Tony Bellew meets Isaac Chilemba at the Echo Arena in Liverpool on Saturday and victory could lead to a second world title opportunity against RING and WBC light heavyweight champion, Chad Dawson.
Bellew, THE RING’s No. 10-rated light heavyweight, fought brilliantly against WBO titleholder Nathan Cleverly in October of 2011, but came out on the short end of a majority decision. The Liverpool ace disputes his only career defeat but, for the moment, has left Cleverly behind to pursue a mandatory position with the WBC.
Since his first loss, the ferocious punching Bellew (19-1, 12 knockouts) has mixed power with underrated boxing skills to halt two of his last three opponents. He also continues to be one of the most engaging and complex fighters in Britain with a fistic persona reminiscent to that of former two-division champ Nigel Benn.
As with “The Dark Destroyer,” a fierce humanity exudes from Bellew and a sense that, as a combatant, he enjoys living on the edge. Outside the ring he remains a loyal family man with a close network of friends and his honesty, on any subject you care to mention, can be as shuddering as the punches he lands to end a fight.
In May of last year Bellew split from promoter Frank Warren, due to what he perceived to be breach of contract and legal proceedings followed. Bellew, who has since signed with Eddie Hearn at Matchroom, was extremely vocal on the subject when many would have hidden behind an expert legal team. The discontinuation of his contract was upheld by the British Boxing Board of Control and an independent panel of lawyers.
The case was dropped at the beginning of this month.
“The Bomber” is now fully focussed on his career and is targeting the best at 175 pounds. An impressive victory over Chilemba, THE RING’s No. 7-rated light heavyweight, will likely lead to a spot on the huge Carl Froch-Mikkel Kessler show scheduled for May 25th at the O2 Arena in London. Slip ups aside, Bellew should then find himself in the same ring as “Bad” Chad Dawson, an opponent who has been in his sights for almost a year.
RingTV.com spoke to Bellew about Dawson, Chilemba, the ageless Bernard Hopkins and more.
RingTV.com: You suffered a terrible cut against Roberto Bolonti but remained composed and won every round. You were initially disappointed that you didn’t stop him but, with time to reflect, are you pleased with what you accomplished in those circumstances?
Tony Bellew: Considering the severity of the injury I was very happy with the outcome. I had to switch from one game plan to another and was able to shut him out easily and win every round. Bolonti was ranked No. 5 with the WBC and I was able to do a real job on him. Nobody had beaten him like that
RTV: You did quite a bit of sparring in the New York area in preparation for that fight. How was that beneficial and have you crossed the Atlantic this year?
TB: Yes, the sparring is vicious over there. There’s no quarter asked and no quarter given and that’s just the way I like it. Admittedly, they didn’t know who I was when I arrived but they definitely did by the time I was finished. In the UK it’s very Queensberry rules and everything is done with respect but out there they don’t respect anything until it’s earned. That is the best way to prepare for a real fight.
RTV: Isaac Chilemba has only lost once in 22 fights and avenged that defeat in an immediate rematch. What are his strengths and weaknesses?
TB: He’s quick, he’s good defensively and he’s impressive on his feet. Overall Chilemba is a very good boxer and what he lacks in terms of power is covered by speed and work rate. He’s possibly the most well-rounded fighter I’ve boxed and although he doesn’t stand out in any one area he’s good at everything and that must be respected. He’s world class and has some very good wins on his record.
RTV: Chilemba is trained by former world champion, Buddy McGirt, and is highly thought of by promoter, Lou DiBella. At 25 he’s at his peak and victory will set up your dream fight for the WBC crown. This opponent must have your juices flowing, right?
TB: I’m going to smash him and hurt him badly; it’s as simple as that. I’m different from anything he’s faced in that I’m a full blown light heavyweight who comes down to 175 pounds. I’m not Maxim Vlasov or Edison Miranda. I’m hungrier than him, work harder than him and I have more desire to succeed than he does. It’s all against Chilemba on the 30th March and when he stands before 10,000 of my fans, he won’t have seen anything like it. I don’t care what Lou DiBella has to say because promoters promote and fighters fight. Chilemba has made the biggest mistake of his life.
RTV: What is your understanding of Chad Dawson’s situation and, should you come through on March 30th, when would he be obligated to fight you?
