Tony Bellew sent a chilling warning to Isaac Chilemba ahead of tomorrow night’s world title eliminator in Liverpool, telling his rival: “I’m willing to die in that ring.”
The fiery Scouser is one step away from a challenge for the WBC light-heavyweight title currently held by American Chad Dawson.
Already ranked at number one by the governing body, Bellew knows victory against number three Chilemba at the Echo Arena will rubber-stamp his position as mandatory challenger for the winner of Dawson’s clash with Adonis Stevenson.
Bellew, 30, is never one to shy away from pre-fight animosity and this week relished the chance to stoke up the tension.
“I’m deadly serious when I say you’ve seen me fight with gashes above my face, you’ve seen me get knocked down head-first in fights, you’ve seen every possible scenario, with broken hands, ribs, nose smashed and I’ve fought through them all,” he told Press Association Sport.
“You’ve seen that. I’ve been through them all. What’s the next step? The only next step is I’m willing to die. And I know he’s not, because no-one else is.
“They don’t see things like I do, through my eyes. They don’t prepare like I prepare, for 12 hard weeks. Listen, I have to do a four-week training camp just to get ready next eight weeks because of what I put myself through. There’s nothing he can do to me in that ring, nowhere he can take me, that I haven’t already been through in camp.
“He doesn’t understand. I’m not joking around, I’m not p****** about – I’m willing to die when I go in that ring.
“I’ll do whatever it takes. However hard it gets, whatever pace he wants to set, I’ll take it and I’ll take it up again.
“It’s what I do. It comes naturally.”
Bellew (19-1, 12KOs) admitted Dawson’s name has been banned in the gym recently as he is only too aware he faces a considerable hurdle in Chilemba.
“I don’t even think about Chad Dawson,” he said.
“Dawson’s a great fighter and the best light-heavyweight in the world, hands down. He’s spanked Bernard Hopkins, he’s pasted Glen Johnson twice, beaten Antonio Tarver twice.
“He’s the best in the world without a shadow of a doubt. On his night, he’s pound-for-pound material.
“I’ll just wait and see. I’ve got to get through Chilemba. He’s the only one on my mind and once we do that, I’ll start talking about the other fella.”
Chilemba (20-1-1, 9KOs) has employed mind games of his own in the build-up to the showdown.
He said: “I truly believe all the pressure is on his shoulders because he’s fighting in his hometown, all his family will be there and almost everyone in the arena will be screaming for him. He doesn’t want to disappoint them.
“I’ve fought short guys, tall guys, orthodox fighters, southpaws, power punchers, skilful fighters and Tony is just another opponent.
“But this is a different level, a different atmosphere and my first time in the United Kingdom. It’s going to be great.”
A quality undercard on the Matchroom bill sees Liverpool’s Derry Mathews and Manchester’s Anthony Crolla meet in a mouth-watering rematch of their 2012 barnstormer, with the Commonwealth lightweight title up for grabs.
Former Team GB amateur stars Kal Yafai and Thomas Stalker also feature along with the likes of Scott Cardle, Jazza Dickens and Callum Smith.