He wants the fight beaten out of him.
He wants boxing beaten out of him.
By Sunday, November 11, he desperately wants to part ways with the sport.
Oleksandr Usyk seems the perfect candidate to perform the operation that Tony Bellew needs to cure him of carrying on fighting. Bellew challenges Usyk for the undisputed cruiserweight title on November 10 at the Manchester Arena. This is Bellew’s final act, his farewell as he bids adieu to something that saved him from continuing to work in a pillow factory and standing on nightclub doors in Liverpool as a teenager.
It must end. For his own sanity, perhaps. He is ready to call it a day. He needs a break from being Tony “Bomber” Bellew the fighter, Sky Sports pundit, and media personality. He needs to return to normality with his wife and family. He feels selfish spending so much time away from loved ones. His year has been traumatic, his family needs each other more than ever after the death of his brother-in-law Ashley last September.
“I need boxing to leave my soul,” said Bellew during a lengthy interview after another hard day’s grind in the gym. “I hope he [Usyk] takes a piece of mine because I’m going to take his. I just hope that this is a hard-enough fight to do that to me. I hope I wake up on Sunday, fingers crossed I’m healthy, we’re both very healthy after the fight, and I wake up Sunday and I go ‘I’ve had enough’. Let me tell you it’ll never happen in the fight. But I need that to happen on the Sunday and I’m fucking praying it does because the last thing I need here is to go in and blitz someone in two or three rounds and it’s not over—it’s got to be over on November 10.”
Bellew isn’t cocky or confident enough to believe that he can perform such a feat against a man who could very well be unbeatable. “I’m fighting a fighter who is better than me, but I’ve got to do what works for me so that I can beat him. I’ve done it many times, but when you’re at this level and you’re fighting guys who are world-class, elite-level fighters, then you’ve got to accept you can lose.”
This is the sort of harsh reality that you come to expect from Bellew. What he says is what he thinks, and the no-bull attitude isn’t something he has merely adopted from the sport. He is a product of his environment. He didn’t just fall into boxing.
“I’m from an area that little cunts were at and I was a little cunt. I was fighting from a young age. I didn’t stumble across working on nightclub doors either—with bulletproof vests, firearms, and all them kind of things.”
Everything that he has experienced, good or bad, has made the man we see today. He doesn’t suffer fools, has no time for those who blame others refusing to take responsibility for their downfall.
First impressions might easily put you off Bellew. His heart and personality are of equal size, and that can be too much to handle for some. His detractors have grown, always willing to put the man down because of his opinions or what they see in his fighting abilities. Those close to him know how far he will go for them. He doesn’t take a cent from Craig Glover, a Liverpudlian cruiserweight whom Bellew manages.
“So many pieces of shit in boxing who are saying: ‘Yeah, I’ll manage you, but I want 20 percent.’ Twenty percent for what? Making a few phone calls for a kid? Unless your hands-on then 20 percent for what? Just give someone some help. If you done well in life, then great; but you shouldn’t have to bleed people to feed yourself. It’s fucking horrible.”
This is another element of the sport that has shown Bellew it is time to leave. He’s not being forced, he’s not being pushed, but the time is right—but not before the lure of taking all those belts from Usyk.
Bellew admires Usyk. Their sparring many years ago proved to Bellew how special his Ukrainian foe was. “He was absolutely outstanding,” Bellew recalled. “His style, his rhythm, but that’s amateur boxing and he’s never changed.”
Bellew has changed. He has mellowed. He’s now a veteran. He’s no longer the skeletal light heavyweight who Adonis Stevenson put down five years ago. A different fighter, a different man.
Winning, losing, written off, betting favorite, betting underdog, cut, winning fights from behind, knocking people out, being knocked down—everything has been thrown at him. Trainer Dave Coldwell, a former pro himself, was already a friend of Bellew’s and came on board after the loss to Stevenson. Coldwell was the man for the job and he already knew what was good, what was not, and what they could improve. Coldwell was a man who could upbraid the big Scouser and he would listen.
“You got greedy!” Coldwell told his man so memorably at Goodison Park when Bellew rolled over backward after Illunga Makabu floored him in the first round. Then came the third round—and Bellew was the WBC cruiserweight champion.
For all the successes, however, Bellew would exchange it all to have his brother-in-law Ashley back. In all honesty, despite all the talk and hyperbole, Bellew says he doesn’t care about this weekend’s fight. He’ll deal with it on the night. His heart still aches for his and his family’s loss last year, which occurred while Ashley was on holiday.
“I would like to think I have, but I don’t understand what grieving is because I feel like I grieve every day,” he answered when asked if he has really had a chance to do so.
“Little things: a song comes on, I see a picture. There is not a few hours that go by where it doesn’t enter my head. And everyone just tells me ‘Time’s a healer;’ well, I’m still waiting. I don’t know. If I feel like this and I struggle like this I can’t even imagine how my wife feels because I know she hides it from me. My sister-in-law, she’s the same. I know his mum and dad… I can’t even imagine to think how bad they’re feeling it. We all just get on with it, day to day, but it’s just so heartbreaking to deal with, it really is.
