Exclusive interview with O'Neil Bell "The very best of me as a fighter has not been brought out yet"
By James Slater: Former undisputed cruiserweight champion O'Neil Bell is yet another former 200-pound fighter going up to heavyweight. At age 33, and after two consecutive losses at cruiser - one in which he lost his belts via a decision (the rematch of one of 2006's fights of the year, against Frenchman Jean Marc Mormeck), the other where he quite shockingly quit on his stool after seven rounds (the fight against Poland's Tomasz Adamek) - Bell made the decision to go and join the big guys.
Article posted on 17.08.2008
Claiming he will add excitement and credibility to a division that is "a complete shambles," the 26-3-1(24) warrior known as "Bring 'Em Hell" is convinced he has the stuff needed to be a success against the giants. The Adamek loss aside, Bell, who was born in Jamaica but now lives in Atlanta, U.S, always gave his all in fights. Providing the division below heavyweight with a number of its most astonishing fights, and having rumbled with the top names at cruiser, Bell endeared himself to the fans.
Shortly after the announcement revealing his plans to move up in weight had been announced, I had the opportunity of speaking to O'Neil over the phone. Speaking in clear, laid-back tones, Bell came across as a typical chilled out Jamaican. With no question ruffling him even slightly - even queries about his bad night against Adamek being answered with not a hint of agitation - the fighter also sometimes known as "Supernova" was a pleasure to speak to.
I began by asking the 33-year-old puncher when exactly he decided he wanted to move up to heavyweight.
"I'd say I made up my mind for sure about a month ago, but I did always want to be a heavyweight all along," a serene-sounding voice replied. "People always told me I should do it, that I have the power and the determination. So I'm looking forward to it now, it's an adventure and a new challenge for me."
Is there any date yet for his heavyweight debut?
"Not a definite date yet, but we're looking at September. I'm with Warriors Boxing right now, so it's up to them. We don't have an opponent yet, but I'd like to do it like this. If I had my way, I'd let the people pick my opponents for me. I can't stress that enough - can you make that plain in the interview?"
Bell was serious, he wants the "experts" to choose who he fights next. I got the feeling he wanted to do it this way because he has a point to prove - after going out unexpectedly against Adamek last time out and all.
"I want the writers, the critics, the fans and the media to decide who I should fight next. I've never been a guy who was in a position to be able to pick and choose who I fight, so why change now?"
At what weight does O'Neil plan on fighting at as a heavyweight?
"Well, I'm around 210 pounds right now, so I figure about 215 at the most. I won't be coming in any higher than that now, but as I get older I may go up even more, but not right now."
Bell makes it clear he plans on fighting for a whole while longer before he thinks about retirement. But has he been struggling to make 200 pounds, is that the main reason he is moving up?
"Just lately, in the last couple of fights, I really had to struggle to keep at 200 pounds. I was having to work out before the weigh-in and things like that, which isn't too good, it's really hard on the body."
O'Neil has made it clear he feels he will bring credibility and excitement back to the heavyweight division. What does he really think of the division today?
"Oh, it's just a complete shambles, it really is," He says with a slight touch of exasperation in his voice - the only time during the interview his demeanour changed at all "There really hasn't been a great heavyweight since the days of [Muhammad] Ali. Someone to bring notice and notoriety and publicity to the heavyweight division. I believe I have the qualities and the abilities to be able to be able to duplicate that. I'm an old school fighter - the old school days are the best days!"
I was somewhat surprised Bell went back as far as Ali when it came to naming a great heavyweight. The exploits of Larry Holmes, Mike Tyson and Lennox Lewis cannot have had much of an impression on him!
Moving on, has David Haye, and his move up to heavyweight, with all the ink and attention he's been getting just lately, inspired Bell in his move at all?
"I'm not taking anything away from David Haye, but no. I am my own inspiration. I was the undisputed cruiserweight champion and the fans know I was the true champion. So the only person that inspires me, is me."
As a great all-action fighter as a cruiser, does O'Neil feel he'll be the same at heavyweight, or will he alter his fighting approach when he steps in against the big boys?
"Balls to the wall (laughs). That's all I can tell you. That's just how I fight, man. I mean, I may be a little more aware going in against the bigger guys, but I can punch too. I want to be tested as a heavyweight, I need to be tested. So any heavyweight who feels he's willing to challenge me, I'm looking forward to it. The heavyweight division will bring out the best in me. The very best of me as a fighter has not been brought out yet. There's a whole lot of fight left in me. There's plenty of fight left inside me, no doubt."
Speaking on the subject of what he's got left in the tank - what happened in his last fight, the corner retirement against Tomasz Adamek?
"It was partly down to weight problems, making weight. But I was also suffering from vertigo, and I had back spasms. My head was spinning in that fight, I had no balance and I was stumbling around the ring. I couldn't see and I told everyone after the fight that my head hurt. People wanted to know what happened, because they'd never seen me quit in a fight before. I'm a fighter by heart, it's in my nature, and now I want my chance again up at heavyweight."
As honest and as genuine as Bell's ailments may have been in the Adamek fight, I had to ask him, is there any chance that he is a fighter who is on the downside? He has lost his last two fights, after all.
As cool as ever, the former champ told me straight.
"I have two losses, [but] I don't think that makes me a fighter who is coming to the end. Like I say, there is plenty of fight left in me yet, don't you worry about that. I can say all I want about the loss to Mormeck, but I can't do anything about it, so I leave it alone. Everyone in boxing knows me as a true champion."
I asked O'Neil for some names he'd like to fight at heavyweight.
"I've always said, I've ALWAYS said, that my favourite fighter is James Toney. He'd bring the best out in me. These are the fights that would bring excitement back to boxing! He's much like me in many ways, an old-school fighter. I really want to fight Toney, but I'm not sure if that fight will be my next fight. I'm going to keep going until I get that fight, I'm determined to fight him some day."
Obviously, his desire to face Toney aside, a title shot is his ultimate goal. Who is the best of the current champions?
"[Wladimir] Klitschko is the best, with Sam Peter being second in line [for who I'd like to fight]. Klitschko has a great jab, he has poise and he has charisma. That's a total package."
He'd jump at a chance to fight "Dr. Steel Hammer" then?
"Why not? (laughs)"
Fearlessness is not an asset Bell Lacks, but at just over 6-foot tall, compared to almost 6'7" for Klitschko, does the former cruiser have the physical tools such as height and reach? Doesn't he worry that he'll have trouble getting inside on Klitschko?
"We can go back to the great Joe Louis and his fight with Primo Carnera. He [Carnera] was way taller than Joe, but what happened? There have been lots of fights where ther have been differences in height and weight. It's not just about being bigger, or being taller. There are things that can overcome that, like will to win. Also, speed is power. I would definitely bring enough to the fight [against Klitschko] to win."
I for one am curious to see if O'Neil Bell can do half of what he thinks he will as a heavyweight.
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