By Nick Halling
Mandatory challenger Tony Bellew will be an interested observer at ringside in Montreal on Saturday when Adonis Stevenson makes the first defence of his WBC light heavyweight title against former IBF champion Tavoris Cloud. Bellew is making the trip personally to see at close quarters the man who he will face for the title, and is firmly of the opinion that the belt will be staying in Canadian hands.
“I want Stevenson to win, and I’m 60/40 that he’ll do it,” said the Liverpool fighter. “Cloud probably does the championship distance better, but in his last two fights he’s been very disappointing. I thought he just had a bad night against (Gabriel) Campillo last year, but then against (Bernard) Hopkins, he was just dire, really poor.
“He didn’t do anything, he lost nine of the first 10 rounds, and then he just stood there feeling sorry for himself. If that had been me, I’d have been swinging for the lights, because at that point you’ve got nothing to lose. But he just gave his title away. Cloud is a good fighter on his night, but if he’s as bad against Stevenson as he was against Hopkins, he’ll get starched.”
Not that Bellew sees it as a foregone conclusion, however. “My money is on an early Stevenson stoppage, but if it goes to four or six rounds, that will change,” he said. “Stevenson tends to run out of ideas, while Cloud probably does the longer distance better. If he can get past six rounds, it will become a pick ‘em fight.
“But I hope it’s Stevenson. He’s the man who beat the man, and is rightly recognised as the premier light heavy in the world after what he did to (Chad) Dawson. I want the best and most credible opponent out there. I want to beat a legitimate champion, and I want it to be the toughest challenge. Adonis has explosive feet and hands, and you have to respect his power.”
Earlier this week, Stevenson’s promoter, Yvon Michel, confirmed that Bellew is next in line for a shot at the belt. Bellew is already in camp preparing for his opportunity, currently working with a range of orthodox and southpaw sparring partners, one group of which will be sent home once Saturday’s result is known. “Everything is where it should be, all the sparring partners are lined up,” he said.
The reward for Liverpool lightweight Derry Mathews beating Curtis Woodhouse last Saturday could be an unexpected world title opportunity in 2014. The immensely likeable Liverpool man, who never seems to be in a boring fight, has certainly paid his dues over the last two years, and there is a growing feeling around the British scene that he deserves his chance. The former British champion defended his Commonwealth title against Woodhouse, but his manager Dave Coldwell, believes he is capable of much more.
“We’re going to see what we can do for him,” he said. “No disrespect intended to anyone, but Derry’s bigger than the Commonwealth title. We need to try and nail something for him.”
The rise of Mathews since a body shot stoppage defeat to Emiliano Marsili in January 2012 has been extraordinary. Three months later, in one of the domestic upsets of the year, he surprised everyone by ripping the British crown from Anthony Crolla with a sixth round stoppage. A brave assault on the European belt proved a step too far when Gavin Rees wore him down over nine, while a rematch with Crolla was a razor-tight affair, with both men having a good argument for winning: the resultant draw satisfied nobody.
In July he was outboxed for nine rounds by rising prospect Tommy Coyle, before getting out of jail with a stunning left hook, before then disposing of Woodhouse. Given that Rees had his shot against Adrien Broner, and Crolla is being mentioned as a future opponent for WBO lightweight boss Ricky Burns, Mathews certainly deserves serious consideration at world level.
“I think 90 percent of the boxing world thought I was finished after Masili, but I knew I had something left,” said Mathews. He rejoined his original professional trainer, Danny Vaughan, now relocated to Glasgow, for the Crolla fight, and the results have spoken for themselves. “I haven’t looked back since. Certain fighters gel with certain trainers, and that’s how it is with me and Danny. They say the boxer is supposed to be the boss because he pays the wages, but in my eyes, Danny is my boss. I do what he says.”
The first Crolla affair proved the turning point. “I spent more than my wages on training camp, but I had to do it because I needed to prove people wrong,” he said. “There’s been a lot of sacrifice. I lock myself away in Scotland for weeks at a time, away from my fiancée, my two kids, my business. It’s cost me a lot to get where I am.”
That dedication will be on show once again when he goes on honeymoon to New York after marrying his long-time fiancée Michelle this coming Saturday. Ever the romantic, Derry is looking forward to a return to Gleason’s gym in the city, where he spent three weeks training earlier this year. But, on Vaughan’s orders, there will be no boxing until the New Year for this natural workaholic. “I’ll be sacrificing my Christmas in the gym,” he noted.
But for true romance, the big story could come next year, and a possible chance at the world title. Cuba’s Richar Abril holds the WBA title, Miguel Vazquez the IBF, Burns the WBO, and Broner still retains the WBC, with Omar Figueroa the interim.
“Hopefully it can happen for me,” he said. I don’t mind which one it is, I’d happily fight any of them, because that in itself would be an honour. With the power and the confidence I have right now, I think I’d have a shot.”
Trainer Brian Lawrence is rarely one for hype, but the quiet Londoner can barely contain his excitement at the potential of prospect Lerrone Richardson, who makes his debut at the York Hall, Bethnal Green, on Sunday.
“He’s the best I’ve ever worked with,” said Lawrence. “I’ve had Ian Napa, James Cook, Henry Akinwande, but this guy is different altogether. I’m thinking Adrien Broner, that’s how good he is, and I don’t say that lightly.”
The Croydon southpaw won a bunch of amateur titles, and looks set to join an already talent-laden super middleweight division. “He’s right handed, but has been boxing southpaw he was six years old, and it’s so natural to him, that I wouldn’t dream of switching him,” said Lawrence. “He does technical stuff in the gym that I haven’t taught him, and I’m just sitting there watching it, and can hardly believe it. He’s a different level. This kid is going to be one to watch.”
Nick Halling is a commentator for Sky Sports