The Rise of The Supernova!
02.02.06 - Moments after the defining victory of his boxing career, a tenth round knockout of seemingly invincible Jean-Marc Mormeck at Madison Square Garden’s Theater on January 7th, O’Neil Bell was rightfully ecstatic. He had added the WBC, WBA, and Ring magazine title belts to the IBF championship he already held. After years of struggle, he had finally made it to the top for the entire world to see. Add to the fact that he had done it as a huge underdog, and you would have excused the normally soft-spoken ‘Supernova’ if he had grabbed a microphone and shouted out to his critics, ‘I told you so.’
Article posted on 02.02.2006
But he didn’t. It’s just not his style.
“It was tempting,” laughed Bell after the fight. “But actions speak louder than words. I guess it’s better for me to just keep my mouth shut and do the job. I don’t worry about anything else because I’m not gonna let my critics take me out of my game. I know where I came from, I know where I’m going and I know what I am, so I basically just ignore all the negativity and keep doing my thing. I’m seeking perfection. I’ve got a big picture in my mind that I’m trying to attain one day.”
Bell, 31 and in his physical prime as a fighter, is well on his way at achieving all his goals, at cruiserweight and beyond. Needless to say, he’s come a long way since he was a shy seven-year-old trying to get used to life in the United States after he and his family moved to Delaware from Jamaica in 1981.
“The biggest adjustment for me was speaking correct English,” explained Bell. “We speak English (in Jamaica), but its “Patois”, which is a dialect. It was tough just trying to get accustomed to the United States. I was very young, I had to make new friends, and I fought practically every day because people would tease me about the way I spoke. So I was defending myself and trying to fit in. It was a rough start, but after a couple of years I got accustomed to everything and they got accustomed to me.”
What helped Bell the most in getting acclimated to life in the States though, was football, and in high school, the future world boxing champion was an all-state fullback and linebacker for Polytech High School, as well as, a state champion in wrestling. Suddenly, a language barrier didn’t mean much anymore.
“Everybody understands a hard hitter on the football field,” said Bell. “Everybody understands the quickest guy out there, so they have to respect that, whether English or not.”
But after high school, Bell declined a scholarship offer to wrestle at Delaware State University and moved to Atlanta. It was in Atlanta that a 21-year-old Bell decided to take up a sport he had long admired from afar – Boxing. He has no regrets
“I actually picked the right sport,” he said. “I was a very rough athlete. I was a linebacker and fullback, so with all the injuries involved in football, I was thinking it was best for me to pursue my childhood passion, which is boxing.”
Almost instantly, Bell showed an amazing aptitude for the sweet science and a raw intensity for the game that wowed his trainers. It needed to be refined and harnessed though.
“The most difficult part is control,” said Bell. “My trainers have told me, ‘O’Neil, you have power, you have skill, and you have endurance. Just control them, know when to use it and when not to use it.’ I’m a perfectionist, and ever since I got into the game of boxing I studied tapes relentlessly. Three, four hours a day, sometimes on Fridays and Saturdays I would stay in the house all day and not leave at all, just studying tapes. I’m always searching to enhance my style and my abilities.”
And for Bell, when it’s time to woodshed and look at fight film, he’s going to the past to watch the legends.
“When I was an amateur it was Jack Johnson,” said Bell. “For some reason I just loved him. When he walked the earth he was unbeatable in every aspect of the ring. And he was an inspiration to me because he fought in a time when he shouldn’t have done the things he did. I commend him for that. The next in line would be Joe Louis. He’s an artist at what he did, even up to the older stage of his career, and there’s also Ray Robinson. I still have boxes of tape on all these fighters – Ezzard Charles, Jersey Joe Walcott - the old school fighters that really contributed something to the game.”
Bell took that old-school mentality into his amateur career, and it paid off as he went 12-0 with 12 knockouts. He was on his way and there was no turning back.
Getting fights proved to be a challenge though, and at the age of 23, Bell decided to turn pro, and he did so on February 19, 1998 against none other than William Holyfield, the nephew of former Cruiserweight and Heavyweight champ, Evander Holyfield.
Bell stopped Holyfield in the first round, and it wouldn’t be his last brush with the Holyfield name, as he and Evander are in the history books as the only two fighters to unify all three Cruiserweight title belts.
But O’Neil had a ways to go before reaching those lofty heights, something that was proven when he was knocked out in his second pro bout by unbeaten Mohamed Benguesmia. Disappointed but not discouraged, Bell soldiered on.
He would not lose again.
And something was evident as Bell got back in the win column and started taking apart his opponents with brutal power and underrated boxing skills. He simply loved the game.
“Basically, it’s fun for me,” said Bell. “It really is a joy to me being in there. I guess I don’t take it as serious as I should, but it’s fun.”
Some would say that’s an odd way of having fun. He laughs.
“Some ride a bike, I box.”
