Nathan Cleverly targets unification bout against Beibut Shumenov

By Ben DirsBBC Sport, Liverpool
Nathan Cleverly
Cleverly is unbeaten in 23 fights after defeating Bellew

Nathan Cleverly will target a unification bout with WBA title-holder Beibut Shumenov after his victory over Tony Bellew on Saturday.

Cleverly's dream clash with Bernard Hopkins fell through after the American lost his WBC title on the same night.

But Cleverly did not rule out a rematch with Bellew following their epic encounter at the Liverpool Echo Arena.

"I'd like a unification fight with Shumenov, but a rematch could happen," said the 24-year-old.

Welshman Cleverly successfully defended his WBO light-heavyweight belt against Liverpudlian Bellew on Saturday.

"I knew this was going to be one of my hardest fights," he said.

"Aside from all the hype during the build-up, Tony is one of the hungriest fighters in boxing and one of the best trainers out there.

"He put everything on the line and had a massive crowd behind him, cheering every shot he threw.

"I showed a lot of courage coming to Liverpool, it was very risky. I didn't have to take the fight, I had other options.

"But I thought if I want true respect as a world champion then I had to take on a dangerous challenger in his home town and I wanted to give the fans the fight they wanted to see."

Few believed British and Commonwealth champion Bellew, 28, stood a chance against Cleverly, who was unbeaten in 22 fights before Saturday and was making the second defence of his crown.

However, the previously unbeaten Bellew played his part in a contender for fight of the year, soaking up a huge amount of punishment while coming back with plenty of bombs of his own.

And while he had no arguments with the decision, Bellew felt the defeat could lead to bigger and better things down the line.

"I've grown tonight and I'll learn tonight," he said. "This is far from the end for me.

"I take heart from Nigel Benn coming back after being stopped by Michael Watson and fighting the fighters he did. He's an idol of mine, and if he can do it, there's no reason I can't.

"My promoter and manager [Frank Warren] holds a lot of keys and can open a lot of doors for me so I've just got to fight whoever is put in front of me."

Warren said: "That was one of the best championship fights I've seen in years, a ferocious fight right to the end.

"It's a shame there had to be a loser but Tony Bellew takes a lot away from this and he's put himself in a position for a crack at another title, which I'll work hard to make happen."

Warren could land Bellew a shot at the European title next year, while Cleverly's next fight is likely to be next spring.

Hopkins, 46, was beaten in controversial fashion in Los Angeles. He was thrown to the ground by Chad Dawson in the second round and when he announced he was unable to continue because of a hurt shoulder, the referee awarded the fight to the challenger on a technical knockout.

A match between Cleverly and Hopkins could have taken place at Cardiff's Millennium Stadium, but Cleverly will now probably have to fight outside of his home country for the 14th successive time because of the lack of a suitable venue in Wales.