MANCHESTER, England (AP) — Undisputed world cruiserweight champion Oleksandr Usyk successfully defended his four belts and sent Tony Bellew into retirement by knocking out the British fighter in the eighth round in Manchester on Saturday.
Usyk took control when he sent Bellew to the canvas by following up a straight right with a looping left. The referee got to a count of six before calling off the fight.
It was the Ukrainian boxer's 16th straight win as a professional and his first defense since becoming the unified champion in July. He could now move up to heavyweight — the level he won at which he won an Olympic gold medal in 2012 — and his promoter, Alexander Krassyuk, said in the ring Usyk could fight three-belt heavyweight champion Anthony Joshua.
"He's an exceptional champion," Bellew said. "Anyone who faces him is in trouble. Only the very best and very biggest will beat him."
The 35-year-old Bellew, who had already said this would be his 34th and last fight, had the better of Usyk early in the fight as he picked his moment to counter with his powerful right jab and even showboated at times.
But Bellew began to get worn down by the sixth round, at the end of which the Liverpool native got caught with a big left hook on the bell as he dropped his gloves.
Usyk backed Bellew onto the ropes in the seventh round and, with blood streaming from his nose, the challenger was wobbling just before he was knocked down midway through the eighth.
"I can't remember what round that was," Bellew said. "I don't even remember half of the fight."
Bellew will be remembered as a loudmouth fighter who upset the odds to become world cruiserweight champion in 2016 and then went up to heavyweight to earn successive victories in a grudge match against fellow Briton David Haye.
As for Crimea-born Usyk, he has an even brighter future ahead of him. The southpaw has risen virtually untouched through the professional ranks since leaving his amateur days behind him after the London Olympics. Twelve of his 16 wins have come inside the distance. As an amateur, he was also a world and European champion.
Usyk fought three times in 10 months in the World Boxing Super Series — beating Marco Huck, the then-WBC champion Mairis Briedis, and most recently Murat Gassiev in July — to become undisputed cruiserweight champion and has now seen off the third-ranked fighter in the division.
"I had the most difficult year in my life," Usyk said, in comments translated by Krassyuk. "I want to relax and spend time with my family. Only after my rest will I speak about my future."