Bellew earns world title shot

The Liverpudlian has been lined up as a possible challenger for current IBF king Yoan Pablo Hernandez and he warmed up by flooring his opponent three times on the way to victory at the Echo Arena in Liverpool.

In the opening round, Bellew sized up Bacurin – a late replacement – with range finding jabs and a crisp right hand forced the Croatian to hold before the bell.

Worse was to follow for Bacurin in the second as a cuffing hook sent him sinking to his knees. He wisely used a few seconds to regain his senses and tottered out of range for the remainder of the round.

Bellew refused to rush the job, landing two big overhand rights in the third, while he thudded in two more spear-like rights in the fourth.

Gradually raising the tempo, Bellew was shedding any lingering rust after a seven-month absence, and Bacurin strangely turned his back in the fifth. This was an open invitation to the local man, who bludgeoned Bacurin to the canvas.

He rose with a groggy expression and the bell spared him a further onslaught from Bellew.

Bacurin stubbornly stood his ground, despite a crunching body shot in the seventh, and seemed to enjoy the home favourite???s growing frustration.

This irritation was evident in the eighth, with Bellew recklessly trading shots at close range, earning angry words from trainer Dave Coldwell at the bell.

Back came Bacurin in the ninth unloading a defiant flurry, but he was blasted to the canvas by a chopping right from Bellew. Again the bell defied the Liverpudlian as he was ready to pounce.

It would prove a last reprieve and Bellew forced his man to a halt in the 10th, jolting Bacarin???s head back with an uppercut to force referee Steve Gray???s intervention.

“I got ill last week but there was no way I was missing this,” said Bellew, who sent his best wishes to Sky Sports pundit and former World champion Jim Watt, whose daughter passed away on Friday.

“Dave Coldwell has improved me 25 per cent at least but you cannot stop picking up injuries in camp and getting sick – my kids are bringing home every flu and cold bug from school.

“It was great to be back in there and back where I belong. I am ready for a World title shot. Eddie Hearn has delivered on every word he has said from day one and I believe that he will bring me that shot.”

Hearn added: “We want the winner of the IBF title fight in July and we’ll look to get him in there for that belt in October or November – it has to be a World title next for Tony.”