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Tony Bellew’s Mission Impossible

Matt McGrain

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It is my opinion that boxers who insist they are going to “take his soul” when discussing a forthcoming opponent can be placed in one of two categories: group A, which is formed exclusively of Bernard Hopkins; group B which is formed entirely of people who don’t understand what it is they are saying.

So Tony Bellew seems bound to join either the former, very exclusive group, or find himself among the unknowing and which way the nut turns depends on his contest with no less a figure than Oleksandr Usyk, a Ukrainian genius pound-for-pounder with a record of 15-0 and the undisputed cruiserweight champion of the world, whose soul Bellew has promised to capture.

“The man’s the biggest monster in boxing, second only to Lomachenko,” Bellew states, but also believes that he will “break his heart.”

It is reasonable for Bellew (30-2-1) to back himself in this way, not least because he is a professional fighter. More than that though, he is on a very decent run across the cruiserweight and heavyweight divisions.

Bellew was beaten thoroughly by Adonis Stevenson back in 2013, struggling with the weight as a light-heavyweight and apparently with his best behind him. Even his best had seen him ranked no higher than seventh by the TBRB.

So many were surprised when Bellew embarked upon a ten fight winning streak that has yet to be ended, not least because after much celebrated back to back stoppages of David Haye the lugubrious Liverpool man retired and turned his gig as a broadcaster for a British sports television company from part time to full time. Bellew, who had achieved a legitimate ranking as a heavyweight behind these two wins, walked away at what was arguably the absolute peak of his career.

That was until he tuned in to watch Usyk’s fight with Murat Gassiev, a fight which was to crown the undisputed #1 cruiserweight in the world and which was, on paper, a close contest. Usyk out-classed Gassiev in a non-competitive one-sided rout and when he had a microphone pushed in front of his face he did what fighters do and called a prospective opponent out.

“I was retired,” as Bellew put it. “Then he said my name.”

Usyk’s selection of Bellew as a prospective opponent made total sense to me at the time. As Bellew put it, “I’ve got what he wants, a name in the UK.” This is a good read from Bellew. Usyk not only called out a British fighter, he signed with a British promoter in Eddie Hearn. Hearn is perhaps the shrewdest operator in promotion today and signing Usyk must be seen in the light of Hearn’s association with world heavyweight kingpin Anthony Joshua. Usyk has been clear for the past two years that when he comes to heavyweight he wants Joshua and he thinks he can beat him. What did Eddie’s signature of Usyk mean for the heavyweight division? Was be being signed to keep him out of Joshua’s ring, a move as old as boxing? Or was he being brought in to ease the matchmaking between the two; was Usyk getting exactly what he wanted?

Before any of that could be properly addressed, a complication emerged.

Bellew-Usyk wasn’t being made at heavyweight. It was being made at cruiserweight.

“He wanted it at heavyweight,” says Bellew. “I gave him a flat no…I’ve got what he wants, a name in the UK, he’s got what I want, them four belts.”

Bellew got his way. Whether it’s because of his existing relationship with Eddie Hearn, or because of Bellew’s name recognition in the British market (the fight is to take place this Saturday in Manchester), the fight was made at cruiserweight rather than heavyweight. There would be no exploratory contest with a small heavyweight for Usyk. He was instead to defend his cruiserweight belts.

Bellew, who had nearly 240lbs sitting on him when negotiations began, has already lost most of them.  As of this week he is three pounds above 200lbs and barring disaster is set to make weight comfortably – probably. Occasionally an older fighter, as Sweet Science readers will know full well, can hurt themselves during weight-making and not realize the disaster that has occurred until the bell. Bellew is thirty-five, and although he’s no punching bag, he’s been through it.

Usyk, of course, has been fighting fit at 200lbs for years, having never weighed in at more than 206lbs for a professional contest. This is just the latest and possibly greatest advantage that Usyk enjoys. He is faster, more fluid, more technically assured, he is better balanced, has better footwork and more variety. Stacked against this is Bellew’s greater experience (balanced by Usyk’s amateur pedigree), power, home support, and, according to the man himself at least, heart.

To be fair, this is not a short list and fighters have done more with less; nevertheless it is a fact that the last TBRB ranked contender Bellew dispatched was Ilunga Makabu, who was the world’s #7 cruiserweight back in May 2016. In the intervening thirty months Usyk has by contrast defeated Krzysztof Glowacki (2), Marco Huck (3), Mairis Briedis (6) and Gassiev (2), all in their own boxing homes.

Probably it’s fair to scratch “home support” and “experience” from Bellew’s list of advantages then. This leaves him with power and an alleged superiority in heart. To be fair to him, Bellew has the more proven heart of the two but the fact that a litany of high class opposition has failed even to test Usyk’s tells its own story.

