Every gruelling 4:00am run. Every ounce of punishment sustained in the ring. Every gritty performance grinded out with his back against the wall. Every punch Tony Bellew has ever thrown all boils down to the night of November 30th.
The determined scouse light heavyweight nicknamed “bomber” gets his second bite at a world title when he squares off against the hottest ticket in boxing right now – Adonis Stevenson, in the champion's back yard of Quebec, Canada.
To talk of Bellew's task as a tall order would be an understatement. Stevenson (22-1, 19 KO's) has lived up to his alias of “Superman” since bursting on to the scene in June with a devastating one-punch knock out of Chad Dawson in less than a round. With the knock out clip going viral, endlessly being played over and over by sports media outlets across the world, “Superman” would then rise to the occasion again. An impressive tactical beat down of the tough, rugged former champion Tavoris Cloud this September, capping a successful 7th round TKO defence of his new title.
Bellew's (20-1-1, 12 KO's) reputation across the Atlantic is scarce, with any chance of success downplayed to merely being seen as a “stepping stone” for the Haiti-born Canadian. Sergey Kovalev, who fights on the under-card November 30th, is rumoured to in line for Stevenson in a mouth watering unification fight being discussed for 2014. Kovalev, the WBO champion, earned his crown recently after destroying the only man to ever defeat Tony Bellew – Nathan Cleverly, in just 4 one-sided rounds this August.
So how does Bellew not only match the vastly talented champion Stevenson, but see to it that he returns to the UK with the prestigious green and gold strap he's longed for his entire career? How does he pull off the upset that, little in the boxing community have even fathomed as a possibility? I take a closer look at what exactly Bellew needs to do to optimise his chances of success on fight night.
1) Don't allow the occasion to get the better of him.
Bellew has never fought outside of the UK before- every British fighter dreams of fighting “across the pond” so to speak, and boxing on American television away from home really oozes that showbiz aura and can be a daunting feat for a foreign fighter. Bellew, who has little experience fighting in front of a hostile crowd, will be pitted deep into the lion's den November 30th as he'll have to overcome the partisan Canadian crowd. It's up to the Liverpudlian to remain composed throughout and block out any psychological distractions as after all, it'll just be him and his opponent in there together when the bell sounds for round 1.
2) Don't show the champion too much respect.
If Bellew enters the ring overly mindful of Adonis' power, he's already lost. He needs to focus on what he needs to do and the game plan heneeds to execute, rather than becoming overly passive to the champions actions in there. Tony's one of the most psychologically solid fighters around, so I'm sure he won't allow intimidation to creep into his mindset. This will be Stevenson's 4th fight this calendar year, and with future money-spinning clashes with Andre Ward and Sergey Kovalev on the not-so-distant horizon, there's always the danger of him overlooking his British counterpart. Bellew needs to take advantage of this and get off to a fast start, bringing the fight to the champion and let him know he hasn't flown over from England to just roll over and collect the cheque. Stevenson has been stopped himself before, and Bellew can take confidence from that heading into the fight.
3) Maintain a tight defence throughout the fight.
Adonis' punching power is well documented. His knock-out of Dawson, a guy who had faced big punchers before such as Pascal, Tarver and Johnson yet never tasted the canvas before at 175 lbs, sent shock waves throughout the sport. It's not just the leverage Stevenson gets behind his left hand, but it's the superior technique he utilises in putting his punches together, that allows him to conquer opponents. Many inept sections of the boxing media dismissed Adonis as simply a one-trick pony after his explosive KO of Dawson, so when he demonstrated a technical master class over Cloud a few months later- they were made to eat their words. Stevenson has always showed the ability to box. A good jab, along with a masterful control of range, Adonis often lures his opponent in and counters with devastating shots of his own.
Bellew will more than aware of the counter punching ability of the Canadian, and would be well advised to maintain a high defensive guard from beginning to end. The British light heavyweight can frustrate the champion if he exercisers a good defence and blocks a lot of the champion's assaults- and with frustration comes sloppiness.
4) Fight in spurts and work Stevenson's body.
We saw Martin Murray execute a good game plan against middleweight champion Sergio Martinez earlier this year, in which he soaked up a lot of Martinez' flurries, blocking them with his gloves and picking his moments to launch his own attack. Bellew can have success if he uses a similar strategy. Remember, the pressure is on Stevenson to impress the packed out arena in his home town so the onus is very much on him to initiate the action.
The champion carries a significant speed advantage in this one. If Bellew makes a habit of exchanging with the quicker, more skilled Canadian then it becomes a matter of time before he's caught with a shot in between punches of his own. By remaining poised and picking his moments to attack Stevenson, Bellew minimises the risk of being caught by that notorious counter left hand. The only risk with this strategy is falling into the trap of becoming too gun-shy and not being active enough to catch the judges imagination, away from home.
By working the champion's body, Bellew can sap the energy of his opponent, thwarting Stevenson's athletic advantage over him- slowing him down and presenting openings upstairs as Adonis becomes wary of punches to the midsection.
The fight will be aired live on HBO in the United States and will receive a substantial viewing figure. In recent years British fighters such as Darren Barker and Matthew Macklin have, even in defeat, earned bigger fights off the back of solid performances on HBO, and Bellew will definitely be looking to impress a transatlantic audience November 30th, as win or lose, a spirited effort could provide a gateway to other, financially rewarding opportunities.
It would be naïve however to think for a second that a fighter as driven and determined as Tony Bellew will be aiming for anything less than victory when the two 175 lb'ers collide in just over a months’ time.