Tony Bellew was knocked out in the eighth round as his brave bid to overcome undisputed cruiserweight champion Oleksandr Usyk ended in heartbreak at a raucous Manchester Arena.
In his final professional bout, Bellew was attempting to become the first Briton to hold all four major world titles – plus the prestigious Ring Magazine belt – in a weight class simultaneously.
The heavy underdog made a courageous start in an electrifying atmosphere but was denied a fairytale finish to his career as Usyk (now 16-0, 12KOs) demonstrated why he is rated among the finest fighters on the planet.
Usyk gradually started to establish his dominance and closed the show emphatically, flooring his rival with a devastating one-two, prompting referee Terry O’Connor to wave off the count after two minutes of the eighth round.
He therefore retained his WBC, WBA, IBF and WBO titles at 200lbs and may now have the heavyweight scene – and Anthony Joshua in particular – in his sights.
An emotional Bellew told BBC Radio 5 live afterwards: “I gave it everything I had, he is an exceptional champion. He is everything I have feared. He is the best I have ever fought.
“I had a great plan, I tried my best, but it wasn’t good enough. He is just so hard and awkward, putting pressure, tap, tap, tap, then he stings. He overpowers you and is bigger than you think.
“He is probably the best cruiserweight who ever lived. It is him or (Evander) Holyfield – I would love to see that fight.
“Heavyweights stay away, he takes a great shot and I don’t even know if I hurt him. He is even better than it says on the box.
“It is my final walk away – I have been doing this for 20 years, and now it is over.”
Bellew was tempted to delay his retirement plans after being called out by Usyk immediately after the Ukrainian had won the World Boxing Super Series, in the process achieving the rare feat of unifying all four major world belts.
Never one to shirk a challenge, the Liverpudlian acknowledged he would need to “shock the world” against a London 2012 gold medallist who had made significant strides in his 15-fight professional adventure.
Bellew, stepping back down to the 200lb division after taking on British rival David Haye at heavyweight in two lucrative outings, perhaps stole a cagey opening round on the back of some aggression just before the bell.
Usyk started to establish his southpaw jab at the start of the second round but Bellew proved he would not be content to simply soak up the punishment.
A couple of counter right hands brought the crowd to their feet before Bellew stood in centre ring urging his opponent to come forward, which he duly did with a couple of lead lefts in the third.
Usyk then landed his best punch of the fight in the fourth round when a short left momentarily stunned Bellew.
Usyk, at 31, four years Bellew’s senior, gradually started to wear down his Merseyside opponent, who was saved by the bell at the end of the sixth when his legs betrayed him after another bruising left.
Bellew was starting to slow down and was visibly fatigued when the end came, with Usyk following up a sharp right jab with a punishing left hook that put Bellew on his back.
The 35-year-old, who finishes his career with a record of 30 wins, three defeats and one draw, was ahead on two of the judges’ scorecards up to that point and courageously attempted to get to his feet.
But the fight was ended by O’Connor, leaving Bellew in tears after being led to his corner.
Floyd Mayweather Jr. has sensationally signed with Japanese mixed martial arts promotion RIZIN Fighting Federation and will compete on their New Year’s Eve card in Saitama.
The unbeaten 41-year-old was unveiled at a Tokyo press conference and it was announced he would take on promising MMA starlet and kickboxer Tenshin Nasukawa.
Mayweather has not fought since stretching his undefeated boxing record to 50-0 after stopping UFC superstar Conor McGregor in 2017.
The American, who has won world boxing titles in five different weight categories, has never fought professionally in MMA, however, the rules set is yet to be determined.
The bout is to be held at the RIZIN.14 event and speaking at the press conference, Rizin president Nobuyuki Sakakibara said (via/Josh Gross): “First we had to convince Mr. Mayweather to come to the ring on the Rizin ring on Dec. 31. As you know Mr. Mayweather is undefeated. But all his fights have been in the U.S. He has had a wish to fight outside the U.S.
“We’re happy we’ve convinced him to come to Japan for this history making even. In the second phase once we knew Mr. Mayweather would be in the Rizin ring on NYE, we thought of the appropriate opponent and there was only one: Tenshin
“Regarding rules and weight we have more work cut out for us, but we feel this will be a great fight so many people will be excited to see. We’re so happy Mr. Nasukawa accepted this in a flash.”
Hughie Fury insists he is the best heavyweight in British boxing – including four-world title belt holder Anthony Joshua – and is ready to prove it by beating Kubrat Pulev in his native Bulgaria this Saturday.
The 24-year-old Fury – younger cousin to former unified WBA, IBF, WBO and IBO heavyweight champion Tyson – takes on Pulev at the Arena Armeec in the 37-year-old’s home city of Sofia.
