On the 29th May, 2016, Tony Bellew fought for the WBC cruiserweight title in his hometown amidst an army of loyal fans and fellow Evertonians.
A Spring sun bled into the evening sky over Goodison Park as a glut of undercard fighters traded blows, brutality, and pieces of their souls for the sake of a notch on their records and a step closer to the promised land and title opportunities.
Liverpool’s Tom Farrell nicked the decision over Manchester’s Kofi Yates after the two super lightweights lit-up the footballing venue, battering each other over an enthralling 10-round boot-to-boot battle.
Local heavyweight hero David Price dropped a big lump nobody had heard of from the Czech Republic in the second stanza of their scheduled eight-rounder, and Stephen ‘Swifty’ Smith claimed the WBC Silver super-feather title against a rough, tough opponent in Argentina’s Daniel Brizuela in his first fight back from defeat to IBF world champ Jose Pedraza.
As the inevitable darkness increasingly consumed the light, 15,000 scousers sang, cheered and called for the blood of the boxer who'd travelled half the globe with cruel intentions to violently dismantle one of their own for the vacant WBC cruiserweight belt.
Congo-born Ilunga Makabu was that man, and the one who cast himself as the villain in Tony Bellew’s biopic film: ‘Blood, Sweat, Tears and a Dream of Becoming WBC Champion’.
The South African had earned a formidable reputation as a savage knockout-merchant after emphatically putting away 18 of his 19 opponents, claiming both notoriety in the 200lbs division and the WBC Silver belt in the process. Thereafter, it was evident from team ‘Junior’s’ perspective that ‘The Bomber’ was a marked-man living on borrowed time in a ferocious cruiserweight jungle where “fat” scousers the wrong side of 30 had no business operating and would most certainly suffer the menacing, agonising gloved-fists from the 27-year-old big-banger from Johannesburg.
Ahead of their fight, Makabu mocked, tarnished and interpreted Bellew’s aspirations of becoming world champion as nothing more than a naïve fairy-tale, for he was assured by his God that victory was his blessed destiny.
One man had put faith into his fists, his boxing ability, his desire, and determination, whilst the other had a wishful guarantee from a celestial deity that he would be champ. Who was the one being naïve?
Moments before the biggest fight of Bellew's career, his close friend and trainer Dave Coldwell instructed his fighter to focus purely on the game-plan and the objective: “Soak it up, Tony but as soon as that bell rings, switch on, get the job done and DO NOT – I repeat DO NOT try and entertain this crowd”.
The Yorkshireman’s words were fierce and concise. No room for error tonight for his opponent – as Bellew so amply labelled him – was a “monster” who was capable of putting the fight to bed with one punch.
The bell rang for the opener and Bellew began to sniff out his man; utilising the left as a jab, a range-finder, a threat, a nuisance – anything to keep Makabu guessing. However, before the close of the round, the Liverpudlian thought he’d smelt blood after landing some heavy, hurtful shots. He thought wrong.
Clean blows hit Makabu as he backed to the ropes and beckoned his adversary on. He telegraphed Tony’s right hand then countered with a left of his own straight down the pipe: “BANG”. Bellew’s guard was gaping when he tasted leather and was knocked to the canvas in a backwards roll.
'Junior’ had set his trap, dangled a juicy carrot and Tony Bellew took a big bite. A smug grin plastered the South African’s face as he walked back to his corner. Round one over. 1-0 Makabu.
Tony’s face said it all as sat on his stool. He knew exactly what had happened and so did his trainer. Nevertheless, Coldwell tore into his fighter: “GREEDY! YOU GOT GREEDY!” He was right. He knew it, Tony knew it and so did Makabu.
The second was a cautious, three-minute dance. Despite Ilunga’s attempts, Bellew wasn’t going to be suckered twice, and the round closed without drama.
Round three and Dave Coldwell’s words rang in his fighter’s ears: “DO NOT GET GREEDY! TAKE YOUR TIME. PICK YOUR SHOTS. AND DO NOT TRY AND ENTERTAIN THIS CROWD”.
For fifty-seconds into the third, Bellew listened to his trainer; boxing neatly, cutting off the ring and picking his punches. But then he smelt it again: BLOOD. Only this time he was certain of it. He’d tagged his man on the jaw with a solid left hook, right hook combination and the legs momentarily buckled under fire. Makabu back-peddled across the breadth of the ring and Bellew chased, harassing, pressing and pressuring the monster; cracking, thudding and clattering-home punishing, spiteful shots.
A left. Another left, followed by a right and Makabu was on the ropes taking a torrent of leathered damage. Bellew was relentless and ruthless as he repeatedly hammered the right hand, drop, left hook until a thunderous left crashed onto Makabu’s chin and the knockout artist was rendered out-for-the-count when he timbered to the canvas with a minute thirty-eight left on the clock.
Goodison Park ecstatically erupted in tumultuous roars, the ring was rushed by both corners, Tony Bellew dropped to his knees overwhelmed by euphoria, and Dave Coldwell embraced his friend, his fighter and the new WBC cruiserweight champion of the world.
It was an incredible night for Tony Bellew, his family, fans and team, and a glorious victory and a wonderful piece of British boxing history.