Updated: Aug 7, 2019
This historic clash at the Manchester Arena between Oleksander Usyk (15-0 11KO) and Tony ‘Bomber’ Bellew (30-2-1 20KO) has been discussed endlessly since it was announced in September and rightly so. This truly is a landmark occasion for British boxing, a statement that has been echoed by promoter Eddie Hearn, who has stated this fight is “the biggest and best fight we have ever promoted.”
The Manchester Arena has seen some glorious nights over the years, playing host to arguably Ricky Hatton’s finest hour when he beat Kosta Tszyu in 2005 then a year later fans witnessed one of Joe Calzaghe’s best performances against Jeff Lacy. More recently it has seen local hero Anthony “Million Dollar” Crolla win and defend the WBA lightweight title. Saturday night, however, is another level all together.
(Hatton vs Tszyu June 2005)
Oleksander Usyk arrives in Manchester as the current holder of the WBO, WBA, IBF AND WBC Cruiserweight titles as well as the Ring Magazine belt, a strap that many consider the most prestigious in boxing and understandably, Usyk is considered one of the finest boxers on the planet. The enigmatic Ukrainian superstar has simply dazzled inside the ring during his first 15 fights.
Claiming the WBO title in just his 10th professional outing the decorated amateur transitioned to the professional ranks in spectacular fashion. He claimed the coveted Ali Trophy by winning the World Boxing Super Series in July 2018. A feat that cemented him firmly at the top of the Cruiserweight rankings.
(Uysk becoming undisputed champion)
Usyk’s performance, in the final especially, was exceptional as he dismantled the ferocious punching Murat Gassiev in Russia. Notably, Usyk has made habit of defending his titles in his opponent’s home country, yet another example of how he refuses to conform to the tried and tested traditions in boxing.
The 2012 Olympic gold medallist has equally impressed outside of the ring on his first trip, as the fighter, to the UK since turning professional. He has been cool, calm and collected and has not appeared slightly fazed by Tony Bellew’s subtle attempts to rile him. Usyk, 31, has been happy to conduct interviews and interacted with fans with a smile never being too far from his face.
‘Bomber’, arrives on Saturday having continuously declared this fight as his last before retirement. He plans to dethrone the king and bow out of the sport on top. It would take a brave man to bet against the Liverpool native who has proved the boxing public wrong more than once during his career.
After claiming the WBC cruiserweight title May 2016, Bellew, 35, moved to heavyweight, were he became household name on the back of his two legacy defining fights against David Haye on Sky Sports Box Office.
Viewing numbers alone prove how much of a draw the charismatic scouser is in Great Britain. Many believe the commercial value of Bellew is the reason he was the first name out of Oleksander Usyk’s mouth minutes after he unified the division in July.
It is no secret that Usyk is eyeing up a future bout up at heavyweight with superstar Anthony Joshua (22-0 21KO) and this bout is the perfect opportunity to display his credibility to the British boxing public. Although the reward for winning this fight could be life changing, he faces the toughest test of his career to date in the shape of Bellew despite the fact he is coming back down to the 200lb limit for the first time since October 2016.
Usyk is the more naturally talented boxer, however, he faces a man who is unbeaten in 5 years, and has knocked out 8 of his last 10 opponents.
As his record at cruiserweight suggests ‘Bomber’ does punch extremely hard and many suggest his only chance of winning, is to knock his Ukrainian counterpart out with his trademark ‘left hook’
However, it is easy to forget that Bellew was a very capable amateur himself and as a professional, he collected various domestic belts with ease before winning the EBU title against the very capable Mateus Masternak. He then knocked out heavy handed African, Illunga Makabu to claim his world title despite hitting the canvas in the opening round.
(Bellew beating Makabu to become WBC cruiserweight champion)
Bellew has seen everything the sport has to offer, he has had highs and lows, got up off the canvas and came from behind in fights to emerge victorious. His experience cannot be purchased but ultimately, Usyk could prove himself to be the ‘once in a generation’ fighter many believe he is on Saturday. However, ‘The Bomber’ possess skills that warrant the Ukranian’s full respect.
The final word should go to Tony Bellew. If this truly is his last bout as a professional boxer, he should be remembered for what he has contributed to British boxing. The sport has experienced a phenomenal boom over the last couple of years and “The Bomber’ has played a bigger part in that growth, than most.