On Saturday night, in the hothouse of the Manchester Arena, Tony Bellew will tackle Ukrainian Oleksandr Usyk for the unified Cruiserweight championship.
A fight that offers Bellew the chance to etch his name alongside predecessors in British Boxing folklore with whom the self-effacing “fat lad from Liverpool” will be the first to insist he has no right to be compared.
It has been this paradox, the deeply held certainty of victory despite simultaneous acknowledgement that the other guy holds all the advantages, that has been the narrative of his rise from peripheral domestic fighter to pay per view attraction and, albeit briefly, world champion.
His flair for providing sound bytes, coupled with his roguish, blue-collar charisma, forged in no small part by his days on the nightclub doors of Liverpool as a teenager, has brought him fame he doesn’t really want and a singular place in the psyche of the British public.
This renown, and the significance of the fight, ensures all the best boxing bookmakers are offering a host of markets on the fight.
Bellew’s self-belief is infectious. It lodges with the listener, and it grows, almost silently as the fight nears.
With the evidence of his two victories over David Haye, who was convinced to pause his pursuit of Anthony Joshua in a bout initially dismissed as a joke, it is no longer possible to write off Bellew’s chances. No matter how insurmountable the odds appear.
On Saturday, he faces a fighter who is a better combination puncher, younger, fresher, quicker with his hands and his footwork, who fights at a high pace and has a style that, whilst hard to define, offers no apparent weaknesses for Bellew to exploit.
Bellew holds no significant reach or height advantage, will not be significantly heavier on fight night despite his forays to the heavyweight division, and is facing a man with a similarly unshakeable self-belief.
There isn’t an obvious flaw in Usyk’s mercurial style either. He is heavy handed, busy and can fight from the outside, inside and is unflinching in exchanges.
And it is only there, when Usyk comes inside to launch a flurry of punches, that I see a small window of opportunity for Bellew and where, I suspect, he will seek to snatch victory.
Bellew, 30-2-1 (20 KOs), is not an explosive puncher, but he is especially potent with the left hook and once he makes a breakthrough, as he did against Makabu to win the WBC belt in 2016, he will not relent.
If he makes a breakthrough against Usyk, whether it is the first minute of round one or much later in the fight, he will gamble ‘the house’ on getting the stoppage.
So the opportunity for victory for Bellew rests on timing that left hook; catching Usyk as he ducks and rolls beneath the double jab Bellew will be throwing, then forcing a stoppage. Timing is key.
For the ambitious investor, a Bellew stoppage win is available at 6/1 with Betway and will offer entertainment value to those who like to watch the fights and cheer for the underdog.
Usyk, 15-0 (11ko), like his stable mate Vasily Lomachenko, a mercurial, ‘once in a generation’ type fighter, has many more routes to victory.
He punches in varied combinations, shifts attack from head to body and visa versa with aplomb, is fit, busy and aggressive.
His quicker hands will cause Bellew tremendous problems, and Bellew will struggle to get his punches off to counter as he tries to protect himself from the flurries of heavy shots the Ukrainian throws.
He is accustomed to travelling to the opponents ‘backyard’ too, his last four fights in Russia, Latvia, Germany and America have followed this model.
He won them all. And his Olympic gold medal, which reveals his amateur pedigree too, was won in London in 2012. Manchester Arena with 20,000 braying Englishman will hold no fear for the champion.
I think the most likely outcome is a Usyk victory and I foresee early dominance, as Bellew struggles to throw punches into the blizzard of leather coming his way.
I sense, in the last fight of his career, Bellew will eventually gamble to try and find that breakthrough.
Usyk’s sharper shooting and greater range of punches will overwhelm him and force intervention from Terry O’Conner, an official of naturally protective disposition by the way, somewhere between 5-7 rounds.
Usyk to win rounds 4-6 is available at a market leading 6/1 with Betfair, and 16/1 for round 5, 14/1 round 6 is worth interest too.
On the undercard, one of Manchester’s favourite sons, Anthony Crolla, returns for one last run at the Lightweight world title picture.
He faces Daud Yordan, an Indonesian fighter who tends to lose at world-class level over the distance. The obvious pick here is Crolla on points, though there isn’t much value available backing that outcome. The best you’ll find is 8/13 with BetVictor.
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