By John Evans
After a protracted build up, months of talk and a thrilling twelve round battle it was Nathan Cleverly who heard the words he wanted as the dream start to the BoxNation era continued. Hot on the heels of the fantastic Liam Walsh vs Paul Appleby scrap, the Welshman and heated rival Tony Bellew served up a fight which exceeded many expectations – a feat in itself considering the anticipation surrounding the clash.
The bout was fought at a ferocious pace and seemed to be extremely close to most ringside observers. The announcement of a majority decision briefly raised the hopes of Bellew’s fervent home support but they crumbled as scores of 114-114, 116-113 and 117-112 in the champion's favour were read out. Although the right man probably got the nod, the five point difference on Dave Parris’ scorecard seemed incredibly hard on the proud Scouser.
“I always knew it would be one of my hardest fights,” said an elated Cleverly at the post fight press conference. “He threw everything at me. There was no way he was going to give up – at times I think he felt like doing – and made it a hard nights work for me but deep down I was enjoying slugging it out and putting on a true fighting display”.
For Bellew there was heartache. The 28-year-old had set his heart on taking the WBO belt and although he systematically disproved all the prefight doubts about him – that he would be weight drained, has no chin or was simply not in the same league as Cleverly – he still came up just short.
“It’s sickening to sit here and see that belt on the table,” he said at the press conference “He showed that he is more than a one dimensional fighter. All respect to him, he’s a very good champion and he’ll shock a lot of people with the number of punches he throws” said the gracious loser.
“The winner……and new”
Whilst we didn’t get to see the expected slick, southpaw skills on display in James DeGales tough majority decision over Piotr Wilczewski, maybe we saw something more important. The 25-year-old showed heart and determination in taking the Pole’s European super middleweight title. Coming on the back of the defeat to George Groves, it was important for him to show that he still had the desire for the sport. He did that in spades.
‘Chunky’ found himself cut, badly hurt for the first time in his career and taking clean shots throughout the battle. Rather than utilising his superior boxing skills, DeGale chose to dispense with his jab, bite down on his gumshield and meet fire with fire.
“I’m pleased. Obviously I had to dig down deep in the final couple of rounds and sometimes I make things hard for myself,” he said afterwards. “The first couple of rounds were pretty easy then he came back into it. Around the eighth or ninth round I felt him tiring and knew I had to jump on him and that’s what I did. I think people maybe doubt that I can’t fight and that I haven’t got heart but I enjoy having a fight.”
“Tonight was all about getting the W,” said his trainer, Jim McDonnell. “I’m so proud to see him box a kid as tough and durable as that in his twelfth professional fight, get cut and when he was asked to pull it out in the last two rounds he showed what he was about. I thought it was a fantastic performance from James. It could have been prettier but I think he’s gotta take a lot of plaudits for coming back in a tough fight.”
DeGale bemoaned his lack of activity this year and stated his intention to box again before Christmas once a small tear to his ear drum heals. The bout is likely to be a mandatory defence of his new title against Italian Christian Sanavia.
Whilst the introduction of BoxNation means that there will be more television dates available for the likes of Cleverly and DeGale, it will also provide the likes of Paul Butler, Liam Smith, Ronnie Heffron and Rocky Fielding with more opportunities to learn their trade.
Britain is crying out for an exciting super flyweight with the ability to finish fights and Butler produced a standout performance as he spitefully put Arpad Vas away in a round. Heffron seemed too tense and eager to please as he chose to stand and trade with the resilient Tony Pace whilst Fielding claimed a clear, if messy, points victory over Irish spoiler Tony Tolan. Liam Smith’s body punching was again in evidence as he took out Gerard Healy in the first round.
Improvement comes with experience and if the quality of the shows continues, it will be thrilling to see these youngsters develop. There are exciting times ahead.