On Saturday November 22, 2014, a rivalry was finally settled. Or was it?
At last, Tony Bellew was able claim his revenge against Welshman Nathan Cleverly, bringing one of the most anticipated nights of British boxing to a unsatisfactory close.
On a chilly November evening outside Liverpool’s Echo Arena, the action inside the ring was quite the contrary. It was business as usual for James DeGale, George Groves, Anthony Joshua and Callum Smith who all impressed on a bumper bill in Liverpool.
DeGale kept alive his chances of a showdown with Carl Froch after demolishing Marco Antonio Periban in three blistering rounds. Groves, for his part, stopped Denis Douglin in seven and Joshua took a mere round to dispose of Michael Sprott.
On the other hand, for Britain’s two WBA world champions, Jamie McDonnell and Scott Quigg, the night was not as easy.
McDonnell bizarrely avoided a scare after the late replacement Javier Chacon was forced to quit with a suspected dislocated shoulder in the ninth round of an unlikely close battle. Likewise, Quigg found it hard to impress, as the Bury native won a hard fought points victory against the unknown Hidenori Otake, in a forgetful performance that would have his nemesis Carl Frampton licking his lips.
So after an exciting build up, the apprehension was evident as the fight that captured the imagination of the British public was almost upon us.The atmosphere was electric as the hometown favorite entered the ring to the cheers of his adoring fans.
Right from the opening bell, both men got down to business. It was the high punch volume from Cleverly though, along with his successful jab, which was the pivotal difference in the first round.
You could sense the trepidation throughout the arena in the next two sessions as it was nip and tuck. Cleverly winning the battle of the jabs, while Bellew was firing to the head and body with both men having very little success.
It was extremely difficult to split the pair in the fourth round, as Cleverly’s defense was superb, yet he was not landing anything other than his jab. Bellew was throwing a variety of punches, but due to the movement of his opponent, he was finding it hard to land a glove on Cleverly.
The next six minutes were very poor indeed, Cleverly was doing very little, only flicking with his jab. Bellew was attempting to force the pace, however it was clear that the fight was not going to live up to the hype.
The Bomber began to have some success in the seventh, as he began to plant his feet more cutting the ring off on the fleet-footed Cleverly.
Was he finally going to achieve his long awaited revenge?
Rumors began to circulate that the 27-year-old Cleverly had injured his right hand, which would account for its lack of use. Then all of a sudden, the right hand made an appearance as Cleverly was able to land three heavy right hands that snatched the round for the man from the Valleys.
Finally the fight caught fire in the ninth, and it was Bellew who took the initiative, smothering Cleverly with huge bombs. For the first time it seemed the granite chinned Cleverly may not make it to the final bell.
The 10th round was gigantic for The Bomber as he forced Clev back to the ropes for the full three minutes of the stanza. The elusive movement that paid dividends early on for Cleverly had all but evaded him.
The writing was on the wall in the penultimate session, with Bellew landing at will and Cleverly looking a shadow of his former self, unable to return fire or avoid the 31 year old’s relentless attacks.
The final round saw Cleverly attempt to discourage his enemy, however it was Bellew who would not be perturbed as he overwhelmed Clev. Therefore, when the final bell echoed around the sold out arena, it was clear to everyone in attendance that there was only one winner.
To the surprise of everyone though–as is often the case in boxing– the fight was closer than expected as judges scorecards read 115-114 for Cleverly, 116-112 for Bellew and 115-113 for Bellew.
In the end, the right man won. There was also an unexpected show of respect between the two combatants which was good to see, as Bellew called Cleverly back into the ring to speak to the sky cameras.
“I’m over the moon its over, its put to bed. Lets just say there is respect there, its over and done with,” said an elated Bellew.
“Another close fight, one a piece, maybe we will have a final fight,” said an eager Cleverly, which Bellew agreed with.
“Listen, if this can fill the Millennium Stadium, you have my word, I will go there,” said Bellew.
The question now remains, where does Nathan Cleverly go from here?
He seemingly does not have a future at Cruiserweight, therefore it will be interesting to see Clev’s next step and whether it’s in or out of boxing remains to be seen.
For Bellew though, the Cruiserweight world is his oyster, with WBO king Marco Huck likely on the horizon, giving the talkative Liverpudlian a new lease of life as he finally claimed his redemption.
Nevertheless, on a night that promised so much, why do I feel I have been duped?
After all the talk along with a real sense of expectation, the main event was unfortunately an anti climax of the highest proportion.
So, with talk of a third installment already being mentioned, can Tony Bellew and Nathan Cleverly really grip the nation again to build up a decider?
More importantly, would the paying public want to see it again? I’m not so sure.
All photos by Kevin Quigley