Oleksandr Usyk showed why he's one of the top pound-for-pound fighters in the world, defeating a brave Tony Bellew with an eighth-round knockout on Saturday night at the Manchester Arena in Manchester, England, to remain the undisputed cruiserweight champion of the world.
It was a brilliant knockout from Usyk (16-0, 12 KOs), who struggled to find his footing against Bellew (30-3-1, 20 KOs) early on in the bout. A right hand followed by a looping left hook sent Bellew tumbling into the ropes and crashing into the canvas, out before he hit the ground. The referee waved off the fight immediately.
Bad Left Hook's Connery Busch and the Manchester Evening News' Sheldan Keay reacted to the stunning finish:
After the fight, Bellew kissed Usyk on the head and called him "the best he's ever fought," per the broadcast.
It was a quick, violent end to the fight, but Bellew hardly looked overmatched until the final couple of rounds. The 35-year-old Englishman said win or lose, Saturday night would be his last fight, but he still showed more courage and skill than many of his younger counterparts. However, he did confirm in the post-match interview that this would be his last fight. If that is true, he can be proud of how he went out.
The fight started slowly, both boxers taking their time sizing each other up. Usyk kept the pawing with the right hand, looking to establish the jab. Bellew was patient, searching for openings where he could shoot in hooks to the body.
Bellew had the first successes, getting around Usyk's jab to land a few nice right-handed countershots, drawing plenty of cheers from the home-country crowd. His movement made it tough for the champion to find his range.
BoxingScene.com's Shaun Brown praised the challenger's early work:
The fourth saw Usyk finally get some power shots of his own in, but Bellew's confidence only grew. He leaned on the ropes and smiled at his opponent at one point, and then followed it up by making Usyk miss several times in the row with some excellent head movement.
As the champion grew into the bout, boxer Sergio Mora summed up both fighters' strengths:
Usyk's attack got much better in the middle rounds, as he found ways to sneak in punches from different angles. He became far more active, and it kept Bellew from controlling the distance as well as he did in the earlier frames.
Andreas Hale of Sporting News felt Bellew was settling into the counterpuncher role:
The Ukrainian's jab really started to shine in the seventh, as he cracked Bellew on the jaw a couple of times and was able to land the follow up power punches as well. Bellew was having more and more trouble finding the counter right that he needed to keep Usyk from getting in his face.
Eventually, the pressure became too much for Bellew. Usyk cracked him in the eighth round with a string of power punches, and a left hand to the jaw shut the lights off for good. The referee had seen enough.
Usky retained his WBO, WBC, WBA and IBF world titles. The talk is that Usyk, having easily conquered the cruiserweight division, might move up to heavyweight and perhaps take on Anthony Joshua.
He declined to share his future plans after the bout, but if Usyk does move up a rank, the big names in the sport's boxing division will have to watch out. Usyk has the potential to shake up the division.