Two fights with Welshman Cleverly
Tony Bellew and Nathan Cleverly first met in 2011. This was the biggest fight of each fighter’s career to date, with them both being undefeated going in. To make it even bigger, this was for the WBO world lightweight title and it took place in Bellew’s home turf at the Echo Arena in Liverpool.
It was a very close fight between two evenly-matched boxers. This was a very personal bout and they fought tooth and nail right until the very last bell. It went to points and to Bellew’s disappointment, he lost via majority decision. One judge called it 114-114, but Cleverly did enough in the eyes of the other two judges, winning it 116-113 and 117-112.
Bellew was not too downhearted about the defeat and the British duo met again three years later, this time in the cruiserweight division. The move up in weight was much more in Bellew’s wheelhouse as he bullied Cleverly in a pretty dull fight and won via split decision. This was a very bitter rivalry and a lot of trash talk was thrown around between the duo. Bellew was now ready to move forward with his career with bigger and better things despite the fight being a snooze.
Bellew demolished by Canadian heavy-hitter
Bellew was at his natural weight at cruiserweight and he looked a much better fighter for it. He got a few wins under his belt, which included the rematch victory over Cleverly. He worked his way to another world title shot, this time for the vacant WBC cruiserweight title. Grigory Drozd vacated the belt, and Bellew was tasked with fighting Illunga Makabu for the strap.
To make this even bigger, the fight took place at Goodison Park, the home of Bellew’s beloved Everton.
Following the first defeat to Cleverly, Bellew fought his way to a mandatory position for the WBC light heavyweight title. This came after a second win against Malawian fighter Isaac Chilemba.
This was Bellew’s second opportunity at a world title and sadly it ended in another defeat. This was his final fight in the light heavyweight division, and he did not look healthy at all. He struggled to make weight and this showed in the fight itself. Stevenson was in complete control, winning by TKO in the sixth round.
Bellew was only awarded a single round on the scorecards from all three judges. It was here Bellew decided to end his career at lightweight, as he moved back up to cruiserweight. It was at this point his career moved to the next level.
Career vindication at Goodison Park
All of his career was leading to this point. It was definitely a make or break for the Evertonian. Makabu was a dangerous opponent and the enormity of the occasion got to Bellew in the first round. An out-of-nowhere left-hand dropped Bellew at the end of the round after he was piling the pressure on Makabu.
Bellew’s trainer and close friend Dave Coldwell was going ballistic during the break with his boxer fighting very erratically. Bellew came out in the second round far more composed, picking his shots nicely and trying not to get caught with another unnecessary shot.
But the fight exploded in the third round. In the opening minute Bellew caught Makabu with a flush left-hand which rocked the African. Makabu was on the ropes and the onslaught started. Punch after punch went in until an unbelievable left-hand knocked Makabu clean out as his hometown crowd burst into celebration.
There were brilliant scenes as Bellew’s family and friends flooded into the ring. All of the toil over his career was vindicated as his lifelong goal of becoming world champion was realised in emphatic fashion.
Grudge fights with Haye
Next up was a fight with BJ Flores, a close friend of David Haye. Bellew absolutely demolished Flores and immediately set his sights on a heavyweight fight with Haye. To say there was an ugly build-up to the Haye fight would be quite an understatement.
There were fights during press conferences, and very unpleasant insults going each way. Anticipation for the eventual fight was growing stronger as it drew ever closer. Even though Bellew was getting the better of the build-up and was seemingly in Haye’s head, not many gave him a chance of beating notorious knockout merchant Haye.
The fight was on a knife edge until the sixth round, until Haye broke down with an injured ankle. Bellew took control from here before eventually stopping Haye in the 11th as his trainer Shane McGuigan threw in the towel. Haye showed a lot of bravery to keep going as long as he did, but Bellew deserves all the credit in the world for being well in control of proceedings to shock the nation.
A rematch was inevitable, but it was delayed twice due to injuries to each fighter. The fight eventually took place on May 5 at the O2 Arena in London. This time around, Bellew took control much earlier in the fight.
Haye was clearly way past his best as he was knocked down three times before it was stopped in the fifth round. Bellew was now deservedly becoming one of the most well-respected and liked fighters in the country.
His down to earth nature and grind was paying off as his career was nearing its conclusion, as he received the biggest purses of his career to date.
Bellew's farewell at London's O2
In the meantime of all the shenanigans with Haye, Oleksandr Usyk won the Muhammad Ali Trophy and unified the cruiserweight division in Bellew’s absence. Bellew never lost his belt, as he vacated it in chase of a fight with Haye. After Usyk beat Murat Gassiev to unify the division, he picked Bellew as the man he would like to fight next. It was a long process to make it, but the fight was eventually announced for November 10 at Manchester Arena.
This was Bellew’s last hurrah as a pro-fighter as he insisted he would retire after fighting Usyk, no matter what the result would be. Usyk was the heavy favourite going in, as he was rightly considered to be one of the pound-for-pound best.
It was close for much of the fight, as Bellew fought very well for the opening few rounds. But as the fight went on, Usyk was coming more to life and landing more impactful punches. Usyk is not known to be one of the biggest punchers, but he is relentless in his work and it will eventually take its toll on whoever his opponent is.
This was the case with Bellew. The Evertonian kept coming forward, but he was throwing more wildly as the rounds went on, while Usyk kept landing more flush punches. This continued until Bellew was dropped in the eighth round after a combination of heavy left-hands.
The ending of this fight brilliantly summed up Bellew’s career. He never gave up as he bravely made it up before the count, before the referee put a stop to the contest.
Bellew reportedly earned upwards of £4million for this fight, which he no doubt deserves for his years of graft and commitment to the sport. He retired with a record of 30 wins, one draw and just three defeats from his 34 professional fights.
He had secured his family’s future and won a world title, which is all he ever wanted from the sport. He achieved everything and more he ever wanted in boxing, so he could leave the sport with his head held high after a brilliant career.