Cleverly & Bellew show their class
"You can dress it up any way you want, but we went in there to do damage to each other. That's boxing, and boxing's all I've got." Tony Bellew
While Saturday's world title contest between Nathan Cleverly and Tony Bellew is certainly a contender for domestic fight of the year, perhaps the best performance of the night came later, away from the bright lights, down in the bowels of the arena.
During the build-up to the bout, Bellew, who was challenging for Cleverly's WBO light-heavyweight crown, gave a very good impersonation of a raving lunatic - snarling, trash-talking, hustling and tussling. But at the post-fight press conference, the beaten man reminded onlookers exactly why they love this sport, a sport that is distinctly unlovable at times.
Bellew fought well in his first world title bout. Photo: Getty
A devastated Bellew, sucking up the tears, delivered an eloquent, funny, poignant and searingly honest lesson on the realities of boxing, a sport that can appear so esoteric and impenetrable to outsiders that lessons are required from time to time.
"I've let my kids down and I've let my trainer down," said the 28-year-old, who entered the room carrying a urine sample stained red with blood, a gruesome testimony to the fearful pounding his kidneys had been subjected to for 12 brutal rounds.
"I can only apologise. And it's just sickening looking at that belt. But I don't hate anybody, that's just boxing. I respect any man who climbs through ropes and I respect any man who took what he took tonight and gave me my lumps too."
And referring to the ill-tempered preliminaries, which saw the rivals almost come to blows on more than one occasion, Bellew said: "It's hype, it sells tickets - it's money. If you're going to have a fight with somebody, how can you like them beforehand?
"He's there to do me damage, he's there to hit me in the face - hard. And he nearly ripped out my family allowance a couple of times (a reference to a couple of Cleverly low blows). You're going to say 'I hate you, I can't stand you'. But after you fight, it's about respect."
Those who saw the match will know Bellew let nobody down. Given little chance by boxing writers and anyone outside his home town of Liverpool, the British and Commonwealth champion was one half of a stirring battle of wills at the Echo Arena.
As domestic match-ups go it was high-end stuff, and about as intense as it comes. "That was one of the best championship fights I've seen in years, a ferocious fight right to the end," said promoter Frank Warren, who represents both men.
"There were rounds when the two of them were throwing jabs and it was world-class boxing. The pace of the fight was amazing and when they started trading they both took good shots."
Much of the post-fight chat centred on a possible unification clash between the 24-year-old Cleverly and American legend Bernard Hopkins, a man two years shy of being twice the Welshman's age. For the record, Cleverly felt he would have too much speed for Hopkins - but such talk is sadly irrelevant now.
The 46-year-old two-weight world champion, whose first professional fight took place in 1988, when Cleverly was still getting by on baby food, lost his WBC belt in farcical fashion in Los Angeles on Saturday. This was one of those times I was talking about, when the great sport of boxing becomes unlovable.
Hopkins was felled by Dawson in a controversial move. Photo: Getty
When Hopkins rose to his feet he discovered that referee Pat Russell, instead of calling it a no-contest, had awarded the fight to Dawson on a technical knockout. And so, for the second time in the space of a weekend, an eagerly-anticipated sporting encounter was ultimately decided by a tilt tackle and an intransigent official, which is all a little bit spooky.
While a match against Hopkins would have been a shoo-in for Cardiff's Millennium Stadium, Dawson is a far harder sell and Cleverly will now look to Kazakhstan's WBA title-holder Beibut Shumenov. Shumenov won the belt in only his 10th fight as a pro, has fought only three times since and appears to be a far safer short-term option.
As for Bellew, one has to hope he will come again. Forget all that pre-fight nonsense, he is one of British boxing's good guys and a credit to his trainer and those two kids of his.
James DeGale claimed the European super-middleweight title with a hard-fought points victory over Poland's Piotr Wilczewski but the nature of the Englishman's win raised as many new questions as he answered.
While DeGale demonstrated big character to bounce back from his defeat at the hands of bitter rival George Groves in May and a big old set to come through against a man as experienced as Wilczewski, exactly why the former Olympic champion chose to fight at close quarters with someone so rugged and durable is anyone's guess.
Trainer Jim McDonnell said he was proud of his charge, despite DeGale's admission he had strayed from his corner's orders, which were to box on the back foot rather than get close and personal. Warren said DeGale could be ready for a world title tilt within three fights, but if that is to be the case, McDonnell needs to locate that jab and get his man back on script.