By Terence Dooley
Tony Bellew’s mood could be best described as ‘jubilant’ after confirmation came in of his WBO light-heavyweight title challenge to Nathan Cleverly. ‘Bomber’ meets the Welsh titlist on October 15th at Liverpool’s ECHO Arena, handing Bellew home advantage for the clash.
Cleverly, 22-0 (11), won the vacant title courtesy of a fourth round TKO win over Aleksy Kuziemski on May 21st. Kuziemski was a late sub, replacing Juergen Braehmer after the German did not travel to the UK for the contest. Ironically, Bellew had been penciled in for the job only for the contest to fall apart due to worries over Tony’s ability to safely make the 175lb limit at a few day’s notice. Now, though, the 28-year-old has ten weeks to whip himself into the shape of his life.
“I’m over the moon,” enthused Bellew when confirming the contest over the phone. “I’m really happy, it is a world title fight, a dream come true, and it is all coming together. Today’s press conference was no big deal. We got to have our photo together; we didn’t really sit down to talk over what will happen in the fight. It is what it is, he knows what I bring to the table and I know what he brings to the table, but what I bring is far more devastating than what he brings.”
Bellew believes that Cleverly has failed to learn any new defensive moves over the course of recent contests. Pointing to the Welshman’s aggressive approach in order to sway public opinion in his direction.
“I know that come forward aggression will be his game because he’s never shown that he can do anything else,” Bellew’s take on the style match up. “I have shown different things in my career, he just fights face first in a fan friendly style, he’s got fast hands but bad footwork and he’ll get found out on the night.
“The crowd will be great, over ten thousand people screaming for me but I’m going into this fight as the underdog. People have written me off, saying I shouldn’t be in the ring with him so the pressure is on him. People who think I don’t belong in the ring with Cleverly will see me prove that I do – I’ll become WBO light-heavyweight champion on October 15th.”
Those who have dismissed the Liverpudlian’s chances point to Tony’s recent struggles with Bob Ajisafe and Ovill McKenzie (in their first meeting). Bellew was floored three times during those twenty rounds of action, with many arguing that his nationality rather than his recent form is the reason behind this title challenge.
“I understand that people have concerns and doubts but I want this belt, will keep doing what I’m doing and am not saying I’m the best light-heavyweight in the world. I’m not claiming that I can beat Bernard Hopkins or Chad Dawson. I am saying that I can beat Nathan Cleverly. Styles make fights, he comes to the fight face first,” blasted Bellew, who refused to countenance thoughts of a unification match with Hopkins or Dawson should he prevail – stating that his mind is firmly on the task at hand.
“I’m not even going to start talking about someone like that [Hopkins]. I’ve watched him since I was a kid, studied him for years and won’t even put my name with his because I think the man’s a legend,” insists the 16-0 (10) boxer.
“I’m focused on Cleverly so I can become a champion in my own right and start my own legacy instead of talking about another man who I have no right to talk about. At the end of the day it is a domestic grudge match, it is just a bonus that a world title is involved.”
Those who feel optimistic about Bellew’s chances point to his decision win in the rematch with McKenzie. The three-time ABA heavyweight title winner boxed clever in that one, although he admitted that he was overly generous when describing the shutout as a ‘world class’ display in the aftermath of the bout.
Saying, “I might have got a bit carried on the night calling it a world class performance, it wasn’t a world class performance but it showed the world championship mentality to stick to a game plan and carry it out even when I was boxing his head off and playing with him at times. I showed a boxing brain and the poise not to go out to try to finish him in the late rounds when I was dominant – I was reined in by my coaches.
“I’ll never let my emotions cloud my performance come fight night again. I’ll put them to one side to fight Cleverly using the right tactics put down by my coaches, whether that is boxing or blasting – I’ll leave it to them. Nathan fights in the same style in every single fight, on the front foot, throwing bunches of punches and coming on in straight lines. I’m not Kuziemski or Nadjib Mohammedi. When I hit him he’ll stay hit. When I land he won’t stand there and fight back. If I land the way those two guys did Cleverly’ll be on the canvas.”
There will be no repeat of the weight issue, either, as the challenger is already within touching distance of the 175lb limit. “I’ve got a ten week camp, listen I haven’t met a person yet with my will, drive or determination,” he stated. “If you prepare as diligently as I do, writing everything down during my camps, then luck doesn’t play a part. I’m in fantastic shape already. I only have eight lbs to lose.”
Hopkins meets Dawson later that night. ‘The Executioner’ defends the WBC crown and is the consensus kingpin. Bellew, though, is anxious on behalf of the vastly experienced 46-year-old due to his admiration for Dawson’s style, telling me that ‘Bad’ Chad could outwork the champion if he ups his punch output.
“I love Hopkins and like what he does so I’m hoping he doesn’t get outworked by Dawson. It is definitely between them to when it comes to the best light-heavy in the world. [Jean] Pascal got lucky against Dawson and Hopkins (in the first fight) if you want to look at it that way, he should have lost both fights. Dawson is a really good fighter and I’m not one hundred percent sure that Bernard has this because styles make fights and Dawson could work harder than Hopkins,” his prediction.
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