Oleksandr Usyk vs. Tony Bellew fight prediction, boxing undercard, date, odds, location

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For all the pomp and circumstance surrounding undisputed cruiserweight champion Oleksandyr Usyk's historic title defense on Saturday, it might be easy for the underdog story of his popular opponent to get lost in the mix. 

Usyk (15-0, 11 KOs), who became the first cruiserweight to unify all four recognized titles when he won the World Boxing Super Series tournament in July, will headline the first undisputed title defense in United Kingdom history when he faces Tony Bellew (30-2-1, 20 KOs) at Manchester Arena (DAZN, 1 p.m. ET). 

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The 2012 Olympic gold medalist from Ukraine has rapidly become one of the pound-for-pound best in the sport. Usyk not only enters Saturday as a large betting favorite, he has already shared plans to move up to heavyweight with a victory and begin his pursuit of Anthony Joshua, the undisputed title and retirement -- all in that order. 

But for everything Usyk brings to the fight in terms of unmatched skill, there's little doubt that it's the will of the 35-year-old Bellew, a Liverpool native, that will attract the majority of fans thanks to blue-collar persona and the blood, swear and tears he puts into every fight. 

Bellew's meteoric rise over the past five years since his knockout loss to light heavyweight champion Adonis Stevenson has been as surprising as it has been fun. After overcoming the devastating emotional toll of the defeat, Bellew has embarked on a 10-fight win streak in which he has won a cruiserweight title, avenged an early defeat against Nathan Cleverly and picked up two knockout victories over former heavyweight titleholder David Haye. 

FavoriteUnderdogWeightclass

Oleksandyr Usyk (c) -800

Tony Bellew +500

Undisputed Cruiserweight titles

Anthony Crolla -335

Daud Yordan +255

Lightweight

Ricky Burns -550

Scott Cardle +375

Lightweight

Throughout his rise up two divisions, Bellew has also found himself as a power puncher and mental warfare assassin who gets in the heads of his opponents and wears them down with his hunger and relentlessness. The transformation has helped Bellew became something of a "Rocky" figure the U.K. and a huge draw late in his career. 

The challenge Bellew is taking against Usyk, however, is arguably the toughest of his career. The 6-foot-3 southpaw who came up in the same amateur system as P4P king Vasily Lomachenko (and employs father Anatolyi as his trainer), will be nearly impossible to outbox and Bellew has said it publicly many times in the buildup that he will need to induce a brawl and look to land a big left hook in order to have a shot. 

Either way, Bellew is the type of fighter so honest that you know he's willing to go out on his shield trying and has professed his goal is to not only defeat Usyk but "take his soul" in the process. But he'll need to do so against a fighter who might be best described as an artist. 

"There are two different kinds of spectacular fighters," Usyk said. "One is a subtle counter puncher who shows the work like chess. It's kind of an art, sports art. The other kind is when a guy has blood on all his body. That's a second kind of spectacular fighter and people enjoy both. Both kind of fighters need to be respected."

Viewers on Saturday are likely to get a taste of both kinds of art. 

Prediction 

The one thing that tends to separate Bellew from his opponents during his recent unbeaten run has been his mental toughness. Being the underdog simply doesn't bother him and Bellew is equally crazy and confident to raise his game to levels that almost exceed his actual ability when the stakes are highest.

The problem for Bellew in this matchup is that, despite being the bigger puncher, he's going to need to channel every bit of magic he has left just to remain competitive. Yes, Usyk really is that good and the gap in skills should be evident early on. The fact that Bellew was unable to get into Usyk's head at all in the build up -- with the two actually embracing during Friday's post weigh-in staredown -- has to be seen as evidence that Usyk won't be easily broken. 

Usyk has already had his "moment of truth" test as a professional during his semifinal bout in the WBSS tournament against unbeaten Mairis Briedis in January. In a fight featuring tremendous ebbs and flow, Usyk absorbed heavy shots and proved his toughness in scoring a majority decision win. Six months later, he nearly shut out Murat Gassiev to win the tournament with an epic statement. 

Is Bellew a better fighter than Briedis or Gassiev? It's an interesting question when trying to gauge Bellew's chances. His hope of winning the fight will begin and end with him landing his left hook, with hopes that by hurting or cutting Usyk it may give him an eventual shot at a stoppage. If he doesn't, Usyk's quick jab, awkward angles and command of distance from the southpaw stance should help him win convincingly.

Pick: Usyk via UD12

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Brian Campbell covers MMA, boxing and WWE. The Connecticut native joined CBS Sports in 2017 and has covered combat sports since 2010. He has written and hosted various podcasts and digital shows for ESPN... Full Bio

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