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Cleverly & Bellew show their class

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Ben Dirs | 13:17 UK time, Monday, 17 October 2011

"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.

Tony Bellew fights Nathan Cleverly

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.

Bernard Hopkins

Hopkins was felled by Dawson in a controversial move. Photo: Getty

I am unaware if Chad Dawson is a fan of rugby union or not, but with 21 seconds remaining in the second round he 'did a Warburton', lifting the champion off the ground and dropping him onto the edge of the canvas, where Hopkins remained prone for two or three minutes.

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.


  • Comment number 1.

    Yesss! First!

  • Comment number 2.

    Second! Which is as far as Hopkins got! It was a sad end for the great man but he should realise that it's time to hang up the gloves before further ignominy calls.

  • Comment number 3.


    Honestly didn't give Bellew a chance but he proved a lot of people wrong with this performance, defo time for him to come again and maybe even a rematch further down the line.

  • Comment number 4.

    Hopkins should pack it in.He's been ruddy boring his opponents into submission for years.

  • Comment number 5.

    Bellow - Clev was a great world title fight......something sadly lacking in this sport. I know you were trying to stay positive about the sport and good fight, but no mention of the laughable judges scorecard? Something else that has blighted the sport for years. How could someone have anyone winning that fight by 5 rounds is beyond me and left me with a very sour taste in my mouth. As for the other fights on the night DeGale is more than 3 fights away from a meaningful world title fight (we all know what I mean) and i thought dawson was a foul, however, hopkins went down worse than drogba. A sad end to a great champion.

  • Comment number 6.

    Great fight but it's a pity about the Dawson-Hopkins fight. Dawson may not have intended the spear tackle but it wasn't a boxing move (hence fight should have been a no contest) and his in-ring 'I'm gangsta, B-Hop no gangsta, B-Hop quit, I'm D-block and I wouldn't quit' when a still world class 46 year old is lying on the ground with a dislocated shoulder showed a complete lack of respect. 'Bad' Chad ain't 'bad'. He's dull, disrespectful and frankly a pain in the backside. Let's hope Pascal can win the probable upcoming fight with Dawson and then take on Cleverly in a humdinger once Cleverly has disposed of Shumenov (World Champion with an 11-1 record all against dummies, how?).

  • Comment number 7.

    Great fight, but I have no idea how one judge scored it 117-112 .... it's one of the tightest fights I've seen for a while, no idea where he got a 5 round swing from....

  • Comment number 8.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 9.

    CJ: It may have been a tight fight but it was also a fight Cleverly obviously won by one or two rounds with just better overall boxing.

    Sadly Cleverly has not really developed his skills over the last year, he needs a better challenge to bring the best out of him.

    Ben "did a Warburton" is the best description I have heard for ages - concise and completely accurate.

  • Comment number 10.

    Talk of contender Cleverley facing Hopkins or Dawson is nonsense. Warren loves promising big but delivering little. Cleverley will just defend his spurious title a million times against no marks. That way he will supplement his bank balance ten fold. Minimum risk, maximum reward. Frank Warren did it before with the likes of limited boxers like Scott Harrison et al.

  • Comment number 11.

    Sounds like a ruckus - I'm gonna track down this fight, thought it might be shown on Channel 5 but sadly not. Bout time boxing did itself a favour (he says studiously ignoring the Hopkins debacle!)

  • Comment number 12.

    A sad indictment of the lack of quality in the higher weights that there's even a debate about a 46-year-old getting dumped on his a$$

    Cleverley won the fight IMHO, not by five rounds, it was a great boxing match. Shame they are so few and far between. How can boxing be changed to create more great rivalries...? If it was about pugilism the Klitschkos should be fighting each other not sitting in a cartel.

  • Comment number 13.

    Bellew is all that boxing used to be, a lad from the streets with a dodgy past of juvenile misdemeanors and he only was out was through boxing. After the fight you could see that his emotion was that this fight was not only for his own personal glory for being a world champion but also the chance in a lifetime for success and improvement of his life for himself and his family.

    Bellew is all what boxing should be, men fighting for their lives, and even though he lost the fight he won it many fronts and has probably become the peoples champion.

    We need much more of this coming into boxing to get this sport as the best one to one fighting sport in the world.

    Nothing to say about Hopkins, he shouldnt really be in the ring in all fairness.

    And while i was disgraced at the way De gale taunted Groves i think he should be given alot more credit as a real fighter for his performance. Now lets hope he can carry on and become another world champion with the backing of the British public.

