Fail to prepare, prepare to fail – The motto by which Tony ‘Bomber’ Bellew lives by is as veracious as it is harsh, especially true in a profession where the sore lumps of failure are borne solely by the fighter. The bruises and burdens could not dent his passion in pursuit of his dream of becoming world champion, one that he finally realised in front of a sea of blue at Everton’s Goodison Park.
The proud Evertonian fashioned his hard fighting style in Liverpool’s Rotunda Amateur Boxing Club, a style that led him onto winning three ABA titles and a 40-7 record with a slew of knock outs. His powerful blows thrown with bad intentions at his opponents landed him the nickname ‘Bomber’ he would go onto use as a professional.
Starting his career at light heavyweight, Bellew transitioned from the amateurs well, climbing up the ladder whilst stopping ten of his sixteen opponents before they were able to hear the final bell. His undefeated run had profited to bring him the British title as well as the Commonwealth title, and opened the door to a world championship contest between Welshman Nathan Cleverly at home in Liverpool.The first of their two bout affair, Bellew set a fast pace, fired up by the Liverpool crowd. Thudding shots would hurt Cleverly throughout the earlier rounds who kept his guard held high amidst Bellew’s onslaught. But still remaining standing after Bellew’s storm began to wane towards the latter stages, he gained the confidence to box Bellew with jabs and combinations, as Bellew’s fatigue slowly became increasingly evident.
As the final bell brought an end to the world title fight, the crowd quietened for the first time, anxiety etched on the faces of many in the stands. One judge scored the bout even. The remaining two judges scored it in favour of Nathan Cleverly awarding him a majority decision win and crowning him the WBO World Light Heavyweight champion to the deep disappointment of Bellew and his fans.
Devastated by the loss, the passionate Liverpudlian showed courage amidst adversity, by not giving into the anguish of his losing his first opportunity at snatching the greatest prize in boxing. This quality that epitomises many great championship fighters, is one that would allow Bellow to rise after every fall.
Fortifying himself mentally, Bellew re-embarked on his campaign to by winning his next two fights with the same knock-out power-punching he had displayed throughout his career. A bout with the durable Argentine Roberto Bolonti followed and ended with a wide unanimous decision for Bellew, in a fight where he dealt two knock downs to his tough and rugged opponent.
His next two bouts were both versus Isaac Chilemba, a Malawi native fighting out of South Africa who by account of his negative style, found not many opponents willing to face him. Chilemba, a highly adept defensive fighter frustrated Bellew in the first bout, skilfully evading many of Bellew’s punches throughout the fight. However, it seemed as though Bellew had done enough in the opening half of the fight and through the middle stages to earn a victory, but the judges scored the bout a controversial split draw.In their second fight ten weeks later, Bellew found Chilemba again fighting with his usual awkward style, refusing to engage him in the toe to toe battles that Bellew loves. Chilemba was holding more in the second bout and now Bellew used his opponent’s reluctance to engage to win a greater number of rounds across the course of the fight. This time around, the judges scored it unanimously in the Bellew’s favour, a victory that won him his second shot at a world title after a two-year journey.
The champion who he would face now would be the rank number one light heavy weight, southpaw Adonis ‘Superman’ Stevenson. Adonis had learned to fight on the streets of Port au Prince, Haiti before moving to Quebec, Canada. A fighting talent that would be quick to land him amidst the gangs of the Canadian underworld. Convicted at the age of twenty-one, he spent eighteen months of his four-year sentence inside for a string of convictions. The powerful puncher also added to his sentence whilst incarcerated by pleading guilty to aggravated assault of an inmate that punched them into a coma.
Twelve years after his release, and now firmly focused on a successful prize fighting career, the former convict would face Tony Bellew in Quebec in defence of his title. Both boxers were well known to be amongst the hardest hitters in the division and not many commentators saw the bout lasting to the final bell.