Bell continued to have fun over the next few years, and starting with a fifth round knockout of Michael Rush in October of 2000, he started adding title belts to his trophy case. The Rush fight earned Bell the NBA Cruiserweight crown, and one fight later he stopped James Walton in ten rounds to win the vacant NABF title, which he defended five times. A USBA crown followed when he halted former World Champion Arthur Williams in November of 2002, and suddenly, Bell was knocking on the door of a world title shot.
Unfortunately, no one wanted to answer that knock on the door, especially when Bell was beating top-quality fighters like Kelvin Davis (TKO11), Derrick Harmon (TKO8), and Ezra Sellers (KO2). James Toney and Wayne Braithwaite were among the champions who decided against fighting Bell, and after Davis won the IBF crown, he wound up getting stripped of the belt for avoiding the Atlanta resident.
But finally, in May of 2005, Bell got his world title shot against perennial contender Dale Brown. It was one of Bell’s toughest fights, a nip and tuck battle between the explosive Bell and the veteran Brown. But in the end, it was Bell who came out on top via a hard fought unanimous decision.
O’Neil Bell was the IBF World Cruiserweight Champion.
In his first defense just three months later, Bell got a rude welcome to life as a champion as he realized that when you’re on top of the mountain, everyone will always bring their ‘A’ game into the ring. Sebastiaan Rothmann came out with everything he had to take the title away from Bell, but ‘The Supernova’ wasn’t going to give up his belt that easy, and with a single right hand in the 11th round, he retained his crown via spectacular knockout.
It set the stage for the unification battle against Mormeck, and amazingly, Bell was seen as a huge underdog to the French tank.
“I went in there as an underdog,” he admits. “They were looking at the great Mormeck, the great God, to knock me out, and I sustained his best shots, and by the third round he was winded. I showed them everything that they did not see in the Dale Brown fight. I was able to box with him, slug with him, and outthink him and use psychology on him to win the fight as well. My critics weren’t aware of my abilities and my capabilities. It’s not their fault, but I had to make a stand in this fight and come out with a phenomenal victory just so I can get that attention and so the critics could stop criticizing me and appreciate a good boxer.”
Showing glimpses of the great Ali in the ring on January 7th, Bell used all his tools to score the win over Mormeck. He stood in the pocket and took Mormeck’s best and came back firing with both hands; he allowed the Frenchman to punch himself out on the ropes; and he used a debilitating body attack to sap his foe of his strength and stamina. It was a masterful performance. Bell knew he had it won after he absorbed a heavy shot to the head from Mormeck, stepped back and just smiled at him.
“At that point I knew I had him,” said Bell. “He hit me with his best shot of the fight and I looked right at him with a smile and he looked at me like ‘Is this guy for real?’ I saw that look from him and then I knew I had the extra advantage.”
From that point on, Bell’s skill and will took over. It was that ‘old school’ coming out of him.
“I saw a fight with Ali and Frazier, their third fight, and they fought practically to the death,” said Mormeck. “Ali was even quoted as saying that fight was the nearest he came to death. I feel if you train for a fight 6 to 8 weeks, there’s no possible way that you should get tired. You should just go all out and leave it all in the ring. I’m willing to sacrifice my body to get that title.”
He wouldn’t have to – he had to just keep doing what he was doing and eventually Mormeck would fall, and the Frenchman did in round ten. Bell knew it was over the moment Mormeck hit the canvas.
“I walked over to the neutral corner and I didn’t even stay there,” said Bell. “I just started parading and celebrating. I know my capabilities and he fell almost the same way Sebastiaan fell - face first on his knees and then he rolled to his back. I knew when I delivered that last right hand, there was no possible way that he should beat the count.”
Just like that, O’Neil Bell became the toast of the boxing world, with countless interviews media appearances and autograph signings to go along with it. It’s a great time for ‘The Supernova’, but he’s got his focus firmly on the future, whatever that may bring.
“I feel that there are a lot of options out there, especially the one that I really want to have – Mr. Antonio Tarver, if he would step up to the plate,” said Bell. “If not, if there’s an attractive fight at Heavyweight, I’ll do that and I will move up. But my primary goal is to bring the limelight and everything I can to the Cruiserweight division. I believe this is a bona fide division that demands respect. We are Heavyweights, but in a smaller fashion.”
And at Cruiserweight, Bell declares that he will clean house.
“I’m here to bring respect back to the division, so if possible, I’m going to fight all my mandatories , whether it’s Steve Cunningham or whoever it may be,” said Bell. “As for Dale Brown, he’s beneath me. I don’t see why I have to go ahead and make a definitive statement when he should have been knocked out the first time but he ran throughout the first fight. But, if I’m antagonized into fighting him, I will definitely make it his last fight.”
It’s been a long journey for O’Neil Bell so far, and as he sees it, the best is yet to come. Not too bad for a shy kid from Jamaica.
“There was a famous statement that a friend of mine told me, he said ‘O’Neil, a closed mouth does not get fed, no matter what you do,’” recalled Bell. “If you want something, you must talk it up and go get it. So once that sunk in, it just became a part of me. If I want to be recognized as the world’s greatest, I have to say I’m the Worlds greatest and act and perform like it. I just love doing what I do and I try to do it to perfection.”
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