By Daniel Cann
Boxing action hits Merseyside this coming weekend with the winner guaranteed bragging rights as well as a highly lucrative potential future unification contest with the winner of Bernard Hopkins v Chad Dawson (taking place on the same date across the Atlantic).
No love is lost for this one which sees new champion Cefn Fforest’s 24 year old Nathan Cleverly (22 – 0 , 11 wins inside the distance) hoping to emulate retired fellow Welsh boxer Joe Calzaghe. In the opposite corner hoping to ruin Cleverly’s lofty ambitions is 28 year old home fighter, Liverpool’s Tony ‘Bomber’ Bellew (16 – 0 with 10 wins coming inside the distance). Expect a highly charged and partisan atmosphere waiting for Cleverly as he makes the first defence of his title he won against Aleksy Kuziemski in May this year at the O2 Arena.
The night Cleverly won the title he was due to fight Jurgen Brahmer who pulled out citing an eye injury. Bellew stepped in as a replacement but unfortunately at a spot check weigh in he came in at 13 stone (190 pounds) and it was deemed that he would be unable to contest the vacant WBO title. Kuziemski stepped into the breach and was ranked eleventh in the world at the time of the contest with Cleverly. So the Welshman went on to win the world title in the fourth round ironically on a cut eye.
Despite becoming champion Cleverly did not do it against a current champion or even a top ten contender. But he did get the win and the belt. The interest for Saturday’s contest with Bellew is due mainly because of the antagonism and needle both showed to the other when it looked at one point they would be contesting the vacant belt back in May.
Whether it is professional rivalry or a personality clash this match has that vital ingredient for an exciting title fight: ‘needle.’
Neither man will want to lose as it won’t just be an undefeated record that goes but it will also be a blow to the loser’s pride.
Commonwealth champion Bellew was a decent amateur winning an ABA title and because of his punching power earned the moniker: Bomber. As a pro he has looked a bit wild and over eager at times but he has always got the job done. He is best known for his first fight against Ovill McKenzie where in a thriller Bellew had to get off the canvas twice to eventually grind McKenzie down for a stoppage in the eighth. That match showed Bellew’s vulnerability but also his bravery and toughness.
The two had a rematch in July of this year in a contest that had nowhere near the intensity or excitement of the first but saw Bellew show maturity in boxing his way to a comprehensive points win over twelve rounds.
Both Cleverly and Bellew have completed the twelve round distance so neither is entering the unknown on Saturday. Both favour the orthodox stance and are around the same height with Bellew the taller by just an inch and a half.
Cleverly is a former Commonwealth champion himself beating old favourite and tough warrior Tony Oakey on points. He defeated another rangy stylist in Danny McIntosh to take the British title and stopped Antonio Brancalion in February 2010 to take the European belt. It has been a traditional route taken to the top by Cleverly yet he knows more than anyone else that the real test to prove his worth at world level awaits. Articulate and intelligent (he holds a Bsc from Cardiff University) he wants to go down in history as one of the all time greats and knows what sacrifices he will have to make in order to realise that dream.
This contest is more about earning the right to take on the likes of Hopkins, Dawson, Cloud and Shumenov. For the winner there is a clear road that leads to unification contests and a lot of money with interest guaranteed on both sides of the Atlantic. For the loser it will be a long hard road back.
I think that should Cleverly win this one rather than facing the winner of Hopkins versus Dawson he should perhaps consider the challenge of former world cruiserweight champion and fellow countryman Enzo Maccarinelli who has moved down to the light heavyweight division and is gunning for a shot at Cleverly. That would make more sense for the immediate future as Maccarinelli has a big profile in the UK and the fight would be huge in Wales.
Before chasing the best in America perhaps Cleverly will be better served gaining more experience and cleaning up in Europe? That is for him and his management to decide but the last thing he wants to do is to get rushed.
Another fellow Welshman and former champion Joe Calzaghe has publicly backed Cleverly to win in style on Saturday believing him to be ‘head and shoulders above the likes of Bellew skill-wise.’ But Calzaghe also warned that Cleverly must respect the power of Bellew.
In many respects this one reminds me of the similar situation that Amir Khan will find himself in when he defends against Lamont Peterson in front of his challenger’s home crowd this December. Both Khan and Cleverly are the favourites and both have potentially some very exciting and lucrative contests to look forward to but both must respect the danger their challengers present.
One worrying thing I have noticed in watching Cleverly over the years is his bad habit of occasionally dropping his hands to his sides after throwing a combination. It is exactly this kind of obvious flaw that a banger like Bellew can (and will look to) exploit. Cleverly must be focussed and respect the threat of his first challenger otherwise talk of him becoming the next Joe Calzaghe or as his trainer and father Vince claims a future three weight world champion will get blown out of the water.
Bellew is dangerous but the first McKenzie fight showed his vulnerability also. He can get caught and he can be hurt. Cleverly will know that and will be buoyed by it.
I very much doubt this one is likely to go the full distance and will be very surprised if it does. It just looks like there will be too much passion and desire from both men who will probably bring out the best in each other. Expect a very tense start with things warming up from about the second or third round. Eventually I see Cleverly taking charge from about the middle rounds and go on to post a late stoppage after taking plenty of flak from a brave and determined challenger. One thing is for certain this one is not to be missed!