Aside from the headline fight, that pits the fanatically supported featherweight Josh Warrington against Aussie, Joel Brunker, Matchroom’s Leeds show on Saturday is turning out to be an absolute shocker, with the news today that Liverpool cruiserweight hopeful Tony Bellew (24-2-1, 15ko), will face Latvian journeyman Arturs Kulikauskis (16-26-5, 8ko), a man who has lost 4 of his last 6, and 7 fights in the last 12 months!!! – yes, you did read that correctly.
It is an extremely poor return to form for Eddie Hearn and the heavily criticised domestic mis-match shows of earlier this year, that, in Leeds especially, are reliant only on massive ticket seller Warrington, and his army of football fans, to make the events – often beset with last minute changes – worthwhile.
“Expect a vicious knockout. Expect a vicious, nasty knockout,” Bellew said to Sky Sports before the mis-match was announced, and he was unaware who he was fighting.
“That’s ultimately what I’m going for. I’m not waiting around in this one. I’m not sick or unwell. I’m fit and I’m sharp and I’m expecting to take this guy’s head clean off his shoulders.”
Whilst you may expect a KO to be a foregone conclusion against the Latvian journeyman, he has only been stopped four times in 26 defeats, so we may well be surprised yet, though such a fight, while not Bellew’s fault at all, will do absolutely NOTHING to enhance his reputation in the cruiserweight division, which is heating up with some very dangerous Eastern European additions as of late.
Those additions, like Oleksandr Usyk, Rakkim Chakhiev and Dmitry Kudryashov, are making it extremely hard to see where Bellew fits in – something realised immediately by biter rival Nathan Cleverly, who has dropped back down to 175 after a similar, ill-advised, move up.
Bellew desperately needs some good performances after last November’s rematch win over Cleverly, in what was a PPV snooze-fest, after which in June, we saw him struggling with limited 2nd tier fighter Ivan Bacurin (then 22-7-1), for whatever reason.
The Scouser, who has twice failed in world title bids at 175, is seeking a 3rd shot at 200 lbs, and prefers relatively inactive IBF champion Joan Pablo Hernandez, who has, what will be first fight for 14 months, scheduled for October.
“In an ideal world, I’d like to go for the best fighter and in my opinion that’s Yoan Pablo Hernandez. Nobody wants to face a 6ft 4in Cuban – and a southpaw at that. It sounds like a nightmare on paper.
“If I can beat Mr Hernandez then to me, it makes me the best cruiserweight in the world and that’s all I ever wanted to be; the best fighter in the world at my chosen weight division. That’s the guy I’m aiming for. He’s the longest reigning champion and the best champion.”
Quite how Bellew, who is ranked in the top #10 with all sanctioning bodies, the highest being #3 (WBO) will be prepared for ANY title shot if Eddie Hearn keeps doling him out uncompetitive and meaningless fights like this is beyond most people.
The WBO route, and new champion Krzysztof Glowacki, would present a very stern test for Bellew, who is caught in between a rock and a hard place, division wise. The other champs at 200 lb, including another Russian (WBC), Grigory Drodz, are extremely tough asks for the Liverpudlian.
His 2013 challenge to WBC 175 lb champ Adonis Stevenson in Canada, arguably the weaker champion at the weight, ended badly with Bellew stopped in 6, and a fight with the other, 3/4 belt holder, Sergey Kovalev, would surely be akin to legalised murder, as it was when Cleverly was dethroned by the Russian two years ago in Cardiff?
Either way, Hernandez, and that aforementioned Eastern European element at cruiser, sadly leave Bellew in a very, very tough and unenviable spot, and it’s difficult to see how Saturday’s fight with Kulikauskis does him any good at all with regard to easing that.