By Nick Halling
Despite rumours to the contrary, it looks likely that Tony Bellew will take on Adonis Stevenson for the WBC light heavyweight title next month. A provisional date of 30 November has been set, and the fight will almost certainly be staged at the Bell Centre in Montreal. Nothing is set in stone at this stage, but negotiations are progressing.
There had been some doubts expressed over whether Bellew, the mandatory challenger, would get his opportunity. Sergei Kovalev, the hard-hitting WBO champion, was being mooted by HBO in their interview with Stevenson following his stoppage win over Tavoris Cloud. However, a potential blockbuster unification fight looks to be down the road, so the Liverpool man would seem to be next in line for the Canadian.
Bellew hopes to be flying out for a press conference to confirm the details in the near future. He is certainly getting used to Canada: he was ringside for Stevenson’s impressive victory over Cloud last Saturday. “There was nothing I didn’t expect,” he said. “Stevenson is a counter puncher and has been ever since he joined the Kronk. I wasn’t at all shocked. If anything, I was surprised at Cloud, he’s just going from bad to worse.”
Expectations are that HBO will continue to build up the possibility of a meeting between Stevenson and Kovalev in 2014, with sources suggesting the possibility of a televised double header in late November featuring Kovalev as well as the Stevenson/Bellew encounter. Bellew is of the opinion that he can scupper the network’s plans. “After seeing Stevenson close up, I’m just as confident I can get the job done,” he said.
IBF middleweight champion Darren Barker says he has no qualms about going on the road for the first defence of his title against Felix Sturm. The German former champion’s connections made Barker’s team an offer he couldn’t refuse to defend in Stuttgart, although there are also clauses in the contract for an immediate rematch in London should Sturm get the decision. Neutral officials will also be appointed.
Barker couldn’t appear to care less. “I’ve got no fears travelling to Germany to face Sturm,” he said. “London, Germany, or Timbuktu, I’m not bothered one way or another. I’ll still do him because I think I’ve got his number. Sturm was a great champion but he’s had his day.”
The fight has been set for 7 December, and Barker has already opened his training camp at Tony Sims’ gym in Essex. Now that he is champion, he insists defending is not just about finances, it’s about securing his legacy.
“I wouldn’t go to Germany just for a payday, that’s not what I’m about,” he said. “I’m a very proud owner of this belt, and I want to defend it against champions like Sturm. I want to cement my place among the middleweight greats. I grew up watching guys like (Nigel) Benn, (Michael) Watson and (Chris) Eubank, and it would be great if one day my name was mentioned in the same sentence as them.”
Barker also believes that winning the title against Daniel Geale in August has elevated him to a new level psychologically. “I never questioned myself in terms of boxing ability, but there was always something there on the mental side. But now that I’m world champion, the belief is there, and you’ll see even more of an improvement.
“Everyone knows I’m a good boxer, but there are so many more elements to my game now, and that makes me a hard opponent to prepare for. You can throw toughness and aggression into the mix. Look at my last few fights, and they are all completely different. How can Sturm gauge me? Which Darren Barker does he prepare for?”
A passionate Chelsea fan, Barker’s dream is to defend in the open air at their Stamford Bridge ground, although the demands of the football season would probably limit that opportunity to sometime early in June. Should he come through against Sturm, a return engagement with Geale could potentially come into play.
“I’d be happy with that,” said Barker. “I’ve watched the fight back, and to be honest, the gameplan went out of the window. When I stuck to my boxing, I was winning rounds comfortably. In the end, my determination helped me across the line. I’d rematch Geale 100 percent. And I’d beat him easier too.”
Saturday night sees Lee Selby attempt to win a Lonsdale belt outright when he defends his British featherweight title against Norfolk’s unbeaten Ryan Walsh. The expectation is that the impressive Welshman will win in style, give up the title, and move on to European honours later this year.
This all makes sense, given Selby’s string of impressive performances, but someone has clearly not read Walsh the script. “I’m a massive underdog,” he said. “I’ve seen odds of 16/1 on my winning on points, and that’s amazing. But I asked for this fight. I rate him very highly, but style wise I’m a nightmare for him.
“A lot of featherweights didn’t want to face him. They wanted him to give up the belt and move on, but I didn’t want that. I saw him beat Martin Lindsay (in Belfast in February) and knew he’d be right for me. My style is perfect against him.”
Walsh also believes size matters, and that physically, he will be a match for Selby when the bell sounds. The Welshman, whose Commonwealth crown is also on the line, makes featherweight comfortably, but then comes in very big, and his physical superiority has proved too much for many of his victims. Walsh expects to put on around 12 pounds after the weigh-in, so expects to match the champion in size.
Whether he possesses the skills remains to be seen, but he is not short on confidence.
“I want to know how good I am, and come Saturday night, I’ll find out,” he said.
Nick Halling is a commentator for Sky Sports.