The Ukrainian then, is an overwhelming favorite. When trying to establish just how big an upset a given victory would be I always ask myself what would be said if the underdog won; what volume of internet geniuses would be saying “I told you so!” and more importantly, why?

The only chink in the armor of Usyk in this respect is the Briedis contest. Briedis, who boxes Noel Mikaelian (aka Noel Gevor) at the top of an interesting card in Chicago this weekend, “succeeded in making every round close” but that “Usyk was the clear winner in the great majority of them” according to my coverage of that fight. Most people who want to make Bellew’s chances real point to that contest as the one most in support of their position.

But Briedis troubled Usyk – and the fight was rendered a split decision in Briedis’s native Riga, so whatever my card says, “troubled” is a reasonable word – not by way of pressure and heart (though he showed great bravery) and certainly not by power-punching; rather he tried and failed to out-touch Usyk, to take advantage of Usyk’s perceived lack of power by dialing back the weight of his own shots and trying to out-pop and out-work him.

The idea that Bellew will throw more shots than Usyk in this fight is ridiculous. The idea that he can outland the Ukrainian is preposterous.

And I don’t think he’ll try. Bellew will take the pain while keeping the pressure on and looking to land big hard punches, probably to the body. He may even have some success. But I think a responsible corner would end up pulling Bellew after nine or ten. David Coldwell, who handles Bellew, is an excellent cornerman but he may succumb to Bellew’s ultra macho attitude and “never give up” brand. It’s probable and it is worrying to me that Bellew quitting two rounds before his media career becomes permanent is absolutely impossible due to wider considerations. It may fall to a reluctant referee, then, to pull the injured party late. Barring that I think we are looking at a wide unanimous decision for Oleksandr Usyk.

Because in the end, Bellew may be right: Usyk really may be the second best fighter in the entire world.

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Looking at the Heavyweight Calendar (Odds Review)

Miguel Iturrate

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Joshua vs Ruiz

This past Saturday night saw Deontay Wilder’s WBC world heavyweight title defense against Dominic Breazeale go down on Showtime. The fight lasted just 137 seconds as Wilder floored Breazeale with a cannonball of a right hand to end the night early.

With Wilder out of the way, Anthony Joshua vs Andy Ruiz Jr is up next. They meet June 1st at Madison Square Garden. Two weeks later, on the 15th of June, ESPN+ will deliver Tyson Fury vs Tom Schwarz, so fight fans will get a look at all three members of the “Big Three” all in a month’s time.

Wilder’s erasure of Breazeale this past weekend sent a message to the rest of the division as well as giving him a highlight reel to show during upcoming negotiations. Wilder entered a strong -1000 favorite at the sportsbooks for this fight.

Check out our pre-fight review of the Wilder vs Breazeale odds right here at TSS –

http://tss.ib.tv/boxing/featured-articles/57588-wilder-vs-breazeale-odds-review

Looking forward, the odds posted for Joshua and Fury’s upcoming tussles are even less competitive. Let’s take a look at what the books are giving us as we await the two big Brits fighting in the USA.

Madison Square Garden – New York City – Saturday, June 1, 2019

Heavyweight 12 rounds –

Andy Ruiz Jr +1500 Over 6½ +100

Anthony Joshua -3000 Under 6½ -130

Ruiz Jr is 32-1 overall with his lone loss coming at the hands of Joseph Parker in a failed WBO world title bid. That same WBO belt is now in the hands of Joshua as are the WBA and IBF belts.

Joshua was a big favorite over Jarrell Miller, his original opponent, who was denied a license in New York after testing positive for a buffet of steroids. Ruiz Jr took the fight with less than a full training camp, but you have to believe that he is going to come in highly motivated. Ruiz Jr has been caught at a different type of buffet, the all-you-can-eat kind, but even when in the best of shape his body type isn’t “poster boy material.” Miller was big and bulky as well, but he was a near 300 pounder whereas Ruiz Jr will come in between 250 and 260 pounds, which is right around Joshua’s size. Rather than slaying a 300-pound giant, he is facing a guy who is shorter and fatter than him, making it very hard for Joshua to look great on paper.

At +1500 will people bite on Ruiz Jr? He is more experienced than Miller and he is probably a better fighter overall and though he is facing a formidable champion, Joshua is not a finished product. Perhaps Joshua will be chasing an early finish, feeling the pressure of Wilder’s performance, and if so will he make a mistake that Ruiz can exploit? We are roughly 10 days from finding out.

