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sport news Tony Bellew: 'I regret embracing David Haye'

Tony Bellew is sitting in a golf buggy on Southport Beach discussing quad bikes.

He is barely two dozen miles from the streets of Merseyside where he grew up. But the life he describes is a world away from the one he once knew.

Boxing is a sport that requires its competitors to take the greatest of risks. But for those willing to plunge to the necessary depths, it's one that can bring the biggest rewards.

Tony 'Bomber' Bellew has risen the ranks to become one of the biggest names in British boxing

Tony 'Bomber' Bellew has risen the ranks to become one of the biggest names in British boxing

The Liverpool fighter pocketed £2.8million from his victory over domestic rival David Haye

The Liverpool fighter pocketed £2.8million from his victory over domestic rival David Haye

Bellew claims his success in the ring has given his children 'a life I could only have dreamed of'

Bellew claims his success in the ring has given his children 'a life I could only have dreamed of'

Bellew’s last fight – an 11th round stoppage of David Haye in March – saw him pocket £2.8million.

For a boy from Wavertree in south Liverpool, 10oz gloves have proved the key to unlocking previously unimaginable luxuries. Now it is his mission to ensure that the fruits of his labour benefit those who matter most.

‘I have given my kids a life I could only have dreamed of,’ he tells Sportsmail.

‘They have everything you could imagine - quad bikes for toys. They’re nine, 12, and four and they have vehicles, do you know what I mean? It’s nuts, mate.

‘They have the best computer games, they go on the best holidays, they wear the best clothes. They have a great head-start in life… I’m a kid from the south of Liverpool (where) it’s tough.’

Bellew is merely a product of his environment - the latest fighter off the conveyor belt in an area with a long and proud history in the fight game. And it’s a city, thanks to the likes of Callum Smith, Anthony Fowler, and Natasha Jonas, that could soon become the epicentre of British boxing.  

Liverpool has bred a host of exciting fighters such as Robbie Davies Jr and Callum Smith (L)

Liverpool has bred a host of exciting fighters such as Robbie Davies Jr and Callum Smith (L)

Natasha Jonas (l) is also flying the flag for a city with a long and proud history in the fight game

Natasha Jonas (l) is also flying the flag for a city with a long and proud history in the fight game

'Bomber' claims it is the deprivation in Liverpool that helps produce so many good fighters

'Bomber' claims it is the deprivation in Liverpool that helps produce so many good fighters

TONY BELLEW 

Age: 34

Nickname: Bomber 

Fights: 32

Wins: 29 (19 KOs)

Losses: 2

Draws: 1

Height/reach: 6ft 3ins/74ins

World titles won: WBC cruiserweight 

For a student of the game and a proud Scouser, Bellew is enjoying spearheading an exciting era of boxing in Liverpool. But the lingering socio-economic issues that helped spawn the recent revival make it bittersweet.

‘There is a lot of deprived areas in Liverpool that need help and need looking at. And in deprived areas you get tough people. And tough people result in being good fighters,’ he says.

It’s not just in the ring that Liverpool is thriving. The Open Championship returns to Royal Birkdale later this month, while the area’s two football clubs are making supporters dream once more.

Liverpool are hardly recreating the heady days of the 1970s and 1980s under Jurgen Klopp. But they are at least on the brink of a return to the Champions League, while Ronald Koeman’s Everton are setting the pace in this summer’s transfer market.

The city, too, has had a facelift. Liverpool was the European Capital of Culture in 2008 and its centre is thriving following years of neglect and under-investment.

‘Liverpool is a different place now to when I was growing up here,’ ‘Bomber’ claims. But as he and a short drive to the city’s suburbs will tell you, the transformation only reaches so far.

‘The good points are the city is as multicultural as ever and Scousers are very loving people. The downside is gun crime is out of control and the drugs are spiralling out of control,’ he says.  