“I can’t explain the horror it’s done to my family. It’s the worst thing I’ve ever been through in my life. I’ve lost people before. I lost my boxing coach at a younger age, that was very hard, it broke my heart. I’ve lost grandparents but losing a young brother… it’s the hardest thing I’ve ever had to deal with in my life. It really is. To carry on through training camps, fighting, your mind occupied that some fucker wants to beat you up is hard to get your head round and deal with what you’re going through emotionally.”
Such a loss can be dealt with the support of friends and family. When you are alone, it’s something else. And Bellew has felt that during camp. Loneliness isn’t something he enjoys but it’s part of the job and has toughened him up even more. During such times, he watches Netflix, he goes to the cinema on his own. Too much time to think doesn’t do anyone any favors.
“I’ll sit in my hotel room and cry. You just do. When you think about the shit that’s gone on you just do,” he admitted.
At home it’s different. Bellew the father and husband is in his element. The fighter is left behind, the soft touch kicks in, and he happily yields to his kids’ demands. That’s the normality he wants to return to. To wake up each morning knowing that roadwork is not on the horizon, sparring young bucks looking to take your head off isn’t part of the plan, and knowing that bread and fizzy juice needs to be avoided for dieting concerns.
One final camp. One final fight. He wants to wake up on Sunday as undisputed champion. He will give the media a couple of days to do their thing and then he is changing his phone number. He knows what will come his way in those forty-eight hours if he can dispose of another favorite. More offers, more money, more pay-per-view… a chance to fight for a heavyweight title? The head of Sky Boxing, Adam Smith, wants him to carry on as a pundit regardless of what happens.
Who knows? As long as he is healthy then the future will take care of itself. Bellew will still appear at the odd show cheering on his friends like David Price and Anthony Joshua. He’ll still be passing on his pearls to gym-mates Jordan Gill, Anthony Fowler, and the McDonnell twins, Jamie and Gavin.
“I say to them, ‘Where’s your dream going to take you?’ Start telling people it’s going to happen now. I was telling people I was going to fight at Goodison when I was fifteen years old. I’m not fucking good enough to play football there so I’m definitely going to have a fight there one day and people used to laugh at me.”
Bellew has already had the last laugh. He wasn’t meant to become world champion—even his European title fight against Mateusz Masternak was viewed as a fifty-fifty affair. Ovill McKenzie gave him hell for the British light heavyweight title in 2011, Isaac Chilemba gave him a headache at times during their two fights. What took place beyond all of that was not supposed to happen. Now he’s fighting someone who is already in the running to be the greatest cruiserweight of all time.
Not bad for a lad who, for some, was only ever going to be fat and mouthy.
“I’m just someone who’s made something of himself and done okay. I could not go into a University and talk to people. Who am I to talk to people? Clever people who are leading good lives, and I suppose not all students are like that but the vast majority of them fuckers in University live life the right way. The good way. They’re living life by a good code. I didn’t come from that code. I had to work my way to that. I struggle to look at myself as a role model for anyone outside my catchment, where I’m from. That’s just what I struggle with. I struggle with fame. I hate it. I hate the fact that people think I’m something that I’m not.”
Bellew could easily be the subject of a book. Why not? They all do it. Hatton, Haye, Froch, Calzaghe, and so on. Bellew’s story could well eclipse them all. Publishers have already approached him. He’s been offered a fortune, but he wants his past buried. He doesn’t want his children reading about the “mad shit” that their father used to get up to long before his name was in lights as a fighter or even in a spin-off to the Rocky franchise.
“Some things should just remain private,” Bellew says. “I’ve done some bad things in my life, some fucking horrible things which I regret doing which we all have, I’m sure. I’d have to be honest in the book. I’d be locked up! I’d have the police at my door at some stage [laughs]. I’ve done some things I’m not proud of in my life, I’ve done some bad things, I’ve done a lot of good things, I’ve helped a lot of people over the years as much as I can.
“Some stage in life we’ve all seen mad shit we shouldn’t have seen. And I seen the stuff at the young age. I wouldn’t want to talk about my lifestyle in that way. I suppose someone would say, ‘But it would be great for you to do that, so a younger generation can see the things you’ve done, the things you’ve been through and look at how you’ve come out the other end’. Yep, maybe. But then I don’t want my kids to think that’s what I was. My kids will never know what I’ve been, what I’ve done, what I’ve done to earn money. A part of me does want to do a book but a part of me doesn’t want to drag the old me up. I just want to forget about it and bury it in as deep a place as possible and enjoy what I’ve become and what I’ve made, and I’ve made a great life for myself and I’m proud of myself for that.”
One final run now. And whether you love or loathe Bellew, his character and exploits will be missed and remembered. It’s too easy to write him off because he’s not, in many ways, your typical boxer. But neither is Oleksandr Usyk. This Saturday night most will be tuning in believing the fight is a foregone conclusion; but you will be tuning in and there will be a bit of ‘What if…’ inside you.
You want to watch Usyk. We all do. But in the other corner will be a man who knows how to upset the odds, defy the experts, and prove people wrong. He also wants boxing beaten out of him for his own good. It’s madness, but you wouldn’t expect anything else from Tony ‘Bomber’ Bellew.