Tony Bellew figured he had put his days as a cruiserweight behind him and perhaps even his days boxing, period.
He won a vacant cruiserweight world title by impressive third-round knockout of Ilunga Makabu after surviving a first-round knockdown in 2016, then blew out B.J. Flores in the third round of his first defense later that year, after which he went up to heavyweight for a grudge match with British countryman David Haye. Bellew knocked him out twice in upsets, first in 2017 and again in May.
The 35-year-old Bellew then contemplated retirement, and even if he was going to fight again it is rare for a fighter to go from heavyweight down in weight to cruiserweight. Boxing again was far from Bellew's mind.
He had gotten married and was on his honeymoon earlier this year when it became clear to him that he would indeed fight again, which he will do when he challenges Oleksandr Usyk for the undisputed cruiserweight world championship at Manchester Arena in Manchester, England, on Nov. 10 in a fight that will stream on DAZN in the United States and air on Sky Box Office pay-per-view in the United Kingdom.
The two fighters came face to face at the kickoff news conference Monday at a Manchester hotel, where Bellew explained what changed his mind.
"Everyone asks why [fight again]," Bellew said. "I was on my honeymoon and for one reason or another I was stood there watching Oleksandr beat up Murat Gassiev on a mobile phone. The fight stops, and then he makes the ultimate sin and he says my name, and it didn't take long. As soon as he said my name I knew. When I was watching the phone, I knew."
In July, Usyk outclassed Gassiev in the final of the World Boxing Super Series, winning a near-shutout decision to become the undisputed champion and the first fighter in division history to unify all the titles in the four-belt era.
After his masterpiece, Usyk was naturally asked what he had in mind for the future, and though longer-term his desire is to move up in weight and fight for a heavyweight title, he said he thought Bellew would be an attractive fight for him. It so happened, Bellew was watching the interview on his phone.
Ultimately, a deal was hammered out quickly and the big fight is on.
"I'm sure it won't be an easy fight for me and I'm really glad to come back to England, the country which gave me a chance to get some trophies already, that mean a lot in my life," said Usyk, who won an Olympic heavyweight gold medal in London in 2012. "I'm not thinking about Tony Bellew at this moment. I'm just concentrating on my training camp and thinking about how I will overcome all of the challenges ahead of me before the fight. I'm not a monster, I'm a white rabbit. I picked Tony Bellew because he is the man that takes the biggest challenges. He is not the usual type of fighter that will come, see how hard it is and quit. He will come to fight until the end. These are the kind of fights that the world wants to see."
Bellew has shown grit and heart throughout his career, but he will be a heavy underdog when he faces Usyk, who signed a co-promotional deal with Matchroom Boxing's Eddie Hearn, who also promotes Bellew. It's a match that makes sense for Hearn and Usyk, because if he beats Bellew and then perhaps has a successful heavyweight debut, he will be a logical opponent for unified world titleholder Anthony Joshua, who is also with Hearn.
Bellew (30-2-1, 20 KOs) knows the deal but said he was unmoved. He is happy to have the chance to win all the belts in one night against Usyk (15-0, 11 KOs), 31, of Ukraine.
"The world's going to write me off, and the more you write me off the more I want to fight," Bellew said. "We will see. I'm going up against the monster, the man who nobody really wants to fight, the man who just dismantles fighters and beats them easily. Make no mistake -- he's looking past me already. He might say he's not, but he's already asking Eddie, 'Who am I going to fight at heavyweight?'
"He thinks I'm arrogant. It is not arrogance that he sees. For the first time in his whole career he sees a man looking back at him that believes he can win, and not a man that believes he's just going to lose. I don't just think or believe, I know. I'm going to find a way, I always do. You will have to nail me to the floor. You will have to nail me to the floor to keep me there. I've got no disrespectful things to say to him. He's an amazing champion. On Nov. 10 he's going to learn that I bring something different to everyone else.
"I have the one thing that he doesn't have, and that's a punch that can switch lights off within the blink of an eye. One wrong step or one wrong maneuver and it's over. Every time that I'm written off I always find a way, and on Nov. 10 it's going to be no different."
Besides the main-event fighters appearing at the news conference, one of the key undercard fights was announced. Former lightweight world titlist Anthony Crolla (33-6-3, 13 KOs), 31, who is from Manchester, will face Daud Yordan (38-3, 26 KOs), 31, of Indonesia, in a final eliminator for the right to become the mandatory challenger for world champion Vasily Lomachenko, who is a very close friend of his Olympic teammate Usyk and was on hand at the news conference.
"It's a huge fight and I think mine and Daud Yordan's styles will jell nicely," said Crolla, who has won two fights in a row since back-to-back losses in title fights to Jorge Linares, who then lost the belt to Lomachenko. "There's a lot of people going on about me being on the undercard for the first time in a while, but I'm honored to be on the card with two fantastic fighters. I go way back with Tony Bellew. I'm just happy to be back in Manchester. It's been a bit of a slow year with injuries and stuff, but I believe I'm better than ever. In the gym I'm improving and I'm looking forward to being back.
"I'd never be disrespectful and call Vasiliy Lomachenko out, but if he ever wants to fight in England, and if I win on Nov. 10, then there's a good chance that fight happens. I'd love to get in the ring with him. He's a fantastic fighter and one of the best fighters on the planet. It's something that I'd look forward to, of course."