Observers of British boxer Tony Bellew’s WBC world cruiserweight triumph over Ilunga Makabu last weekend could have been forgiven for getting a nagging sense of deja vu.
The 33-year-old Liverpudlian survived an early knock-down to win via third-round knockout at Goodison Park, the home of his beloved home-town football team, Everton.
Last year’s Hollywood film Creed culminated in a fight scene starring Bellew set at the very same stadium, so victory over Makabu saw film fiction become sporting reality.
“If someone wrote my story and my life, the director would probably say, ‘Take it away, it’s nonsense, it couldn’t happen,’” Bellew told Sky Sports. “But it has happened and this is far beyond movies. The movie, Creed, was amazing, but this far exceeds my wildest dreams.”
In Creed, the seventh film in the ‘Rocky’ franchise, Bellew plays ‘Pretty’ Ricky Conlan, a tough-talking light heavyweight who faces off against Adonis Creed in the movie’s climactic scene.
He had been plucked from relative obscurity to appear in the film by 69-year-old Sylvester Stallone, the franchise’s father and original star.
Crowd scenes were filmed at half-time of a Premier League match between Everton and West Bromwich Albion in January 2015, with the fight action between Bellew and lead actor Michael B. Jordan digitally super-imposed in the edit suite.
Stallone, whose reprisal of his role as Rocky Balboa in Creed earned him an
Oscar nomination, had previously attended a game between Everton and Reading in 2007.
In the film’s finale, Bellew’s character Conlan is felled by a punch from Creed with seconds remaining in the 12th round, only to scramble to his feet and claim victory by split decision. Bellew found himself on his backside after being caught by a stinging left from Makabu in Sunday’s fight for the vacant WBC crown, but recovered to claim victory with a brutal flurry of punches in round three.
Congolese fighter Makabu, 28, had not been beaten since his professional debut in June 2008 and was the pre-fight favourite with British bookmakers. In beating Makabu, Bellew emulated fellow professional boxers Antonio Tarver and the late Tommy Morrison, both of whom appeared in ‘Rocky’ films and claimed world titles during their careers.
Bellew, who shared a post-fight embrace with Everton chairman Bill Kenwright, had overcome damaged hands and a fractured rib in a training camp that he described as “the worst camp I’ve ever had”.
It was a case of third time lucky for the cocksure Scouser (the name given to Liverpool residents), who had lost two world title fights at light heavyweight before dropping down to cruiserweight in 2014. He now intends to unify the cruiserweight division, which would emulate a feat previously achieved by fellow Briton David Haye in 2008.
Haye, 35, is now fighting at heavyweight, having returned to action sporting a bulkier physique this year following a hiatus of nearly four years. Citing the similarities in height between the pair, Bellew has also set his sights on fighting the outspoken Haye.
“You’ve gone long enough fighting those clowns,” Bellew said, referring to Haye’s comfortable comeback wins over unheralded fighters Mark de Mori and Arnold Gjergjaj. “Come and fight me and I’ll smash through you.”
Haye met Bellew’s challenge on the front foot, telling him in an Instagram video message: “After I’ve knocked out (next opponent) Shannon Briggs, I’m knocking out all people talking too much. So get on the list mate. You’re going to get smashed to bits.”
Whoever Bellew fights next, it seems certain that the Goodison Park floodlights, if not the Hollywood limelight, will be waiting.
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