TB: My understanding is Dawson will fight on May 25th on the undercard of Jean Pascal and Lucian Bute. He is apparently being compensated very well for doing so and I think Dawson is in the game for the money so that suits him. Most of us are in the game for money but some of us are also in it for the glory and I believe Dawson has had his glory days with Tarver, Glen Johnson and Bernard Hopkins. He’s got the resume but I don’t think he loves the sport as much as he says he does.
RTV: What are your opinions on Dawson as a fighter?
TB: He’s the linear light heavyweight champion of the world and currently the best on the planet. He was badly depleted at 168 pounds but he was also in with an all-time great fighter in Andre Ward last time out. The bottom line is Dawson dominated Bernard Hopkins in every round they shared and he’s a class act at 175 pounds. I purposefully chose the WBC route because if I beat Shumenov, Cloud or Hopkins then I still wouldn’t be regarded as the best because I would have to beat Dawson. For me the WBO champion (Nathan Cleverly) was the weakest, then Shumenov and then Cloud. Dawson is head and shoulders above.
RTV: You’ve completed around 200 rounds of sparring with Carl Froch. What has it been like working with the super middleweight champion?
TB: The sparring with Carl has brought me on leaps and bounds and we’re close friends. After what I went through on the promotional side of the game you learn to trust nobody but I trust him implicitly and we speak on a regular basis. The work with him has been invaluable because people can say I’m world class but when you’re in with a champion of that calibre, going 12 hard rounds, you prove it. I’m happy and I’m grateful to both Carl and Robert McCracken who is a terrific coach.
RTV: How does the rematch between Froch and Kessler unfold?
TB: I think Carl is in his prime and his confidence levels are at an all-time high. He destroyed Lucian Bute and Yusaf Mack whereas I believe Kessler is a bit shop worn now. I think Carl wins a unanimous decision or stops Kessler late and the home crowd will also be a big factor this time. The noise and the atmosphere at the O2 Arena in London will be unbelievable.
RTV: Bernard Hopkins, at 48 years old, has taken down yet another light heavyweight champion in Tavoris Cloud. What are your opinions on the fight?
TB: I attended the fight live and I thought it was a very poor performance from Cloud. I rarely talk bad about fighters but I was very disappointed in him and he essentially just handed over the title. There are people who say that I’m under estimating what Hopkins did but if you don’t have the skills to compete then at least put in the work rate. Cloud had a 16-year age advantage so he had the facility to set a pace that Hopkins couldn’t deal with. The only explanation is that he has a rematch clause because I’ve seen Cloud operate and he is far better than that. Hopkins might be tricky, and I’m a big fan of his, but he’s there for the taking.
RTV: Would you take on Hopkins?
TB: Without a shadow of a doubt. I would fight him tomorrow and I’d go to Philadelphia to do it. I’m not calling Hopkins out officially because I have too much respect for him but you’ve asked me a question and that’s my answer.
RTV: While you were in training your good friend and top heavyweight prospect, David Price, suffered a stunning loss to American Tony Thompson. What are your thoughts on that setback and are you confident he can regroup?
TB: It was heart breaking and I know what he’s going through. David puts a lot of pressure on himself but he’s a strong character and it actually wouldn’t surprise me if the comeback fight was against Thompson and he demolished him. On another note I don’t believe the fight was timed very well because he’d only been in with one southpaw in Audley Harrison so it wasn’t ideal preparation. Also, David and his team were met with the task of tracking down a 6-foot-5 southpaw for sparring and they’re unheard of over here. This has nothing to do with David Price or his trainer Franny Smith, who are two of the most honourable people you could meet in boxing, but they aren’t match makers and there are people out there who need to look at themselves.
RTV: What is the ideal scenario for Tony Bellew to round out 2013?
TB: I just want to keep winning and become world champion. I’m in boxing to secure a great future for me and my kids. Carl Froch has spoken to me about becoming a marketable and popular fighter. It’s about maintaining a certain level and then stepping up to the next level. I’m world class and I’m now ready to become world champion. I’ve been getting better and better, since my fight eighteen months ago with that other fella (Nathan Cleverly) and I’m ready for it.
Photos / C. Smith, Scott Heavey-Getty Images, Ben Hider-Getty Images, Elsa-Golden Boy
Tom Gray is a member of the British Boxing Writers’ Association and contributes to various publications. Follow him on Twitter: @Tom_Gray_Boxing