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In this edition of ‘Inside The Vault‘, we take a look back at the night when Tony Bellew became a world champion at Goodison Park.
May 29, 2016.
A world title fight.
A brash, loud-mouth Evertonian making his way to the ring.
Five months after the release of Hollywood blockbuster ‘Creed,’ boxer Tony Bellew once again finds himself competing for a world title at Goodison.
On this occasion, he’s not pretending to defend his title against ‘Adonis Creed’. This time, the stakes are real.
It’s not ‘Pretty Ricky Conlan’ making his way to the ring; this is Bellew’s own story, and the script has yet to be written.
Ilunga Makabu awaits Bellew in the ring as he walks to the soundtrack of the Z-Cars theme tune, and the vacant WBC cruiserweight title is on the line.
After two previous failed world title bids, this could well be Bellew’s last chance to achieve his dream.
He has already been a British and Commonwealth champion at light heavyweight and a European champion at cruiserweight, but world honours have remained elusive.
15,000 people have flocked to the football stadium in the hope of witnessing “Real Life Rocky” reach the pinnacle of his profession.
At the age of 33, time could be at a premium.
Makabu poses a dangerous threat; his only previous defeat came in his professional debut against Khayeni Hlungwane.
The African has bounced back with 19 consecutive wins since that early defeat, with 18 of those coming by stoppage.
Bellew (26-1-2) climbs into the ring, garbed in shorts bearing the crest and colours of Everton, with his nickname ‘Bomber’ emblazoned on the front.
Makabu stands opposite him, determined not to enable the completion of any fanciful fairy-tales on Merseyside.
Once the introductions, national anthems and referee’s instructions are concluded, the boxers touch gloves in the ring.
Bellew drops to his knees in his corner, kissing the corner of the ring, before climbing to his feet to receive a few final instructions from trainer Dave Coldwell.
Makabu, meanwhile, jogs on the spot as he faces his own corner.
Bellew embraces Coldwell, who climbs out of the ring.
Makabu turns around to face his opponent, and the bell rings.
The noise inside the stadium is deafening as the fighters eye each other up in the opening exchanges.
Bellew – who looks significantly taller – fights on the front foot against southpaw Makabu, a notoriously slow starter.
‘Bomber’ is busy with his left hand, and works the jab well in the first round.
Every breach of Makabu’s defence, no matter how minor, is greeted with raucous fervour by the crowd. The noise level rises another decibel as Bellew backs his opponent on to the ropes and unleashes some good shots in the last minute of the round.
“Makabu is shipping a lot of punishment here,” Sky commentator Adam Smith observes excitedly.
“Bellew’s got to keep his head though, he’s dangerous… LIKE THAT!”
With 10 seconds left in the round, Makubu – venturing forward off the ropes – drops Bellew with a big left hand.
The 33-year-old Evertonian tumbles over backwards, but climbs to his feet quite quickly. As he makes his way to the corner, Bellew shakes his head; perhaps to show he hasn’t been hurt, or perhaps in sheer frustration.
The bell rings.
“You got greedy, you forgot about defence,” Coldwell berates in the corner as Bellew slumps into his stool.
Bellew sports a bloody nose – a symptom of that big left hand from Makabu – at the start of the second round.
He bloodies the nose of Makabu midway through the second, working behind his jab and probing for openings in the African’s defence.
It’s a quiet second round after the eventful first.
Before the third, Coldwell warns Bellew not to think about entertaining the crowd, but to focus entirely on winning the fight.
Bellew makes a superb start to the third, hounding a back-pedaling Makabu across the ring and backing him up on the ropes with some solid shots.
The noise from the crowd is deafening.
‘Bomber’, seemingly ignoring his trainer’s sage advice, is now taking risks as he seeks a knockout.
Another big shot pushes Makabu back against the ropes, and the Congolese fighter’s legs suddenly look wobbly.
Makabu is hurt.
He’s in big trouble.
Bellew is relentless.
Makabu throws back desperately from the ropes, but Bellew continues to pummel him mercilessly.
A big left hook from Bellew, and Makabu slumps against the ropes.
“Every pound of that 15 stone was in that left hook,” Bellew will later reflect.
The referee steps in to stop the fight as Makabu drops to the canvas.
TONY BELLEW is world champion!
Bellew drops to his knees in the middle of the ring, and Coldwell rushes in to embrace him.
Worryingly, Makabu appears to be badly hurt, and requires treatment in the ring as a teary Bellew celebrates with his entourage.
Bellew looks worried when he looks towards Makabu, but thankfully, after a minute or so, Makabu is helped on to his stool in his corner.
Bellew goes over to Makabu and crouches opposite the Congolese boxer to offer his condolences.
Then he climbs to the top of the ropes and roars defiantly to the crowd, before being joined for an emotional embrace in the ring by his wife and son.
Makabu rises to his feet and embraces Bellew in the middle of the ring after the result is confirmed aloud by Michael Buffer.
Bellew returns to the ropes to lead the crowd in chants of “Everton”.
His new belt is strapped to his shoulder, and then it’s time for his first interview as a world champion.
“I told you I am Everton,” he tells Sky Sports.
“That’s why I got up [after being knocked down in the first round]. Nothing was going to stop me tonight. I achieved the dream tonight, I am world champion, that’s what I am.
“The last time I saw that [at Goodison Park] was in a Hollywood movie.”