Outclassed Bellew bows out with a whimper
And so this is the way Tony Bellew's extraordinary professional boxing career ends, both with a bang and a whimper.
"It is hard to go out like this, a loser," Bellew whimpered at a desperately sad post-fight press conference in a small side room at the Manchester Arena, above the din of a small team of roadies dissembling the prize ring. "But I just would not have been able to live with myself had I not taken him on."
The bang came a couple of hours before. With the wide-eyed conviction of a travelling priest Bellew had insisted the only thing more glorious than his inevitable victory would be a crushing defeat, laid out on his back with the constellation of ring lights boring through his eye-lids. It came.
Bellew was too brave, Oleksandr Usyk too brutally brilliant.
That this was quite possibly Bellew's finest performance merely confirmed what we have always known to be sadly true: there are no fairytale endings in boxing.
In reality, Bellew was quite possibly the only man who ever seriously believed the great Usyk could be overthrown.
And he showed zero deference to the undisputed cruiserweight king, beckoning his rival forward and hurting him with well-timed hooks from both wings.
It was not enough. The finish came in the eighth: a left hook from the heavens which saw Bellew slump sadly towards the end.
Bellew peeled himself up slowly from off the canvas only for referee Terry O'Connor to wave off the contest. As expected, by both bookmakers and boxing fans alike, Bellew did not possess quite enough to ascend to the pantheon occupied by Gene Tunney, James J Braddock, Muhammad Ali, Leon Spinks, Evander Holyfield and Tyson Fury.
A fine, fortunate boxer, one of the sport's greatest ever upsets was to prove just beyond his wearied grasp. There is no shame in that. How on earth could there be shame in that?
"I tried my best and I gave it everything, but he is the greatest man I have ever shared a ring with and only the very best and very greatest will find a way to beat him," a magnanimous Bellew (pictured) said in centre ring.
Later, he would quietly confide that Usyk had not been his only opponent. "To be honest, for the first time in my entire career, I got tired," he added. "I don't know why. And I don't know how. But I was f***ing tired in there."
This barmy sort of fight did not only mark the epic conclusion of Bellew's cruiserweight career. Usyk, too, looks finished with the division. The heavyweight class, rather than retirement, awaits him. And not before time; even bigger nights loom enticingly on the horizon.
"With Eddie Hearn we can make some great fights. Usyk definitely needs to fight Anthony Joshua," his promoter, Alex Krassyuk, said.
"I will have some extra pasta for dinner," deadpanned the champion.
Ultimately, Joshua awaits. Although Hearn would rather hand Usyk at least one scholastic scrap first. "He will want to move into heavyweight and get comfortable," Hearn said, the Brylcreemed cat who got the cream.
"I would like him to come to Whyte vs Chisora. There is also Joseph Parker, Carlos Takam, Jarrell Miller, Alexander Povetkin. But he will tell me the kind of fight he wants." (© Independent News Service)