. Bellew can be hurt but has the heart of a lion and will do everything in his power to stay on his feet in front of his fans. William Hill are currently +175 on the Usyk decision and we like the look of those odds.
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