Dave Oakes previews Saturday's light-heavyweight clash between Nathan Cleverly and Tony Bellew.
Tony Bellew has been at his provocative best over the past twelve months, relentlessly goading and berating Nathan Cleverly. Not to be outdone, Cleverly has uncharacteristically got involved in the badmouthing. I’ve my doubts as to how genuine the bad feeling between the two really is, but one thing’s for certain, Bellew will have to walk the walk this Saturday if he’s to avoid looking foolish. It’s okay having a big mouth when you back it up; it’s not so good when you don’t – just ask David Haye, the target of some cruel barbs following his no show and poorly toe against Wladimir.
The fact Bellew, 16-0 (10), has secured a world title shot so soon in his career is a surprise. When the bout was first mooted a couple of years ago, before Bellew had even won the Commonwealth title, most people thought it was a fight that might happen at some point in the distant future. Not many saw the fight coming so soon, especially considering the mediocre opposition Bellew has faced thus far in his career.
Cleverly, 22-0 (11), is a massive step-up in class from the likes of Bob Ajisafe and Ovill McKenzie – Bellew’s last two opponents. The undefeated Welshman has looked at home at world level, beating Karo Murat to secure the title shot, winning it against Nadjib Mohammedi and then defending it against late sub Aleksy Kuziemski – it’s fair to say the latter two aren’t world class operators, Murat definitely is though, and the way Cleverly beat him up for nine rounds was impressive.
A few days before the Kuziemski fight, Bellew was due to be the challenger, stepping in at late notice to replace Juergen Braehmer only to pull out less than 48 hours later due to not being able to make weight. Call me a sceptic but I believe Bellew stepping in and causing a furore in the hastily arranged press conference was nothing more than a publicity stunt to hype this fight. I seriously doubt there was a genuine belief that Bellew was going to make weight.
Come Saturday night the build-up to the fight won’t mean a thing, no amount of hype or verbal jousting can help a fighter once the bell goes – the only boxers who allow an opponents words to put doubt in their mind are the mentally fragile, and neither Cleverly or Bellew can be classed in that category.
The champion is the clear favourite, with the feeling that Bellew only has a punchers chance. Bellew does carry significant power, he had a reputation as a big hitter in the amateurs when he was boxing at heavyweight, the power has stayed with him as he’s moved down in weight and he can hurt any light-heavy if he connects clean. Like a lot of big punchers, Bellew hasn’t got the solidest of chins, although he always manages to get to his feet after being knocked down, remarkably so in his first fight with the aforementioned McKenzie.
The rematch against McKenzie saw Bellew boxing more as opposed to just looking for the big shot like he normally does. He was criticized in some quarters for his performance; whilst it wasn’t the most pleasing fight on the eye, it was nice to see Bellew boxing with more control. If he can find a happy median between boxing sensibly and looking for the knockout shot, he’ll be a far more dangerous opponent for Cleverly than what he’s expected to be.
Cleverly is a well-rounded boxer, he’s shown he can box off the back foot, can stand and trade when needed, has respectable punch power and seems to have a solid chin. In addition to those attributes, Cleverly is also the more experienced fighter. As well as his world level fights, he’s beaten good domestic fighters such as Tony’s Quigley and Oakey, and future European champion Danny McIntosh, who he out-boxed and stopped in seven rounds.
I’ve got a feeling this fight could turn out to be very similar to the McIntosh fight if Bellew boxes as cautiously as I expect him to. If Bellew goes gung-ho then it could be over very quickly either way – a case of who lands first. With Bellew’s power, he’s always going to be dangerous; I can’t see him having the chin or experience to beat Cleverly though, whose ring intelligence combined with his desire should be enough for him to claim the victory.
I envisage Cleverly catching Bellew cleanly as he comes in. I don’t think the Welshman will stand toe-to-toe, he’ll choose his openings wisely, using his speed and timing to capitalise on any mistakes by the challenger. I wouldn’t be shocked to see Bellew making numerous visits to the canvas on the way to a stoppage defeat. I fancy Cleverly to force the stoppage sometime between rounds five and eight in what will be an engaging if slightly one-sided fight.