TONY BELLEW TALKS OF HIS TOUGH LIVERPOOL CHILDHOOD, EDDIE HEARN DOUBTING HE WOULD BEAT DAVID HAYE, AND A HOLLYWOOD WIND-UP, IN NEW ITV DOCUMENTARY
Former world boxing champion, Tony Bellew reflects on his rise to the top in Against The Odds – Tony Bellew: Punching Above His Weight which airs on ITV4 on 22nd June at 9pm. The show is part of the Against The Odds series, produced by ITV and funded by Coral, which has also featured jockeys Hollie Doyle and Johnny Murtagh, former darts world champion Gerwyn Price, goalkeeper Kasper Schmeichel and England prop Kyle Sinckler telling their stories.
From Toxteth to Hollywood-Tony Bellew's story is like something out of Rocky- so it was no surprise that he ended up starring in Sylvester Stallone's Creed boxing film. Bellew grew up in a tough part of Liverpool with a father who spent time in prison and left school at 16 with no qualifications, but boxing was his salvation. Possessed of a hot head and a sharp mouth, Bellew had to work at his boxing craft but soon made a name for himself and landed British and European titles. His career built to a perfect climax at his beloved Goodison Park in Liverpool where he landed the World Championship in fairytale fashion and then his reputation was further enhanced courtesy of two epic fights against David Haye.
The programme features contributions from former cruiserweight and heavyweight world champion David Haye, boxing promote Eddie Hearn, Tony Bellew’s wife Rachael Roberts and his mother, Gail and best friend and professional footballer Neil Danns.
On almost missing out as “Pretty” Ricky Conlan in Creed because he thought it was a wind-up he said: “I took a call and I thought it was a wind-up. I said do us a favour mate, I’m not in the mood for this and ended the call. He phoned back and said you don’t understand, Hollywood wants to talk with you about being in a Rocky movie. I phoned my missus and she said don’t be so stupid and naïve…what would anyone from Hollywood want with you? Well, the director flew in the next day. I met Ryan Coogler, the guy who has gone on to direct Black Panther and he outlined his vision for me to play the lead villain in Creed. He wanted a European boxer but someone who could really fight. He had really done his background research and he stumbled on me. It was crazy. Michael B. Jordan also helped me massively.”
On looking out for his younger brother Liam while growing up in Liverpool he said: “My younger brother was gay. Growing up in the 90’s being gay was looked at like some sort of sickness or illness. That was tough growing up for him. I’ve had more fights defending our Liam than I’ve had boxing to be fair! If he was bullied at school, I’d be straight up and belting them and if their dad turned up, I’d belt him too.”
On training with famed Liverpool boxing coach Jimmy Albertina he said: “Fighting was a way of proving things to my father and I only understand that now as I get older. I met a man called Jimmy Albertina. He said to me you’ve got to go twice as hard as everyone else. I was furious. When I look back now I realise that was the making of me. Getting to know Jimmy, being around him was one of the most humble experiencing experiences you could have. He never ever praised me, never once. It was only down to Jimmy that I developed that belief in myself. I only found about the praise from Jimmy carrying at the man’s funeral from his close friends.”
On his fight with Adonis Stevenson and the decision to move up to cruiserweight he said: “Devastation. Heartbreak. End of the road. It felt like the end of my life. It was the darkest moment I’ve ever had in my career. I lost four pounds on the day of the weigh-in and it absolutely crucified me, I was in a world of pain. That’s the closest I’ve ever been to a mental breakdown. My vision of Canada is …I hadn’t seen my wife for four weeks and just before I get to the ring she’s standing next to me and I’ve got tears rolling down my face and that’s the last thing I remember. I knew going to the ring I had one good round in me. Stupidly I believed one round was all I needed! Within 30 seconds I thought how hard is he to hit. He was smaller than me, I always knew his power was unbelievable. Everyone he ever hits he knocks down. He’s so powerful. He nails me in the third round and he hits me so hard I heard a crunch and thought he’s either cracked my skull or broke his hand on my head. I felt like I could have done more or done better had I been equipped correctly, but I wasn’t. As a fighter you believe you can do it and pull it off against all the odds so that was a heartbreaking moment, my first true loss. It was my lowest point in fighting. At this stage now I know I’m dead at the weight and I’ve got to make changes. I knew I was going to have to start going up in weight and the next weight division is two stone heavier – cruiserweight.”
On his rematch with Nathan Cleverly as a cruiserweight he said: “One thing I can say is no matter what weight division I can go up to I can render people unconscious. It’s a gift. I had a viciousness and nastiness about me and you can’t teach someone that. This was the first time in my career that I felt like a fully fledged cruiserweight. If I had lost to Cleverly that’s it…it’s over. I was probably going to retire. That’s the kind of pressure I heaped on myself all the time. I just wouldn’t have been able to walk down the street. It was a terrible fight….i wanted to punch holes in him in every single second of every single round. I just did everything I could to rough him up and get him to fight but he wouldn’t. He just wanted to stay away and on the jab. The reason he’d done that is because he knew if he traded punches with me one single time he’d be unconscious.”
On his fight with Ilunga Makubu for the WBC cruiserweight title at Goodison Park, the lifelong Everton fan said: “It was everything. Goodison Park is my church. Its where I go. It’s the place I love to be. It was everything I’ve dreamed of and spoke about since I was a kid. I’d been telling people since I was 15 years old I’m going to box at Goodison Park. I’m going to win the WBC world title there. This was now the beginning of the end.”
On the injury he sustained in the lead up to that fight he says: “I was sparring one day and I felt a pop as I moved. If that fight wasn’t at Goodison Park I would have rescheduled it because the injury was that bad it’s the only day we could have put the fight on there. The moment is here right in front of me and I get this injury that is just heart-breaking, but you know what I find a way to get through it and I get to the ring. I normally have rap music blaring for the last ten minutes to go, but this time I turn it off and just listen to Glawdys Street chant my name for ten minutes. It shook the dressing room! That will stick with me forever. You have no idea how many times I’ve dreamed of that moment.”
David Haye says of the hype surrounding their fight: “He kicks off and does what a fighter wanting a big fight does. He gets the headlines and he managed to fill the 02 arena with 20,000 people and millions of people around the world with Sky Box Office. I know he’s a great actor and has done his stuff with Creed. He did well that night as it was news all over the world. I actually really enjoyed the banter before the fight and I’m sure he did too. We’ve both taken a lot of punches in our lives for not that much money. If we hadn’t said anything negative towards each other it would have done a fifth of the takings. Why would you avoid being compensated when your life is on the line.”
On Eddie Hearn, his own promoter, doubting he would beat David Haye: “Going into the fight my own promoter didn’t think I was going to win. Eddie Hearn took less of a percentage because he thought I was going to lose. He said Tone I think you’re the best cruiserweight in the world, but this guys a heavyweight and he’s dangerous. Look at the shape he’s in. I told him for five rounds he’s going to try and take my head off and then what happens…he falls apart because he’s not accustomed or ready to go into the second part of the fight.”
WATCH ON ITV 9pm TONIGHT