SAN DIEGO, Calif., November 10, 2018 – The outcome of the cruiserweight title fight in Manchester, England was no surprise. Oleksandr Usyk of Ukraine (16-0, 12 KOs) won via a vicious eighth-round knockout over Tony Bellew of Liverpool, England (30-3-1, 20 KOs) in front of a disappointed partisan crowd at the Manchester Arena Saturday. Usyk retains his IBF, WBA, WBC, and WBO cruiserweight belts.
Boxing’s GPS coughed up a different route to the results than many expected. Bellew avoided the highway to hell for much of the fight, taking Usyk on a winding road for the first few rounds. Bellew fought like a man with nothing to lose. He came at Usyk with wild angles and was willing to take a chance throwing punches.
In those early rounds, Usyk stayed patient and disciplined. The southpaw worked behind the most versatile jab in boxing, chipping away at Bellew. Bellew won the first few rounds of the fight. Though Ringside Seat had it even after four and even after six, a variation of a few rounds wouldn’t have been an outrage. Without a doubt though, Bellew was in the fight and giving his fans a lot to cheer.
Usyk stays patient and stays on target
But there is a reason Usyk is one of boxing’s few undisputed champions. As Bellew began to run out of tricks, Usyk’s pure boxing skills began to take over. He started to close the distance. He used his above-average speed and exceptional timing to start catching even the craziest shots Bellew threw.
In the sixth round, Usyk buzzed Bellew with a hard left hand, buckling Bellew’s knees. But he didn’t pause, and he seemingly absorbed the pain. But it was a road sign for what waited around the next bend for Bellew.
After seven rounds, Bellew was ahead on two of the scorecards, but Usyk was beginning to take rounds with increasing ease.
And then, just like that, it was over in round 8 courtesy of a perfectly placed left hook to Bellew’s head. He went down hard to the canvas, and there was no need to count him out. The punch surely makes the short list for 2018 Knockout of the Year.
An emotional Bellew had nothing but praise for his victorious opponent after the fight, warmly embracing him and kissing him to the forehead.
“I tried to go for it, I tried to get him,” said Bellew. I don’t even know what he caught me with. He’s so hard to pin down. I fought my very very best, he’s just better than me. “You’ve got to accept it. Oleksandr Usyk is pound for pound material. He’s slick, he’s strong, and he’s exceptional. Give him credit … I have nothing but respect for him.”
“Thank you Tony, thank you Manchester,” replied Usyk in the ring. “The good champions become that with good opposition,” said Usyk in a nod to Bellew.
“I knew he would do it like that, he has nothing to lose,” said Usyk of Bellew’s go for broke style.
Next stop for Usyk: the heavyweight division
Is Usyk now bound for the heavyweight division? Initially, he begged off answering. “You know what, I had the most difficult year in my life. I want to relax, spend time with my family, and after the rest I can speak about my future,” said Usyk.
But promoter Alexander Krassyuk of K2 Promotions was far more forthcoming. “We can do much in boxing. Bringing Usyk to heavyweight will bring new spirit to the heavyweight division, and he needs to fight Anthony Joshua.” When quizzed again about the prospect, Usyk said, “Of course, I will have another extra pasta for dinner.”
“We are just common human beings. We need to put goals in front of us, and we need to head toward them,” explained Usyk.
Make no mistake, Usyk took the Bellew fight as part of a long term strategy. “ I did enjoy my stay in the UK. Now I know the citizens of Manchester. My best-loved country is England. Most of my dreams came true here. I became an Olympic champion, and fought at cruiserweight,” said Usyk. If all goes as planned, he’ll be a more familiar foe when he inevitably steps into the ring against British boxing hero Joshua.
Is Tony Bellew really heading for the exit?
As for Bellew, now 36, he vowed this would be his last fight before he retires. But don’t be surprised if the ring’s siren call and the voice of the fans call Bellew back. He put on a valiant effort and won a lot of respect in this defeat. Perhaps there’s one more fight in Bellew.
“I’m so pleased people got to see the real Tony Bellew,” said promoter Eddie Hearn of Matchroom Boxing. “He used to be a loudmouth who couldn’t make weight. Usyk will go down as a true great of the sport in my opinion, but he’s also a great human being. He finally went out the way he deserves. He goes out knowing he didn’t duck anyone. Tony Bellew deserves all the credit in the world, and he’s a wonderful individual.”
Usyk, age 31, is virtually a shoo-in for 2018 Fighter of the Year. He unified the cruiserweight division and scored a Knockout of the Year entry in a fight he didn’t have to take. There isn’t much left for him to do in the cruiserweight division. He is by far the best cruiserweight since Evander Holyfield, and boxing history may anoint him the greatest ever before he’s finished at 200 pounds. Without a doubt, bigger things lie ahead for Oleksandr Usyk.
Gayle Lynn Falkenthal is an award-winning boxing journalist covering the Sweet Science for Communities and for boxing fans worldwide. Read more Ringside Seat in Communities Digital News.
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