Tony Bellew had defied the odds before.
Once a light heavyweight contender, Bellew had gone 0-2 in world title tries, losing a decision to Nathan Cleverly in 2011 and a one-sided TKO to Adonis Stevenson in 2013. At 31 when he lost to Stevenson, it pretty much looked like we’d seen the talkative Liverpool native take his best shots and come up short. A good fighter, but just not quite at that true world level.
Bellew, though, soldiered on, moving up to cruiserweight after the loss to Stevenson and winning six straight bouts, including a rematch against Cleverly in 2014, to earn a shot at the vacant WBC cruiserweight title in 2016 against Ilunga Makabu.
In front of a loving home crowd at Goodison Park, Bellew got off the canvas in round one and stormed back to stop Makabu in the third round, winning a world title.
After a successful defense against BJ Flores, Bellew looked to surprise again, going up to heavyweight to face David Haye in 2017. Bellew once again beat the odds, stopping Haye in the 11th round, partly due to Haye suffering a ruptured Achilles in the sixth round, leaving him a sitting duck the rest of the way.
With there being some level of doubt about the Bellew-Haye outcome, the two rematched 14 months later in 2018. This time there was no Achilles injury, and Bellew put Haye away in five, sending Haye into retirement.
While all this was going on, Oleksandr Usyk was rising through the ranks after winning gold at the 2012 Olympics as a heavyweight (201 lbs). The Ukrainian, boasting terrific skills, won a world title in his 10th pro fight, beating Krzysztof Glowacki on the road in Poland in 2016. He would win five more fights, including three bouts in the World Boxing Super Series, en route to becoming the undisputed cruiserweight champion of the world.
Usyk (15-0, 11 KO coming in) was a big favorite over Bellew (30-2-1, 20 KO coming in), but Bellew was going for one more bit of glory. Moving back down in weight is never easy no matter the class, and what’s more, Usyk was simply a better boxer than Bellew — and with due respect to Bellew, by a fair bit.
But Bellew would give it his all at Manchester Arena on Nov. 10, 2018, throwing everything he had at Usyk and boxing as effectively as one could have reasonably predicted he would.
The game effort wasn’t meant to lead to a win, though. Usyk knocked Bellew out in the eighth round, while trailing on all three score cards at the time of the stoppage.
It would be Bellew’s last fight, as he had no more shots to take, no more he could reasonably hope to achieve in the boxing world. But he left a bit of a legacy for himself, and he did more than most expected at the midway point of his career.
Usyk, of course, is still fighting, now chasing heavyweight glory himself. He’ll face Derek Chisora at some point this year, and hopes to fight for a world title in 2021.