By Terence Dooley
WBO light-heavyweight titlist Nathan Cleverly makes the first defence of his crown against British and Commonwealth boss Tony Bellew at Liverpool’s Echo Arena live on BoxNation, Sky channel 456, tonight in a domestic showdown that has bubbled away ever since the two exchanged words at the presser for their aborted May 21st meeting.
Bellew offered to step in at late notice when Juergen Braehmer went AWOL days before his WBO title defence. Cleverly picked up the vacant belt after the German’s no show and was set to defend against his fierce rival only for Bellew to fail a BBBoC check weigh in.
‘Bomber’ has had ample preparation time for this date, tipping the scales at 175lb to Nathan’s 174.25 before engaging in one last act of pre-fight needle as both posed for photos. Cleverly put his head close to Bellew’s, Tony grabbed the Welshman by the throat – par for the course after a build up that has captured the imagination of British boxing fans.
“I came in smack bang on the limit. I was drinking water in front of everyone before I got on the scales. Nathan came off the scales and put his head in my face so I grabbed his throat to push him away from me,” stressed Bellew.
He added: “I’ve thought of this moment since I was 12-years-old. I’ve been throwing punches my whole life. I have waited for a world title chance and will take it.”
Nathan’s rapid ascent through the British and European ranks has marked him out as the heavy betting favourite. However, the 24-year-old’s belief that he is a level above his opponent could be his downfall and is partly the reason why this writer has picked Bellew for an upset win. Mine is a minority viewpoint yet Tony revealed that one or two others had initially plumped for a home victory when speaking to the Liverpudlian.
“I haven’t read much about the fight to be honest,” mused the 28-year-old. “But I know very few people have gone on record saying I’m going to win. They’re great to my face – telling me I’m going to do it – then have said I’ll lose when putting their predictions down in print.”
“I’m seen as the underdog but know what he’s capable of, know what I’m capable of and know I’ll win tomorrow night,” reiterated Bellew. “Listen, the guy’s deluded, we’re both six fights away from the elite boxers, the upper echelon guys. Nathan’s not in the top five in the world to be honest, he is getting carried away.
“I think the hype is getting to him. He’s been made out as some kind of monster on Sky Sports. They think he’s fast and can take anyone out. He’s not knocked anyone out clean and has bullied guys like Karo Murat who stand there like punch bags. Nadjib Mohammedi gave Nathan problems with a little lateral and head movement. He’s hyped up as the next big thing, he’s a top domestic, European fighter but is one dimensional – I’ll expose that.”
Still, the challenger knows he has it all to prove. Knockdowns against Bob Ajisafe and Ovill McKenzie, in their first fight, led to skepticism over the three-time ABA winner’s top-level chances. Bellew, though, thinks that his struggles have made him stronger, stating that the McKenzie scare in particular was a ‘road to Damascus’ moment.
“I don’t doubt my own durability or chin,” his answer to accusations of vulnerability. “I’ve been in with big punchers, awkward southpaws and stronger guys than myself. With all due respect Nathan’s been in with super-middleweights. The biggest light-heavy he’s fought is Danny McIntosh and Danny’s a jumped up, pumped up clown. Danny’s opinion of himself is very inflated, he landed a decent punch on [Tony] Oakey and Tony misread the count.
“For the first time in his life Cleverly’s fighting someone bigger than him, stronger than him and I’m not just hungry, I’m starving. I can’t even put into words what it will feel like tomorrow night when I make my way to that ring. It will be something else. My mind is focused on the tactics and the job in hand.”
Manchester trainer Bobby Rimmer feels that Bellew is a live underdog. Telling me that Tony’s verbal taunts and intense demeanor has got to Nathan as well as tipping Vince, Cleverly’s trainer and father, into uncharacteristic outbursts.
“I think Tony has got right under Cleverly’s skin,” Rimmer’s opinion of Bellew’s press conference tactics. “Not only that but he’s got under Vince Cleverly’s skin. Tony is going to knock Cleverly out. Tony’s been training hard, sparring Carl Froch and I don’t think Nathan’s ever felt the way he’ll feel tomorrow when he walks out in front of that Liverpool crowd, he’ll feel hyped up and could fight the wrong fight.
“What people forget is that these lads have been dieting for weeks so they’re a bit subdued coming into the last weeks, that ends when they’ve weighed in. Nathan will feel fantastic and indestructible again because he’s had some food – he’ll feel the best he’s felt for weeks. It is going to be hard to keep the reins on Nathan tomorrow. They’ll both be excited by it all. But I think Tony will handle it better,” his prediction.
Tony Dodson echoes Rimmer’s view, the Liverpool light-heavyweight cited his townsman’s dices with disaster in that knockdown strewn first meeting with McKenzie as a vital factor in helping Bellew, 16-0 (10), develop into an all-round boxer. “I was really impressed with him last time and the way he went about it after a scare in their first one,” his analysis of Tony’s improvements in the second McKenzie match.
“He did what he had to do to put himself in a position to change his life. I came close to getting a short notice offer to fight [WBA 168lb title holder Robert] Stieglitz for a genuine world title but it never became a reality for me, it can become a reality for Tony. He’s had sixteen fights, understands that this is a big deal and I think he’s had the right preparation – sparring Froch is ideal. I’ll be supporting him all the way.”
Read Boxingscene’s exclusive interview with Nathan from earlier this week: http://www.boxingscene.com/nathan-cleverly-five-six-more-fights-im-out--44891
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