By Shaun Brown
“Hatred takes up too much time and energy,” was Tony Bellew’s response when asked about his hostility towards Nathan Cleverly.
The odd couple will square off for the WBO light heavyweight title next month in Liverpool. It’s a contest which has needed little selling since their memorable clash at a press conference back in May, when the fight had been originally scheduled to take place.
“I don’t hate him. I dislike him; he’s deluded and a bit full of himself. I just don’t personally like the guy and the way he looks down at me. I’ve just got that personal feeling with him.”
The cards have been on the table for a long time as to how the challenger (Bellew) and the champion (Cleverly) feel about one another. But the animosity, the verbal sparring, the needle is what makes a great British boxing rivalry. And down the years we’ve been spoiled with the likes of Eubank and Benn right through to the modern day with George Groves and James DeGale.
On the night of Oct 15 Cleverly will probably feel like he’s taking on an entire city when he makes his ring walk in front of a crowd that will epitomise the term ‘lions den’. As challenger, Bellew is preparing to be down on the scorecards even before a punch has been thrown.
“I’m going into the fight already two rounds behind. He’s the champion and I’ve got to work harder than ever to get that title. Everyone knows the champion gets favoured so I’m not on a level playing field from the first round. But when I get in there I’ll smash him from pillar to post,” he declared.
Thirty-six minutes will encapsulate a lifetime’s work for the likable Liverpudlian. The 28-year-old’s journey to this unexpected world title shot has taken him from being a bouncer at nightclubs when he was just 15, working at a pillow factory (whilst training at night) to going to college one day a week studying to be an accountant. It’s a life that could tell a thousand stories. It’s a quest that Bellew is willing to pay the ultimate price for.
“I’m willing to die in that ring,” he confessed.
“He’s not willing to go into the trenches but I am going to take him there. He doesn’t know what I’m going to do on the 15th. After three, four rounds he’s going to realise that hanging out that left hand and snapping the jab isn’t going to work. I haven’t even shown 60% of what I’m about. I can do it all; I can fight, I can box and I can toy with my opponent as well.”
Whatever the strategy is for Bellew he’s planning in the best possible way. Stylistically Carl Froch may not be the ideal sparring partner to replicate the fighting style of Nathan Cleverly but simply sharing the ring with a fighter of his pedigree is taking Bellew’s work to a whole new level.
“I’ve been his chief sparring partner and he’s been mine, which is an honour. We didn’t actually know each other but our two trainers got together to sort it out. Carl got me to have a test session with him and I think he got a shock as to how good I was. He’d flown over guys from Germany and Canada but sent them back once we began sparring. It’s fantastic to be getting this kind of quality sparring and in two and a half weeks I must’ve done 50-60 rounds with him.”
Bellew freely admits that Cleverly is the best opponent on paper to face him so far. But despite the sizeable difference in who they have each fought, the Scouser did have a word of warning for his opponent.
“I’ve experienced things in the ring he hasn’t. If he thinks I’m another Karo Murat he’s got another thing coming. When I fought Ovill McKenzie, no one wanted to fight him. He’s the only Prizefighter winner where people have said, “I’m not fighting him.” Normally the winners go on to title shots. Like the soft clown I am I agreed to fight him. I looked at his record and thought this guy’s in for a pasting. When he hit me I didn’t think too much of it but when he put me down the second time in the fight I swear to you I have never been hit that hard in my life,” Bellew admitted.
As the days count down to one of the biggest dates on Britain’s boxing calendar this year, Bellew has found time to do a bit of pundit work for Sky TV. As recently as last weekend, alongside friend and heavyweight prospect David Price, the suited and booted Bellew shared his thoughts with the nation on how that night’s action would unfold. The result of the main event was a surprise for everyone watching.
“I was devastated. It’s not fair on Lee Selby but I could see the writing was on the wall for Stephen (Smith). He’s one of the fittest lads I’ve ever trained with but he seemed to be blowing after two rounds. Maybe he over-trained, I don’t know. But he’ll be back and stronger for it. Selby though seems to have everything; hard to hit, he can box and he can bang.”
“I enjoyed the experience on Sky overall though. I was quite nervous though. I don’t get nervous for anything but I was bricking it a bit. I’ve had good comments about how I looked and how I came across. I didn’t want to babble on, tried to keep it short and sweet. I didn’t want to look soft and I didn’t want to make my mate David Price look soft as well because he’s bigger than me so I kept it short and sweet.”
As thoughts turned back to Cleverly, I was curious to find out if the Welshman constantly entered the mindset of Bellew and how he was able to switch off from such a train of thought. The reply was not the one I had been expecting!
“If I want to think of him I just need to watch an episode of Eastenders featuring Nick Cotton.”