Fury boasts an impressive 21-win record in his 22 fights since turning professional following his gold medal at the Youth World Amateur Championships in 2012.
His only defeat came against New Zealander Joseph Parker in September 2017, a controversial majority decision in a bout for Parker’s WBO heavyweight strap.
Parker subsequently lost that belt to current heavyweight titan Joshua in his following fight in March this year.
Joshua is king of the heavyweight division – which also includes fellow Britons Dillian Whyte, Dereck Chisora and the Fury cousins – yet the younger Fury says he belongs right at the very top of it.
“You’ll see in this fight. I believe I’m the best and believe I’m right at the top,” Fury told Sport360 when asked to pick what position in the rankings he believes he occupies.
“I’m gonna prove this, it’s not about talking, it’s about October 27th and I’ll do my talking then, it’s the fight I want.”
The winner between Fury and Pulev will land themselves the number one spot in the IBF heavyweight standings and become the mandatory challenger to reigning champion Joshua.
Veteran Pulev is the current number two in those rankings, with Fury fourth – behind Russian Alexander Povetkin who was beaten comfortably by Joshua for the 29-year-old’s 22nd consecutive professional win last month.
“A title fight is only one fight away. Win this and them I’m in a mandatory position for a belt,” added a confident Fury, who initially fell short of offering his result before confidently predicting victory.
“You’ll see on the 27th. No predictions from me but believe me, I’m gonna be victorious on the night and it’s going to be an exciting night.”
The 6ft 6in, 105kg Stockport-born behemoth – nicknamed the Fist of Fury – followed up his Parker disappointment 13 months ago by beating Sam Sexton in his next bout in May this year to claim the British heavyweight title.
Previous holders have included Joshua and his older cousin Tyson, and the younger Fury insists he has learned a lot since that Parker defeat.
“I took the positives out of it, learnt lessons. I’m a different fighter since then, mentally,” said Fury.
“I’ve learned a lot, like how to make decisions. You’ve just got to keep pushing forward.
“Training’s been good. It’s a lot harder, more gruelling this time around. I train hard all the time but for this one there’s blood, sweat and tears going into it.”
Of his opponent on Saturday, Fury was complimentary but insisted heading into the lion’s den of Sofia will count for little for Pulev.
The Bulgarian holds a record of 25-1, with 13 wins coming via knockout. Pulev’s only loss came against Wladimir Klitschko in an IBF and lineal heavyweight title duel in 2014.
“I believe he can fight, but it doesn’t matter where in the world you’re at, it’s just another place and another ring. It doesn’t matter who the opponent is,” added Fury.
Older cousin Tyson has his own showdown looming, a blockbuster clash with WBC heavyweight champ Deontay Wilder in Los Angeles on December 1.
The Bronze Bomber is defending a mighty 40-0 record while 30-year-old Tyson is battling back to prominence after being forced to vacate the WBA, WBO, IBO, and lineal titles following medical and mental health issues, and two cancellations of his rematch with Klitschko.
The younger Fury revealed he would not be in the elder’s corner for the Wilder fight though. The cousins are now estranged and have not talked since Hughie’s dad Peter stopped training former world heavyweight champion Tyson.
“Listen, I wish him all the best and I hope he comes through his fight,” said Fury junior.
“He’s been in the sport a long time and so have I. I just wish him all the best.”
Apart from the upcoming bouts for the Fury boys, another question on British boxing fans’ lips is who will Amir Khan’s next opponent be.
‘King Khan’ knocked out Phil Lo Greco in 39 seconds and outpointed Samuel Vargas last month following his return to action after a savage knockout at the hands of Canelo Alvarez in May 2016.
The 31-year-old has demanded a bout with WBA welterweight champion Manny Pacquiao, despite clamour from the British public for a showdown with Kell Brook.
But Fury admits taking on the Filipino legend is the better bout for the Bolton man.
“I think Pacquiao is a good fight for him (Khan), that would be the wiser one, for now,” said Fury.
“I don’t think Brook is going anywhere so the Pacquiao fight makes more sense. If he can get it, get that fight because it’s the bigger fight.”
Fury also touched on lighter topics, including naming Muhammad Ali, Marvin Hagler, Sugar Ray Leonard, Tommy Hearns and Larry Holmes among his best-ever pound for pound fighters.
“I love their style and their uniqueness,” said Fury.
Pushed to name his top three, he replied: “Top three: Ali, Leonard and Holmes.”
But he stopped short of naming his top three current fighters.
“The best three at the moment are Canelo (Alvarez) and GGG (Gennady Golovkin). To be honest you’ve put me on the spot here. I can’t think of a third. Just those two.”