Boxer Tony Bellew has been called many things over the years: light-heavyweight, cruiserweight, heavyweight, WBC champion, Evertonian, gobby Evertonian, “Bomber”, “smashing machine” and “skinny fat kid”, to name a few. Of late, though, he has been known as the boxer with the midas touch; the boxer with the foresight and gumption to jump from light-heavyweight to cruiserweight and then up to heavyweight; the boxer who told David Haye, his bitter rival, he would fall apart physically and mentally during their fight in March and then watched the Londoner do exactly that in round six before he took him out in the eleventh; the boxer who has seemingly sussed the art of the high-risk, high-reward move.
Now, Tony Bellew is coming to terms with a new move, a new trend, and trying to make sense of boxers and mixed martial artists commingling and ripping up the rulebook in order to generate obscene amounts of cash. He has, like us all, been seduced by the Floyd Mayweather and Conor McGregor circus, and he will, like us all, take to rubbernecking the car crash on August 26.
He also expects, nay, fears more of it. The signs are there. His good friend Anthony Joshua, for example, the reigning IBF and WBA world heavyweight champion, has been called out (presumably with tongue in cheek) by UFC heavyweight champion Stipe Miocic, and his bitter enemy David Haye was apparently on a bizarre collision course with UFC light-heavyweight contender Jimi Manuwa before Manuwa was finished inside 22 seconds by Volkan Oezdemir at UFC 214.
But Bellew, 34, wise enough to stick in his lane, insists no amount of money could tempt him to do the ‘reverse McGregor’ – or a plain old James Toney – and venture into mixed martial arts for a sloppy and ill-advised one-night stand.
“I’m a huge fan (of mixed martial arts) and I’ve been watching it since the days of Mark Kerr and Mark Coleman,” Bellew told Fighters Only. “I’ve seen them all; I watch all the big events.
“I know enough to know someone like (UFC light-heavyweight champion) Jon Jones would pull my f**king arse off. I would not get in a cage with Jon Jones for any amount of money. Unless we were in a cage with just boxing gloves and boxing rules, I would not go near him. That man is a monster. Have you see his kicks? They are horrible. He’d break my neck.
“If someone offered me one hundred million dollars, I’d have to think it over. One hundred million is a lot of money. But for a couple of million I’m not getting kicked to f**k by Jon Jones. No way.”
Bellew says Mayweather will beat McGregor “any and every way he wants” when the pair meet in a boxing ring in Las Vegas on August 26, yet admits he will watch the event with bated breath nonetheless. He also refuses to begrudge either man capitalising on fame in a sport that is historically stingy and unforgiving.
“Everybody is going to make a lot of money, but good luck to them,” he said. “At the end of the day, they are the ones putting their arses on the line. They are the ones willing to do damage to each other. They should be well paid.
“People are very fickle. The world wants to see this but then they are quick to degrade it and slag it off. Those same people, though, will pay through their nose to watch it. That’s just the way of life. I don’t care what anyone says; I’m going to pay. I’ll pay whatever they ask me to pay. Even though I know the outcome, I’ve just got to see it. It’s must-see TV. I can’t wait.
“I admire Conor McGregor. I haven’t met him personally yet, but I hope to in the future. He’s an absolute character and I’m a huge fan of his. It’s great to have him linked to boxing for the next few weeks because he’s a brilliant self-promoter and a brilliant character. We need characters like him in boxing.”
Boxers and boxing fans might scoff at the idea of Conor McGregor gatecrashing their sport at the ripe old age of 29 and going straight for the jugular, which is to say Floyd Mayweather, but Tony Bellew, a boxer, speaks for the majority if not everybody when he says his fraternity secretly wish Conor McGregor was one of their own. He knows a character and a self-promoter when he sees one. More importantly, he knows a fighter when he sees one.