MGM Grand Garden – Las Vegas, Nevada – Saturday, June 15, 2019

Heavyweight 12 rounds –

Tom Schwarz +1800 Over 9½ -105

Tyson Fury -3600 Under 9½ -125

Tyson Fury closes out the run of top heavyweights with a very deliberately chosen showcase fight against Tom Schwarz. Schwarz is 24 years old and 24-0 but he is a fighter who has come up on the regional German scene and as the old boxing cliche goes, there are levels to this game.

Former contender David Haye mounted a 2016 comeback, booking fights against Mark De Mori (30-1-2) and Arnold Gjergjaj (29-0). It took Haye precisely 6:42 to dispose of both of them, and though Fury is a completely different beast than Haye, the level difference between he and Schwarz may be even as striking.

Wilder has gotten through his “challenge” and if Fury and Joshua also emerge as winners as expected, it will leave several open questions –

– Will Fury vs Wilder 2 happen first, or will Wilder vs Joshua go down first? Could Joshua and Fury meet and freeze Wilder out?

And….

– Will we see any of these fights take place in 2019?

If Joshua or Fury stumble, it will only add to the chaos in the heavyweight division. But if the professional oddsmakers know anything, it isn’t likely to happen.

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Three Punch Combo: An Early Look at Inoue-Donaire and Under the Radar Fights

Matt Andrzejewski

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Inoue vs Donaire

THREE PUNCH COMBO — This past Saturday, Naoya Inoue (18-0, 16 KO’s) punched his ticket to the bantamweight final in the World Boxing Super Series when he impressively knocked out Emmanuel Rodriguez in the second round of their scheduled 12-round fight. The win sets up a showdown with veteran Nonito Donaire (40-5, 26 KO’s) who punched his ticket to the final with an impressive knockout of Stephon Young last month.

As expected, Inoue has opened as a monstrous favorite in the betting markets. While this suggests a one-sided wipeout, I have some other thoughts.

Inoue is pound for pound one of, if not the, hardest puncher in the sport today and put that power on full display in his destruction of Rodriguez in the semi-finals. But having enormous power does not make him indestructible.

In watching that fight against Rodriguez, there were clearly flaws on display on the defensive side of Inoue’s game. For one, Inoue does not move his head at all and as such can be hit. Rodriguez landed several clean punches on Inoue in the first round. And Inoue frequently keeps his hands low looking to bait opponents into throwing to set up counter opportunities. It has worked so far but could be something he pays for down the road.

Donaire is a smart and skilled fighter and though he is 36, his last few fights have shown that he still has plenty left in the tank. Moreover, he possesses one thunderous left hook and has always been at his best when fighting below 122. He has all the capabilities to expose Inoue’s flaws and a left hook that can alter the course of a fight as we have seen him doing plenty of times in the past.

Unlike a lot of people, I do not consider Donaire to be another layup for Inoue. There is real danger in this fight for Inoue if he does not make changes to his game. Donaire has starched big punching rising stars before and I would not discount his chances to expose the significant defensive flaws in Inoue’s game.

 Under The Radar Fight

Boxing returns to ESPN on Saturday with a card from Kissimmee, FL headlined by 130- pound champion Masayuki Ito (25-1-1, 13 KO’s) who is making the second defense of his title against former US Olympian Jamel Herring (19-2, 10 KO’s). While I think this should be an excellent fight, the co-feature, which is flying deep under the radar, should be even better.

In this fight, former two division world champion Jose Pedraza (25-2, 12 KO’s) makes his return to the ring after losing his lightweight title to Vasiliy Lomachenko in December to face Antonio Lozada (40-2-1, 34 KO’s). Given their respective styles, this fight at the very least will provide plenty of sustained action.

Appropriately nicknamed “The Sniper,” Pedraza at his best is a precision puncher. A boxer-puncher by trade, he uses subtle movement inside the ring to create angles that are used to land sharp power shots on his opposition. He is also a very good inside fighter and will shift around on the inside to once again set up just the right angle to land his power shots with maximum efficiency. But despite being a good inside fighter, Pedraza has a tendency to stay in the pocket a bit too long which leaves him open to getting hit.

Lozada is best known for his upset TKO win against one-time blue-chip prospect Felix Verdejo in March of 2018. However, he failed to build momentum off that win and is coming off a lackluster split draw his last time out to 12-7-1 journeyman Hector Ruben Ambriz Suarez.

Lozada certainly does not have the technical proficiency of Pedraza. He is slow and plodding. But what he does bring to the table is relentless pressure combined with a high volume of punches. He will press forward, recklessly at times, winging punches consistently hoping to wear down his opposition through attrition.  As such, he tends to get hit a lot and can be involved in shootouts.

