Former world cruiserweight champion Tony Bellew retired soon after losing to Oleksandr Usyk in November, ending an eventful 11-year career as a professional. In his latest BBC Sport column he points to new challenges and gives a definitive view of the heavyweight hierarchy.
I am one of a rare and very fortunate breed in the boxing world.
I’ve been told that less than 1% of fighters globally get to retire financially secure.
The stat blows my mind because it is so sad, and I even see former world champions coming over to the UK and begging for work. I am so lucky to be able to make every penny I’ve made work for my family.
My fight against Oleksandr Usyk was always going to be my last. I cracked my rib three weeks before the bout and that made it four injuries in my past four major training camps, all at pretty much at the same stage of preparation.
It’s not an excuse. Usyk took me to a place I’ve never been in my career, where I was shattered on my stool. But my body was telling me enough is enough.
I’ll be honest, a few months on from retirement, I do feel like I want to punch something. Could I fight again? Absolutely. Could I ever make it through a training camp? Absolutely not.
Boxing is rich in sob stories of those who came back for a few quid. I will not be one of them.
I’m being asked time and again if I’d come back to fight one guy or another but all the money in the world will not do it because there’s no point in having all that money and maybe sipping my steak through a straw.
Training banter and a bitter-free mind
I know the troubles that come with sporting retirement are well documented, and rightly so, but I can say I’m content. I have businesses, opportunities coming thick and fast, and can do things I never could before.
I got to go skiing with my eldest son in Manchester. I’d refused to go since a trip to the Alps with my school 20 years ago, such was my fear of injury. Everything came second to boxing for all that time – from experiences to social outings – so I absolutely loved being able to do it again. I can even play five-a-side every week now too.
My situation differs to some sportsmen or sportswomen in that I spent long periods of training in my own world. I know, in contrast, footballers tend to miss the banter of a dressing room when their career is done.
I train with former footballers Alan Stubbs, Leon Osman and Tony Hibbert three times a week. Leon ‘one, two, miss a few’ Osman is known for missing a workout but he’s a classic example of someone who gets the fill of banter he needs from it. I can fully see how those leaving team sports may desperately miss it.
Have I missed boxing? I did get a slight itch when I went to see my old stable-mate Jordan Gill fight recently – that was the closest I’d felt to missing it, if I’m honest.
So far it feels under control.
I saw Andy Murray’s tears as he contemplated his own future shortly after I’d called time and I can see how it must be devastating to have injury potentially take a career away from you.
It nearly happened to me after a couple of years, but for hand surgery. Had it happened, maybe I would have ended like many guys I see in boxing who showcase their bitterness and have nothing good to say about the sport.
You hear guys saying: ‘I should have got this or that.’ There is no such thing as luck in boxing. You get what you work for in elite sport.
Me and James DeGale – who has also now retired – were never meant to be the world champions from our Great Britain squad. There were more talented fighters around us who were destined for greatness. I know I worked harder than most but when I think about those who were around me, what I achieved, what I experienced and the fact it ended when I said so, I am entirely happy.
Giving something back as a manager
Some of the properties and businesses I own have kept me busy and I’m also guiding a couple of fighters – Craig Glover and a teenager called Thomas Whittaker Hart.
They were approached by managers who wanted a 20% cut, which kind of points to the disgusting way this game works. Why would someone want 20% of a fighter’s purse, which might only be £4,000 to begin with? By the time the fighter pays tax, gym costs and coaches, he’d be left with a couple of grand.
It angers me and so I’ll be doing this for nothing, hoping to help them avoid the pitfalls that I encountered.
A couple of African fighters have ended up under my stewardship too as I’ve brought Hassan Mwakinyo – who recently stopped Britain’s Sam Eggington – and Fatuma Zarika – the women’s WBC super-bantamweight champion – over to spar at Rotunda ABC in Liverpool, where it all started for me.
I want to give back to boxing, whether it be helping guys in the ring or in my role on the committee of the club. Without Rotunda ABC, I’d be nothing in life. I dread to think where I would be – maybe locked up for who knows what.
AJ is king of a heavyweight mess
I briefly entered the heavyweight fray with two wins over David Haye, but now the division is in a bit of a political mess.
Tyson Fury’s new deal with ESPN is a problem as television networks do not typically work too well with one another, and given both Anthony Joshua and Deontay Wilder are with other broadcasters, it’s a bit ugly.
One thing we need, ultimately, is to know who the number one heavyweight is in the world.
There has never been a fighter in any weight division in the history of boxing who has held three of the four belts – as Joshua does – and not been considered number one.
So that makes that clear – Joshua is the main man, despite what some may say. And being number one, that gives you the financial lead when entering into any negotiations.
If Fury or Wilder held three belts in the division, do you really think they would give an opponent 50-50?
Joshua is offering some of these guys more in one night than they have earned in their whole career and yet they still want to complain. He’s also saying if they win and they rematch, he’d flip the terms.
We know who the number one is. If you believe you can beat him take the pay day and you’ll make even more in the rematch.
Do they really believe they can beat him though? I’m not so sure.