Danny Winterbottom, ringside: Tony Bellew’s cruiserweight debut proved to be an exciting one as he dropped Russia’s grizzled Valery Brudov twice in rounds two and six, was almost stopped himself in round seven, before uncorking a lethal left hook to KO his man in the twelfth and final round to pick up the vacant WBO International cruiserweight title at the Echo Arena in Liverpool.
Having lost world title challenges at light heavyweight to bitter rival Nathan Cleverly in 2011 and most recently suffering a stoppage defeat in a challenge for Adonis Stevenson’s WBC crown in Montreal, Bellew decided his long battle with the scales couldn’t continue and a move up in weight was necessary.
If the popular Scouser was to harbour any ambitions of world title glory at his new weight he would need to impress against 37-year-old Brudov, a short and stocky native of Pskov, Russia, who had lost to Firat Arslan, Guillermo Jones and Ola Afolabi in ‘world’ title attempts.
Bellew was greeted in enthusiastic style by the home crowd as the walk out tune of his beloved Everton, Z cars, blasted through the arena P.A system as he made his way to the ring donned all in blue.
And when the action started Bellew (14st 1lbs 8oz) utilised his longer reach to keep Brudov (13st 10lbs 6oz) off balance in the opening stanza as the older man tried to shuffle into range to land his crude blows.
Brudov brushed the chin of the Liverpudlian with a right hand in round two but Bellew remained calm and made good on his promise to trade more at his new weight as he fired straight back with a one two.
As the pair probed for openings in ring centre Bellew suddenly unleashed a blistering left followed by a quicksilver right that sent Brudov crashing heavily to the canvas. The shot landed with such devastating force it looked to be a fight ending punch but Brudov, showing heart and ambition despite only having two fights in the last two years, hauled himself upright at the count of five. Bellew took his time to find room for a finishing punch when the action resumed but the bell sounded to end the session.
Brudov showed his defiance in the third as he double jabbed Bellew to the ropes showing no signs of the heavy knock down he suffered just minutes earlier. Bellew fired back with a right hand that instigated an exchanging of blows in which both men swung wildly and could easily have shipped a fight ending punch either way.
A mouse began to redden under the left eye of Bellew in round four and Brudov suddenly became that bit harder to tag clean to the head. Bellew switched his attack downstairs with a left to the liver opening up room for a right cross to the head but still Brudov was unmoved.
Bellew began to use the ring as round five progressed, poking out his jab as Brudov, up on his toes, tried to close him down. Bellew was the fighter landing punches with class as demonstrated by a left to the body followed by a succession of right hands but everything the former British and commonwealth light heavyweight champion threw at Brudov he soaked up.
Finally after absorbing so many hard blows Brudov was visibly hurt by a Bellew left hook in round six. As the Russian backed to the ropes in search of sanctuary Bellew gave chase and as Brudov squared up another left followed by a right straight down the pipe dropped him to the canvas for the second time in the fight.
As Bellew tried to capitalise on this latest breakthrough the bell sounded to end the round.
The crowd of around 4,000 ‘Oooh’ed and Arrrgh’ed’ as Brudov swung and connected with a right hand but Bellew again fired back. Suddenly Bellew walked onto a heavy right as he tried to close the distance on Brudov and it was immediately apparent that he was badly shaken up.
Bellew tried to hold on for dear life but Brudov wrestled free from the clinch. The Russian then made a mistake of hitting Bellew low that gave the local favourite some time to recover as Brudov bizarrely held his hands aloft as if victorious with Bellew draped over the top rope in his corner gasping for breath.
The pair then traded some heavy blows until round 12 when Brudov over reached with a left and Bellew connected perfectly with a counter left hook of his own that had a devastating effect on Brudov who had soaked up incredible punishment throughout the contest.
The Russian bravely tried to regain his feet but to no avail as referee Phil Edwards waved the contest off at 2-24.
It was an exciting fight for the fans as Bellew proved he still possess a powerful punch at cruiserweight and fast hands but questions over his punch resistance at the top level remain as Brudov, with a touch more patience, could have spoiled the home coming party.
“When he went down for the second time I thought it was goodnight” Bellew told Sky Sports after the contest.
“But he got up and I thought, ‘Welcome to the cruiserweight division.”