Tony Bellew vs. Valery Brudov: 5 Things to Watch with Bellew at Cruiserweight
Tony Bellew returns to the ring for the first time since his unsuccessful challenge for Adonis Stevenson's WBC light heavyweight title in November.
Bellew will now campaign at cruiserweight, and he takes his first serious test in that class when he faces Valery Brudov in Liverpool on Saturday night.
As reported by BoxRec, Bellew has said that making weight against Stevenson was "a torturous, horrible time" and "the worst experience I've had having to do the weight." That, coupled with his loss in the fight, has prompted his move to the new direction.
The jump from light heavyweight to cruiserweight is a significant 25 pounds (nearly two stones) because when the cruiserweight limit was moved from 190 to 200, the light heavyweight limit stayed at 175 pounds.
It is probably the toughest weight jump to make when you consider that the likes of Steve Cunningham and David Haye only put on around 10 pounds moving from cruiserweight to heavyweight.
Brudov is a respectable test for Bellew in that he has only lost to world-class fighters—Virgil Hill, Firat Arslan, Guillermo Jones and Ola Afolabi.
On the flip, Brudov is now 37, hasn't scored a major win since 2006 and is not exactly a full-fledged cruiserweight when you consider that he has not weighed above 195 pounds in the past five years.
Afolabi, who can dig but is not a murderous puncher, had Brudov down in the third round before stopping him in five back in 2012, and Bellew should look to replicate that kind of performance if he wants to announce himself to the division.
Here are five things to look for to assess Bellew's potential at the new weight.
1. The Look
Judging a fight from the weigh-in is usually a folly, albeit a thoroughly entertaining one which will continue for as long as there is boxing.
In this case, though, there is some meaningful information—the first chance to see how Bellew looks at the weight. He weighed in at a little over 197 pounds, so he had nearly three pounds to spare.
Bellew just doesn't have the kind of natural physique to attract the attention of Men's Health magazine, so it's no surprise that he looks a little fleshy.
All the same, Bellew doesn't look unhealthy or as though he has simply piled weight on for the sake of it.
On fight night we will see if he has put some of the new weight on his legs, where perhaps he could have done with some extra ballast at light heavyweight.
If Brudov can land a few body shots, that will also give an indication of the muscle/fat ratio around Bellew's middle.
All in all, the signs of the scales are reasonably encouraging. Bellew looks pretty comfortable at the weight for his first serious fight there, and you would only expect his conditioning to improve in the future as he settles into it.
2. The Punch
As an amateur, Bellew developed a reputation as a ferocious puncher, and with it his nickname, "Bomber." The footage above shows one of the most dramatic KOs you will see in the amateur ranks as Bellew stops Jon-Lewis Dickinson in the 2005 ABA finals.
Notably, Bellew competed at heavyweight (91kg) as an amateur, essentially the same weight as the professional cruiserweight class.
Early in his career at light heavyweight, Bellew carried his power into the pro ranks. However, in his last eight fights he has only scored two stoppage wins, along with three points wins, one draw and two defeats.
It is possible that draining down to make light heavyweight had a disproportionately large effect in reducing Bellew's once fearsome power.
If that is the case, he could actually be a bigger puncher in the cruiserweight division than as a light heavyweight. Clearly he will be punching harder with an extra 25 pounds of weight—the question will be if this translates to more power relative to the larger size of the opposition.
If Bellew is to be any sort of a puncher at cruiserweight, then he needs to stop Brudov in this fight.
3. Punch Resistance
Bellew's TKO loss to Adonis Stevenson (pictured) was the first time he'd been stopped in 23 fights, his only previous defeat coming on a close points decision against Nathan Cleverly.
Stevenson is a noted puncher at light heavyweight, so there was nothing embarrassing about the manner of Bellew's demise, unlike his pre-fight behaviour.
Even so, be it physiological or psychological or a little of both, fighters tend to become more susceptible to knockouts the more they have suffered them in the past.
Earlier in his career, Bellew was dropped heavily by Ovill McKenzie twice, and at that time, there were calls for him to move up in weight to improve his punch resistance.
That event has now come to pass, and we shall see if the armchair critics of 2010 were right in their analysis.
However, Brudov is probably not a big enough puncher, especially at the age of 37, to hurt Bellew seriously. Any hint of trouble in this fight would not augur well for the Liverpool fighter.
Bellew has never been a fast-footed or fast-fisted guy, and deficits in speed contributed to his defeats against both Stevenson and Cleverly.
Moving up in weight, opponents are generally going to be slower, so the question is how much carrying the extra weight will put the brakes on Bellew.
Right now, the top cruiserweights are generally more power-based fighters than speed-based, and that is probably good news for the Brit. There is certainly nobody out there with the explosive qualities that David Haye once brought to the division.
Thabiso Mchunu is nimble but more of a counterpuncher, while the one guy who might bring speed to the division is Bellew's old rival, Nathan Cleverly, a fighter who is also on the brink of a move up in weight. Cleverly could be effective as a cruiserweight with an ambush style of fighting if his chin holds up.
At the peak of the division, against guys like Marco Huck and Denis Lebedev, toughness and the ability to hang with naturally bigger men will be the challenges for Bellew.
As long as Bellew does not look exaggeratedly slow against Brudov, as if the extra weight is bringing him to a standstill, speed should not be an issue at cruiserweight.
Of all the things to watch with Bellew as a cruiserweight, his stamina may give the best indication as to whether he was genuinely weight-drained as a light heavyweight.
Normally going up in weight would worsen your stamina as you have more bulk to carry with you through the rounds.
However, it is possible that a weight-drained fighter would have a consequential loss of stamina that would then be replenished at a higher weight. Certainly in the most extreme examples such as Oscar de la Hoya against Manny Pacquiao, boiling down can leave fighters with only a fraction of their normal energy.
In terms of Bellew's stamina in the past—after five rounds in his fight against Cleverly, Bellew was 4-1 up, but he faded, and Cleverly eventually took the last two rounds to edge a close decision.
Brudov is not expected to go the distance with Bellew, so we may not get great insight into Tony's stamina at cruiserweight. Clearly the work rate he sets will be some indication as to the size of his gas tank.
Fighters always claim they were struggling at the weight when they move up, but sometimes they move up simply because they have run out of opportunities where they are. After losing two world-title shots, that could be the case with Bellew.
If he looks more energetic as a cruiserweight, that would add real credibility to his claims that he needed to hop divisions. If instead, he is making the move just to try something different, he may be in for a rude awakening amongst the big fellas who compete at 200 pounds.