The former cruiserweight world champion was speaking with Sportsmail's Daniel Matthews

The former cruiserweight world champion was speaking with Sportsmail's Daniel Matthews

He was helping mark the return of the Open Championship to Merseyside later this month

He was helping mark the return of the Open Championship to Merseyside later this month

Bellew is a proud son of Liverpool, a city currently thriving in the ring and in many other fields

Bellew is a proud son of Liverpool, a city currently thriving in the ring and in many other fields

FLOYD MAYWEATHER V CONOR MCGREGOR - IS IT BAD FOR BOXING?

'It’s put boxing on the front pages of every tabloid in the world. So do I think it’s bad? No I think it’s absolutely fantastic. 

'(But) let’s just say Conor McGregor hits Floyd Mayweather clean with the hardest shot he’s got, are you trying to tell me McGregor is a bigger puncher than a prime Miguel Cotto, a prime Diego Corrales, a prime Jose Castillo, a prime Ricky Hatton, a prime Shane Mosley, Oscar De La Hoya? The list just goes on. 

Are you telling me Conor McGregor technically punches better than all those fighters I’ve named? The answer’s no, mate, not in a million years. But I’m not naive enough to think if this was in a cage it would be over in about 20 seconds and Floyd would be screaming, tapping the floor so hard you’d think he was tap dancing.'

‘We have a very good police force in Liverpool but the youth need help for tomorrow, they really do. The youth centres are closing, there are so many things that aren’t going on that need to go on.'

Last month alone the city saw 11 shootings – one fatal – as the authorities struggle to curb the gang violence plaguing communities, while in 2014/15 Liverpool had the highest rate of drug-related hospital admissions in the country.

The problems are complex and deep-rooted. But could boxing be an avenue for positive change?

‘I believe it is,' 'Bomber' says. 'It saved my life. I don’t know where I would be if it wasn’t for boxing. If it wasn’t for Jimmy Albertina (his former trainer) and Rotunda ABC, I have no idea where my life would have gone, I really, really don’t.’

Thanks to years of sacrifice and suffering, it’s a scenario that is now purely hypothetical for the 34-year-old.

‘My life has been boxing since I left school and I have had to subsidise that life of boxing through working (and) doing some things that I’m not too happy about.

‘I’ve had jobs at pillar factories, I've been a lifeguard, worked on nightclub doors, done some crazy stuff to subsidise boxing all because I believed the dream, all because I believed I would get there in the end.’

Eventually, around 24 years on from taking up kickboxing to channel his fighting spirit, he reached 'the top of the mountain'.  

Bellew says he 'reached Everest' when he stopped Ilunka Makabu to become world champion

Bellew says he 'reached Everest' when he stopped Ilunka Makabu to become world champion

'Bomber' rose from the canvas having been floored by the hard-hitting southpaw at Goodison

'Bomber' rose from the canvas having been floored by the hard-hitting southpaw at Goodison

At the home of his beloved Everton last May, Bellew unleashed a ferocious and unanswerable barrage of punches to stop one of the most dangerous cruiserweights in the world, Ilunga Makabu, and capture the WBC world cruiserweight title.

Ten months later ‘Bomber’ moved up to heavyweight for the first time and added the biggest name to his record with victory over an injured Haye at the O2 Arena.

Few had given him more than a puncher’s chance.

Haye, a former world heavyweight champion and one of the finest cruiserweights this country has ever produced, was expected to make short work of the brave but ultimately over-matched Liverpool fighter.

The 34-year-old unleashed a ferocious onslaught to achieve his dream at the home of Everton

The 34-year-old unleashed a ferocious onslaught to achieve his dream at the home of Everton

Bellew told anyone that would listen that Haye’s body, tired after years of gruelling fights and scarred by a life of luxury outside the ring, would give up on him. The ‘Hayemaker’, meanwhile, spent the months of build-up making ever-more graphic and sinister threats. At the first pre-fight press conference, Haye claimed he could go clubbing every night and still knock Bellew out. By fight week, the Londoner was telling ‘Bomber’ he would end the night

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