    Another great night for British boxing.

  • Comment number 14.

    It was a nice little British title fight and I enjoyed it. However if Cleverley is going to do anything at real world level he should have beaten Bellew easier then that. He gets hit far too often and for a smart person he does not box smart. Like all Warren fighters Cleverley has been protected/promoted well by Frank but he is a world champ at the moment in name only.

  • Comment number 15.

    Although Shumenov looks the easy fight I would advise against it. I've actually seen Shumenov twice in Las Vegas-where Shumenov is actually based.
    Shumenov is cannily managed and I don't see him taking Cleverly on anywhere except the US or Kazakhstan. If the fight happened in the US, I would guess it would be Las Vegas. Cleverly might find himself on away ground, having to win by knockout.
    Shumenov, I think is pretty effective, he takes a shot to land two or three of his own. The way Cleverly boxed against Bellew, Cleverly would lose the decision against Shumenov.
    I am not sure how good Shumenov actually is, but he is more dangerous than many think. My advice to Cleverly is to fight Shumenov in the UK, do not let the fight go to Las Vegas.

  • Comment number 16.

    If Hopkins decides to appeal to the Las Vegas boxing commission, and he probably will, the fight will more than likely be declared a no-contest and he gets his title back. Clev then gets his chance with B-Hop. All well and good but I would rather see him vs Pascal.

  • Comment number 17.

    Cleverly-Bellew was a great domestic fight, I thought Cleverly deserved the verdict but there was never five rounds in it. I was surprised at how frequently Cleverly got caught, I don’t know if that’s because I’ve overrated him or underrated Bellew but if he doesn’t tighten up he will get found out sooner or later. Shame the Saunders and Smith fights were over so quickly, I’ve heard good things about both so it would have been interesting to see either of them go over a round.

  • Comment number 18.

    I really like Cleverly.

    However, I agree with some posters that, if Cleverly is to really have designs on the top top echelons of the division, we would all have expected him to have taken care of Bellew - coming in with no real pedigree - with much less difficulty.

    What does this suggest - is Cleverly not at the level we hoped he was? Or has Bellew really put the work in and become a credible force on the world level? I agree with Ben that at times, when both fighters were "boxing", even Bellew looked like a skilled operator and more than just the brawler we had come to know.

    To be honest I do not know the answer to my question, I would like to see Bellew in a few fights with other recognised opponents and see where he really does sit in the world level.

    One thing about Cleverly though - he is a warrior who genuinely loves a scrap, he has admitted as much in the past. I believe it would have been WELL within his abilities to just box on his toes jabbing away, like he did in periods during the middle - late rounds, and he could have secured a relatively (I stress the word relatively) more straightforward victory on Saturday night. But he loves a tear up, and he loves giving the fans what he wants.

    Clearly though, against the top top guys he can't continue to get tagged so regularly - but like I say, I feel it is within his capabilities to box the smarter way, he just felt like he could take Bellew's best and wanted to entertain the fans.

    Basically, I'm excited to see where his career goes and the slight uncertainty only helps!

    Bellew too... I hope he gets a good match up next.

  • Comment number 19.

    By the way, James De Gale = audley harrisson second coming

  • Comment number 20.

    Another thing - what God forsaken channel was the boxing shown on???? I cant believe Sky didnt get a piece of this? Or anyone else for that matter?? Shambles.

    Does anyone here know a link to a good torrent download of this fight?? Radio five live commentary was amazing actually (was impressed as I have never before stooped so low as to having to listen to a fight!!) but not the same of course without being able to view the action. Let me know thanks.

    Shame on all British Broadcasters for not getting this fight live.

  • Comment number 21.

    To Tenipurist you can watch the fight on youtube the whole shabang.
    Brilliant fight thought bellew was great only problem was a lot of his shots wern't clean hits while clev was the same but IMHO I had bellew up on the cards and clev down so I'm not sure what the judges saw but it wasn't the same fight I was watching.

  • Comment number 22.

    Very close fight, I thought a draw was the most likely restult, or Bellew edged it by a round to be honest.

    Round 1 - Clev
    Round 2 - Bellew
    Round 3 - Bellew
    Round 4 - Bellew
    Round 5 - Bellew (I thought Bellew edged it, but was very close round)
    Round 6 - Clev
    Round 7 - Bellew
    Round 8 - Clev (again very close, could of gone either way, but gave Clev benefit in that one)
    Round 9 - Clev
    Round 10 - Bellew
    Round 11 - Clev
    Round 12 - Clev

    Thought the ref was bit harsh on Bellew at beginning with the head telling off.