In a thrilling fight, Stevenson employed good tactics against Bellew by targeting his body and chest early in the bout, lowering Bellew’s guard with repeated assaults with his left hand. Bellew had success of his own hitting Stevenson with hooks and straight punches in the exchanges, that caused blood to run from the nose of Stevenson.
In the fourth round Bellew returned an assault by Stevenson with one of his own, landing several times causing the Haitian to tumble to the canvas. The referee ruled it a slip after the fighters’ feet had tangled.
The action continued furiously in the sixth with Stevenson stabbing a punch into the midriff of Bellew, following it up with a swift straight left hand on the chin which caused Bellew to fall to the canvas. After beating the count, the Haitian pressed Bellew, eventually finding a home for a thunderous and heavy straight left hand that made unsteady the legs of the Evertonian. A second left came behind it that reeled Bellew’s head to the side and brought an end to the bout as the referee stepped in to stop the fight.
Following failure in his second attempt at a world title, a change was in order. Bellew made the decision to move up in weight to the cruiserweight division, where he would not have to make so many demands of his body to make the weight limit. He urged continued belief stating his punch resistance would also improve as he would be fighting at a more natural weight.
Defeated only on paper, the indomitable Bellew continued his search for a world title.
In two vengeful displays following his loss, Bellew sought to make clear his intentions by stopping two veterans of the division, Valery Brudov and Julio Cesar Dos Santos, in the twelfth and fifth rounds respectively. He became only the second man to stop Brudov and the first to stop Dos Santos.
Now it was time for Bellew to seek vengeance against his former foe Nathan Cleverly, in a highly anticipated domestic dust up. Eager to get at each other, the fighters did not hesitate in letting their words go before their fists had legal opportunity, heightening the needle of the affair. By the time the first bell was to ring, the crowds and viewers were as eagerly baying for the beginning of the fight.
The battled resumed in the thirteenth round, the animosity held by both boxers clear. They fought behind their jabs in the early rounds, neither fighter wanting to make the first mistake that would be capitalised by his opponent undoubtedly. By the middle rounds, Cleverly’s tactic of fighting on the back foot began to falter, as his punches were not able to keep the ‘Bomber’ from his advance.
Beginning to walk through the leather thrown at him, Bellew turned it into just the rugged, inside fight he enjoys. A talent in itself, fighting on the inside offered him the opportunity to rough up the Welshman in the corner and against the ropes.
Towards the end of the fight the greater strength of the Evertonian began to show, buoyed by home support, he bullied Cleverly onto the ropes for the majority of round nine. Up till the final bell, he kept creeping incessantly forward behind a barrage of punches, however his accuracy not being equal to his endeavour. The fight finished raggedly as Cleverly continued to hold Bellew, who would not stop throwing even with his opponent trying to tie him up.
For a second time, the contest between Tony Bellew and Nathan Cleverly would be decided on the scorecards. In a moment of redemption for Tony Bellew, the judges awarded him a close split decision win.
Now firmly on track towards a third title shot, Bellew was riding high following his win in the ring, as well as performing a lead role in a Hollywood movie ‘Creed’ in his debut as an actor.
In what had now begun to form a pattern, Bellew proceeded to stop his next to opponents before the final bell and positioned himself in a fight versus the highly experienced and durable Mateusz Masternek of Poland.
The Polish slugger met a newly inspired Bellew in the ring in London’s O2 arena. With renewed ambitions and so close to another chance at a belt, Bellew would brawl with furious intensity. He dug deep to take the best coming his way and retaliate with heavier punches of his own.
By the end of the bout, Bellew’s pressure had caused the engine of the Pole to become exhausted. Masternak courageously stayed on his feet to hear the final bell and the judges’ verdict. They scored unanimously for Tony Bellew who was crowned the European champion.
Bellew’s patience and determination would soon pay off. Barely five months after his gruelling fight with Masternak, he would receive the third opportunity he had been longing for.
