Oleksandr Usyk Ices Tony Bellew, Setting the Course for a Heavyweight Run

Now he can target Anthony Joshua

Oleksandr Usyk’s colosseum is the road. No theatre of war has ever daunted him, and in the cauldronlike atmosphere of the Manchester Arena last night the Ukrainian superstar once again dismantled a beloved local hero, this time in Britain’s Tony Bellew, to remain the unified Cruiserweight Champion of the World.

Few have a record quite like it; since winning his first title by beating Glowacki in the Pole’s back yard in 2016 he has toppled Marco Huck in Germany, Mairis Briedis in Latvia and Murat Gassiev in Russia to pick up all of the division’s belts. Anyone expecting him to be discouraged by the furore of an English bear pit was in for a shock.

The build-up to this fight saw Bellew completely revamped, thanks largely to his wins over the remnants of David Haye. His promotional team went into overdrive, casting the limited Liverpudlian as an unstoppable, maniacal wrecking ball, with a left hook from hell who no punter should ever write off.

And for the first few rounds the hype looked almost justified, with Bellew boxing well on the back foot and landing solid counter rights with his back against the ropes.

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In truth, though, this was a period of the fight the Ukrainian seemed content to give away as he assessed how best to devour his prey. Usyk’s footwork put Bellew under pressure from the first bell, and with a left hand cocked to await detonation he used a beautiful jab to gauge openings in his opponent’s defence.

That an immediate walkover wasn’t evident surprised many, and the Brit wasn’t without his successes. This was probably the best Bellew has boxed in his professional career, implementing excellent movement and quality feints to outfox his classy opponent. In the fourth round a stinging right cross got the champion’s attention, and sent the crowd into raptures, but Usyk looked far from rattled. Still, rounds were slipping away in favour of the challenger and few could hide their glee.

Midway in and the champion was beginning to ease his way into the fight, landing with increasing regularity as fatigue took hold, but it still seemed a tentative approach against a man so clearly inferior.

When the salvo finally arrived in the eighth round it was spectacular and utterly brutal. Bellew, now breathing hard, struggled to find an escape route from those impeccable Ukrainian feet, and Usyk pounced. A long hard jab teed him up and a huge left hand finally landed with sinister intentions before Bellew even saw it approaching.

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The effect was emphatic, the Brit collapsing to the canvas as his head bounced off the bottom rope. By the time the referee had waved it off Usyk was already grinning in admiration of his own barbarous handiwork.

This appears to have been Tony Bellew’s last fight, though his presence within the Matchroom camp as a trainer is almost certain, with Eddie Hearn a huge fan of his influence on the stable’s younger fighters. Having achieved three back-to-back PPV shows and an unlikely world title the scouse hero can look back on a career in which he squeezed every drop of talent out of himself and embraced every last opportunity. He deserves huge credit for even agreeing to take on this sublime opponent when easier big money fights were on offer.

For Usyk a step up to heavyweight now seems set in stone. His status as the greatest ever cruiserweight is perhaps only challenged by the legendary Evander Holyfield, a man whose own success in boxing’s blue-ribbon division he’ll hope to replicate.

The prospect of a mega fight with Anthony Joshua is mouth-watering, and this performance will have only added credence to those who believe he has everything required to win. Will Wembley Stadium simply be more enemy territory for Oleksandr Usyk to conquer? This invasion looks unstoppable.

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