Cleary, Pedraza is the more skilled fighter, but given Lozada’s all-offensive mindset as well as Pedraza’s willingness to stay in the pocket, the leather is all but guaranteed to be flying from the opening bell. Neither are big punchers either so I suspect we see a fight that goes rounds providing many exciting exchanges and one that could certainly steal the show on Saturday.

Another Under The Radar Fight

Also on Saturday, Fox Sports 1 will televise a card from Biloxi, MS featuring a crossroads fight between former 154-pound champion Austin Trout (31-5, 17 KO’s) and former US Olympian Terrell Gausha (21-1, 10 KO’s). But it is another 154-pound fight on the undercard that is receiving almost no coverage that I want to highlight. It pits Chordale Booker (14-0, 7 KO’s) against Wale Omotoso (27-3, 21 KO’s).

Booker turned pro in 2016 after a successful amateur career and has kept up a fairly busy schedule. He is coming off a dominating 8-round unanimous decision over veteran Juan De Angel in January and now is taking a big jump up in his caliber of opposition in facing Omotoso.

Booker, a southpaw, likes to press forward behind a stinging right jab. He possesses elite level hand speed and likes to use that jab to set up quick power punching combinations. Booker is also an excellent counter puncher and possesses a very potent right hook coming from that southpaw stance. He will often hold his left low to bait his opponents into opening up to set up counter opportunities. However, he has also been clipped by his share of left hooks fighting in this manner and this is something he will need to tighten up against Omotoso. So just how will Booker respond to Omotoso’s pressure and heavy handed body attack? Depending on the answer, we will either see Booker step up to the next level or get exposed. And that’s what makes this fight so intriguing to me

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Serhii Bohachuk KOs Mexico’s Freddy Hernandez in Hollywood

David A. Avila

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in Hollywood

HOLLYWOOD, Calif.-Super welterweight prospect Serhii Bohachuk got his first taste of upper tier boxing from Mexico’s Freddy Hernandez and gave him his best Sunday punch to win by knockout.

Bohachuk (14-0, 14 KOs) showed the excited Hollywood crowd he’s more than ready for former world title challengers like Hernandez (34-11, 22 KOs) or maybe even the current contenders with an exuberant display of pressure fighting at the Avalon Theater.

The smiling Ukrainian fighter has been steadily attracting fans to the 360 Promotions fight cards.

Trained by Abel Sanchez, the lanky and pale Bohachuk – whose nickname “El Flaco” fits perfectly – always moved forward against Mexico City’s Hernandez who has made a reputation of being crafty despite the strength of competition. With Bohachuk constantly applying pressure the Mexican fighter used the first round to touch and feel his way around the Ukrainian bomber.

In the second round a sharp counter right floored Hernandez who quickly got up and resumed the contest. It looked like the end was near until Hernandez caught Bohachuk with a solid right cross. It was a warning shot well heeded by Bohachuk.

Both fighters exchanged vigorously in the third round with the Ukrainian fighter’s youth a definite advantage. Hernandez was able to display his fighting tools more effectively in the third round but could it be enough?

Bohachuk was clearly the heavier-handed fighter but was finding it difficult to connect solidly against the Mexican veteran. But in the fifth round Bohachuk lowered his gun sights and targeted the body with a left hook that dropped Hernandez.  The fight was stopped by referee Wayne Hedgepeth at 1:40 of the fifth round.

Other Bouts

A battle of super featherweights saw Rialto, California’s Adrian Corona (5-0) rally from behind to defeat Florida’s Canton Miller (3-3-1) by split decision after six rounds.

Corona had problems with Miller’s speed in the first two rounds and was unable to track the moving fighter’s direction. But in the third round Corona began to apply more aggressive measures against Miller and was especially effective with lead rights. The momentum changed quickly.

Miller switched from orthodox to southpaw and it served to pause Corona’s momentum, but he seldom scored with solid blows. Though Miller landed quick soft blows, Corona was landing with strong shots and convinced two of the three judges that he was the winner by 58-56 twice. A third judge saw Miller the victor by the same score 58-56.

“It’s not my job to judge the judges,” said Miller. “It’s my job to just fight.”

Corona was happy with the victory.

“I could have put the pressure on him a little more,” said Corona. “It was a very technical fight and he put on a great fight.”

Other Bouts

George Navarro (6-0-1, 2 KOs) knocked out Cesar Sustaita (3-5) with a perfect overhand right that disabled the senses and forced referee Raul Caiz Jr. to halt the fight at 1:37 of the first round.

“I worked hard to prepare for this fight,” said Navarro.

A super bantamweight clash saw Humberto Rubalcava (10-1, 7 KOs) knock out Daniel Constantino (3-3-2) and win by knockout after a flurry of a dozen blows went unanswered. Referee Angel Mendez stopped the battering at 1:39 of the first round.

Photo credit: Al Applerose

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