    Cleverly repeatedly landed low blows.

    Best punch of the fight came from Bellew in the 10th, to solid rights that rocked Cleverly.

    Bellew gasssed later on but was still there in his face.

    I dont see how he lost, draw at best. But then, he was very honourable in defeat and I felt too harsh on himself.

    I think once he watched the fight back he might actually see for himself that he was a lot closer in that fight than the judges made him feel.

    Enzo Mac's card was about how I saw it, though I disagreed with him on the 5th and thought Bellew won that for me, but again close.

    Watch the fight again Tony and give yourself some credit. You want a rematch with this limited welsh lad before he steps up to world level because your about as good as each other.

  • Comment number 23.

    BuildaBonfire yes this is the impression I get - I really rate Cleverly and I think his bravado and love of a war is getting in the way of his efforts to really put himself up there as a world level fighter. Strictly speaking, he should have closed this one out with superior boxing skills, but as it turns out, although everyone loved the fight, it hasn't really raised his profile as a serious prospect at world level.

    Will be interesting to see how both careers pan out from here.

    All on youtube?? Didn't even occur to me to check there. thanks

  • Comment number 24.

    Had it to Clev by two. 6 rounds to Clev, 4 to Bellew and 2 even. Although you could have scored several of the rounds one way or the other, or even, they were so close.

    Bellew really upped his preparation for this fight - sparred 70 rounds with Froch and by all accounts held his own and according to Richie Woodhall who saw them spar gave Froch some problems.

    He also went away to get to get altitude training and you could see it payed off big time, his work rate and output was huge compared to his other fights.

    The main problem for Bellew was he missed with a lot of shots, or they were blocked, but his jabbing/double jabbing certainly gave Cleverly problems at times.

    His stock has certainly risen and he's proving himself to be far better than a lot of people said, whatever happens.

    Clev is improving in most areas but Sat night showed he's still green and has plenty to learn, he showed a tighter defence and better decision making but - this needs to be upped and improved again for the top guys.

    Clev showed a good chin with both Froch and DeGale stating Bellew hits very hard (as they've both sparred) and both predicting he'd knock Clev out.

    Clev wasn't rocked or looked close to being stopped at all. Obviously he got caught with some good shots but took them well.

    I don't like fighters using injuries as an excuse for losing, but I wonder if Clev's cracked rib had anything to do with him not being as fit and technically sound as he could have been?

    If a fighter has a bad injury they should postpone, no use claiming after, its their own fault. Clev took a gamble and luckily it payed off. No excuses if you lose with an injury though.

    Clev needs to work on all areas of his boxing - yes, he enjoys a war and has proven himself a tough guy with a quality chin.

    Clev is improving, but he certainly needs to up his preparation as far as game plans and tactics go - for a guy he said is levels above - Bellew was tactically superior for parts of the fight.

    Also, if the huge improvement in Bellew's fitness and output is anything to go on Clev should get some altitude training himself. It would take his fitness and output to another level - and he already scored very highly on both.
    But the top guys aren't going to want a war - they're going to look to beat you tactically. And Bellew had clearly done his homework on Cleverly and caused him problems.

    Clev, I don't think had studied Bellew at all (at least he said he didn't).

    That can be a major difference - one guy knows what works and causes you problems, the other doesn't. For me, it made what should have been not an easy fight, but a more comfortable win for Clev, into a really close fight.

    Apparently Bellew has a Euro shot lined up next, its up to him now to show that this wasn't a one off performance and he's at that level consistently.

    Clev should take Shumenov in Wales or US. Keep improving (he's still young and green Champ) and see where he is after that.

  • Comment number 25.

    Forgot to add - the Hopkins Dawson debacle was preposterous. How can they declare Dawson the winner? It was an illegal boxing move that caused the injury (that has since been confirmed by a doctor).

    A reverse no contest should be put in place with a rematch or both go another way, but Hopkins should be given his title back. Boxing has enough problems as it is, without crazy decisions like this.

  • Comment number 26.

    Good post SteviebeeJ, Cleverly does still raise these questions, he is undoubtedly skilled but I think most people are in agreement that Bellew caused him a lot more problems than we (and even he, admittedly) anticipated he would.

