I know that Tony Bellew divides opinion among boxing fans, but I’ve known him a long time and feel that I have got to know the “two Tonys”—the one promoting a fight and the human being behind the one you see on your TV screens—and he is a wonderful person.
People often talk to me about Tony, asking me what he is really like, so I tell them that if I went to a nightclub with my wife and it was full of people like Tony then I wouldn’t have to worry about our safety—he is a lovely man.
In fact, Tony is one of the top three or four people I’ve ever met in the world, not just in boxing: he is caring, unselfish and a decent human being. He’d be the perfect next-door neighbour. That said, when the cameras are on and he is selling a fight he becomes a different person, as you’ve probably seen for yourselves.
You can see the switch happen right before your eyes on fight night. Gary, his best mate, sees it happen and says ‘Everyone out’ leaving me, Gary, Dave [Coldwell] and Tony in the dressing room to prepare—maybe his dad too on some nights. You see him switch on at that moment—it is a privilege to witness that change in mindset.
After Billy Graham retired, I was in and out of the sport for a while. Now I’m firmly back in the fold, and it was Tony who made the call to ask me to be part of his team. I had some massive nights with Ricky Hatton, but Tony’s WBC cruiserweight title win over Ilunga Makabu was one of the biggest nights I’ve even been involved in. It was like a real Rocky movie. He got knocked down then got up, he got back into to it and scored the knockout himself. It was great for Dave, Tony and for Tony’s family entire family.
That’s the Tony I know, the man and the fighter, so just bear in mind that fighters have to sell fights and often adopt a persona to do that, but, when you get close to the man himself, Tony is a wonderful person and a real credit to the sport. Let’s enjoy him for as long as we can.