Achieving a childhood fantasy, Tony Bellew would be fighting for the WBC World title at the home of his beloved Everton Football Club, at Goodison Park. His opponent aiming to squash his dream would be Ilunga Makubu, the Congolose knock-out machine. A compactly built, powerful puncher with good uppercuts, Makubu vowed to silence the city of Liverpool with a stoppage of his opponent, and one that he nearly fulfilled.
The fight was fought in front of tens of thousands of Liverpudlians, blue scarves and shirts creating a living, breathing sea that would cheer and encourage their man. After a memorable entrance that featured the Toffees’ theme tune, the fighters took their respective places for the bout to begin, as the sea of blue continued bellowing its support for Bellew.
Round one was a back and forth affair. Bellew found himself landing good punches whilst pressing forward onto the tough Makubu, who was always looking to counter. In the final moments of the first round, Makubu fired a combination of punches that ended in a shattering straight left, breaking the nose of Bellew who rolled backwards onto the canvas.
Shock cries of every person in the stadium instantly rallied Bellew back to his senses, stoically rising ready to fight on. No time to exact instant revenge, the bell called an end to the opening round. Dave Coldwell in Bellew’s corner urged him to fight with more caution, and not get greedy from the success he was having as it may cost him his dream.
Taking the advice of his trainer, Bellew boxed with more caution in the second. Blood now leaking from his broken nose, Bellew boxed on the back foot. A cold mask etched on his face, all the years spent patiently awaiting his shot would provide him the discipline he needed now.
The world title fight that had started off ablaze with action was now simmering down, with Bellew forced to breathing through his mouth, throwing jabs at the flat footed Makubu. In the final twenty seconds, Bellew landed the only combination of the round that rose the home support to their feet.
But you can only keep two willing fighters at jab’s length for so long. After a minute of the third round the pair met in an exchange that reignited the flames of the fight. Bellew backed into a corner, responded by firing a series of thudding hooks on Makubu’s head turning the Congolese boxers attack to retreat, Bellew immediately giving chase.
With his opponent on the ropes, and the city of Liverpool roaring behind him, Bellew lined Makubu up with his jab and unloaded powerful straights and uppercuts with many hammering home. A cold mask still on his face, the only expressions coming from Bellew were flung in the form of leather bound bombs. A right hook caught Makubu’s chin as he momentarily stood square that forced his knees to buckle, and took the cacophony of sound within the stadium to find new heights.
As Ilunga Makubu buckled down behind his guard, Bellew fired a penetrating right hand that speared its way through the defences. A series of jolting right straights found thudding success as they snapped the head back of Makubu. Another series of punches from the now rampant Bellew shook Makubu further, swaying him with the force behind the blows. Clearly the punches of the Evertonian were having a devastating effect on his man.
In one final throw of the dice, Makubu now chanced throwing a left hook but already throwing one of his own was Bellew. Bellew’s had found its mark with precision, tipping the jaw of the Congolese fighter with the ease that comes with a clean punch. Makubu slumped to the side, hanging off the ropes as one final blow sent him crashing unconscious to the canvas, unable to hear the ecstatic Evertonians cry their rapturous applause.
Tony Bellew, sank to his knees overwhelmed in the centre of Goodison Park. In the only way he knew how, he went in fighting, rising from the canvas to stop his opponent and win the WBC World Cruiserweight title to the cries of the Toffees.
Achieving his dream, the proud fighter cemented his place on the illustrious roll call British world champions, and a Liverpool hero.
On the 15th of October, Tony ‘Bomber’ Bellew will be defending his world title in Liverpool’s Echo Arena against American BJ Flores, a durable fighter who has never been stopped. Bellew, now with a world title to his name will undoubtedly invite the American into his fortress at the Echo Arena, and show his city again what it means to be champion.
You can watch the fight on Sky Sports on the 15th of October, tickets available via Matchroom Boxing and StubHub.
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