    I think undoubtedly Bellew worked very hard and has improved immeasurably - the proof of this will be in his upcoming fights. I also heard the noise coming from Degale and Froch about them being impressed with Bellew - maybe Bellew's future fights will show that this was actually a very good win by Cleverly.

    I do think his bravado gets in the way of his game plans, it has happened in several fights before where he gets involved in tearups that he shouldnt - fortunately, he seems to have a very good chin and can take some substantial shots.

    I prefer to believe that, a bit like J Calzaghe, Cleverly needs to feel really worried by a fighter to force him to stick to his discplines and just get the win, I suspect he felt he could take Bellew's best and backed himself to get the win by brawling - although a doubt does linger in my mind.

    Stevie/Ben - what do you make of the fact that he is trained by his father? I know it worked for J Cal, but I think this is more to do with Joe's ability than his father's training. Does vince have any pedigree as a coach?

    Id much rather see him separated from his father and matched up with an elite level coach, does Freddie Roach have any free time?!?!

  • Comment number 27.

    He's young and still maturing - the macho things he'll control I think with experience and realise you can't beat fighters that way as the won't allow you to as they'll use movement and tricks etc to stop you.

    So you have to become smart and tactical more than - 'phone-box warrior that he is.

    I see improvements definitely - but he needs that 'controlled maturity' which comes with experience and that is what'll stop him at the moment from moving on to elite level - he has that youthful want to please.

    And because of this - he's more likely to win 'fight of the year' instead of 'fighter of the year'.

    He still needs learning fights at the moment.

    Stevie/Ben - what do you make of the fact that he is trained by his father? I know it worked for J Cal, but I think this is more to do with Joe's ability than his father's training. Does vince have any pedigree as a coach?

    His Dad has done a good job with him - in many areas. Nathan won't leave his Dad I'm certain of that but i don't subscribe to the 'if it ain't broke don't fix it' when you scrape past Bellew. Just because you haven't lost doesn't mean you don't need improving in lots of departments.

    Vince has said many times in interviews that he'd step aside and only wants the best for Nathan. they've brought in a top Strength and Conditioner in Darren Wilson and I think he's made a difference.

    Reading around the forums, people are saying - possibly that they could bring somebody in as part of the team to work on Nathan's defence, technique and footwork etc.

    I think this would be the best option. Nathan's father does a lot of excellent things for Nathan and motivation is certainly one of them. Vince has improved Nathan, but I don't think he has the knowledge to tweak certain areas that would make a huge difference in Nathan as a fighter.

    For example -Technically - nathan stands way to square on at times, something tweaked in the gym would mean he's able ti draw fighters on to shots better and would get caught himself as often as he's doing so, it gives his feet the balance to move forward, backwards, laterally to stay out of the way of shots or a jab (which he struggled with against Bellew).

    That's just one of the things that a technical coach would tweak and would improve Nathan quickly.

    With a quality defence and technical coach with Nathan, you could see another 30% improvement in a year I reckon.

    That's there call - i don't care how he improves or who does it I just want to see it. He is improving but at this rate he won't be ready to challenge the elite in 18 2 years.

    A technical coach could have ready in a year, I think, as he's talented and should pick it up quickly enough.

    The worry is if nobody identifies the areas, he won't improve and bad habits get harder and harder to break.

    I guess will see in his next fight if he's making the improvements, Nathan has all the tools, I hope he maximises them.

  • Comment number 28.

    That's there call - i don't care how he improves or who does it I just want to see it. He is improving but at this rate he won't be ready to challenge the elite in '18 months' to 2 years.

    A technical coach could have ready in a year, I think, as he's talented and should pick it up quickly enough.

    The worry is if nobody identifies the areas, he won't improve and bad habits get harder and harder to break.

    I guess will see in his next fight if he's making the improvements, Nathan has all the tools, I hope he maximises them.

  • Comment number 29.

    Just found this - interview on Bunce boxing hour where Clev explains about the broken rib - having to leave sparring and tell Adam Booth and Groves he couldn't stay to spar the last day.

    Lol when he said i wondered if Bellew knew - he did throw some bad intention body shots on Clev.

  • Comment number 30.

    All fights were on Frank Warren's new channel BoxNation. It's free at the moment on Sky but is charging a subscription from November. So now going to have to fork out an EXTRA subscription just to watch domestic fights (Warren has left Sky Sports). Not happy.


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