Tony Bellew took a bow in the middle of a Manchester ring on Saturday night in what was the Liverpool man’s final act.
Approaching his 36th birthday, ‘The Bomber’ decided enough was enough on the marching orders of his long-suffering wife.
Years of grafting and struggling to make his way to the top took its toll on the Bellew household as ‘The People’s Champion’ far exceeded his initial prospects in the sport.
A solid amateur, Bellew had several wars at domestic level. Hard trades against the likes of Bob Ajisafe and Ovill McKenzie lead most to believe the outspoken fighter would’nt have what it took to become a world champion.
But with his brash persona getting him noticed, Bellew was fast rising through the ranks and into the path of arch-nemesis Nathan Cleverly in 2011. A disappointing majority loss against the slick Welshman made Bellew re-evaluate his career. With a move up to cruiserweight the only option.
It’s hard to believe it took another two years for Bellew to eventually make the move north. It came following a draw with Isaac Chilemba and a stoppage loss in his first world title shot against a more comfortable Adonis Stevenson.
Bellew had always been tight at 175 and killed himself to make the limit. So making his home at 200 pounds seemed a great move. And so it proved to be.
Valery Brudov was taken out late on before Bellew immediately plotted a run to another championship chance. This time at his beloved Goodison Park.
A couple more warm-up fights followed by the avenging of his loss to Cleverly (Pictured by Sky Sports) led to the acid test against Mateusz Masternak. An encounter that ultimately came with the opportunity to become a WBC title challenger.
Claiming the European title in the process, Bellew scrapped himself to a date with destiny against Ilunga Makabu.
Following Grigory Drozd’s unfortunate decision to vacate the title, Eddie Hearn immediately saw an opening with the WBC. Lobbying for Bellew to be able to face Makabu for the strap at Everton Football Club’s home, permission was granted for a clash on May 29 of 2016.
Sitting ringside to witness the fight, it was as if anybody in front of Bellew that night would have been swept aside.
The man was possessed. He wanted it so badly that even a Makabu knockdown in the first didn’t put the end result in any doubt.
Unloading with everything he had, Bellew managed to chop down one of the top cruiserweights in the world in just less than two and a half rounds.
From my vantage point, it was as if a mighty weight had been lifted from Bellew’s shoulders. He’d finally achieved what many had doubted was possible. Bellew had the most coveted of all belts in his possession.
Now, it was all about securing his family’s future.
At the time, Mairis Briedis was the mandatory challenger and Bellew knew there was no money in that fight. A homecoming to show off the title at the Echo Arena was arranged for later in 2016 but with the knowledge a move up to heavyweight was on the horizon.
Bellew had already begun mentioning David Haye’s name following a return from four years out for the Londoner earlier that year. At just over 200 pounds, Haye was the perfect foe for Bellew and already a Pay-Per-View name in the UK.
Following a bludgeoning win over an out-powered BJ Flores, Bellew jumped out of the ring and swung for Haye after his victory.
From that point on, everybody knew Haye v Bellew was inevitable.
Five months on and what was supposed to be Bellew’s defining night ended in bittersweet fashion. Despite earning a career high purse in the millions, defeating an injured Haye in eleven rounds simply wasn’t good enough.
A serious achilles ailment for Haye meant the pair had to do it again. But came with the added bonus of an even bigger paycheck in the rematch.
After witnessing the first contest from a ringside seat at The O2, the cancellation of the Canelo v Golovkin rematch on May 5th had led me to watching the return fight in a British-themed pub just outside the Las Vegas strip.
Despite Haye never looking anywhere near his old self before injury struck in the initial fight, it was hard to fathom how Bellew was still a 3/1 outsider.
Haye was a shell of his former self by then and Bellew went through him like a tank. With his bank balance boasting six zeroes, Bellew’s job was done.
He could hang up his gloves having achieved far more than Bellew ever imagined…until a certain Oleksandr Usyk called him out.
One final curtain call was destined to happen, although Usyk just proved too tough.
Bellew gave everything he had for seven rounds, and was even up on two of the three scorecards, but faded badly and Usyk took full advantage.
It was still a fitting end that Bellew would out-score one of the best boxers in the world in typical underdog fashion. Eventually leaving one of the most charismatic fighters of all time to finally ride off into the sunset with his head firmly held high.
What a rollercoaster ride. With a Hollywood blockbuster move role into the mix.
Farewell Tony Bellew. It’s been a privilege to cover your career.
Phil Jay is Editor of World Boxing News. Follow on Twitter @PhilDJay