Hopefully for the sake of the British people – and international, if they were unfortunately watching – Tony Bellew and Nathan Cleverly have settled their rivalry.
Earlier this evening, topping a card that underwhelmed, Tony Bellew squeaked out a split decision victory over Nathan Cleverly at the Echo Arena in Liverpool.
These two have a well-documented animosity toward each other. Since before Bellew even barked ‘you f****** rat’ at his then light heavyweight rival three years ago.
After a fight at 175-pounds in 2011, where Cleverly successfully defended his WBO honours, the two touched gloves and shared a moment.
Somewhere down the line they began arguing again as the road to a pay-per-view rematch began.
There was one-sided debate surrounding the logic behind charging £17.95 for the privilege of watching it on television as detractors pointed to the lack of competitive fights on the bill and the fact that both competitors in the main event had recently been knocked out of the light heavyweight division by the elite – Sergei Kovalev and Adonis Stevenson.
In truth, that criticism was on point. James DeGale required just three rounds to blast out Marco Antonio Periban (in a fight that some will say was stopped early), George Groves labored to a seventh round stoppage of former light middleweight Denis Douglin and Anthony Joshua bulldozed through Michael Sprott in a single round.
As for Bellew and Cleverly? Neither boxed particularly brilliantly. It was sluggish. It was flawed. And it lacked the polish that makes for a pedigree performance.
Supported by a partisan crowd, Bellew took command of the centre of the ring from the opening round and, while Cleverly overcame the cacophony of jeers to lead with his jab, Bellew did his best to negate that with a power riposte.
There was little to separate either man in the second frame – yet the work-rate of Cleverly, combined with the right hands from Bellew that the Welshman mostly parried – suggested there was enough for the away fighter to claim being on top.
Throughout the early to mid rounds, it appeared like Bellew lacked fluidity in his attack, whilst Cleverly was comfortably just blocking, riding or dipping under his enemy’s fire before either countering, or patiently waiting for the right moment to get on his bike and pick the Liverpudlian off with jabs.
Cleverly was doing enough to win a round or two, but not enough to truly impress or punctuate what could have been a points win with a more devastating shot selection. There were multiple left hand lead shots, yet little with the power hand – his right.
It was as if he did not want to leave himself open and allow Bellew an open shot. This could be down to one of three (maybe four) things…
Either he had learned a lesson from the Krushing loss to Kovalev, he was respectful of Bellew’s self-proclaimed punching power, or he had injured his right fist.
Then bang, as if on cue, a meaningful right hand bounced right off Bellew’s grinner in round eight. And, in between rounds – prior to the ninth, Cleverly’s corner made no mention of any speculatively injured right mitt and instead implored the former WBO belt holder to step it up and begin to attack the home-town favourite.
That didn’t happen. And it was as if round eight was a turning point. A point where Bellew drove the triumph home.
Rounds one to eight had largely been tentative, yet the ninth was balls-out, who’s are bigger, let’s duke it out in a phone-box war. Finally, the bad blood boiled over but as soon as the action got lairy, there was only one man going back to his corner with maximum points – Bellew.
If the jousting in the first half of the bout had caused an even contest, Bellew had eked ahead when the going got tough.
In the last third of the fight, Cleverly’s legs were shot. He spent most of the time with his back against the ropes either blocking Bellew’s barrage of blows or just absorbing them and he was losing the contest.
Bellew soaked up the victory at the final bell and when the scores were announced, despite showing disdain for the split decision verdict. But please, nobody has to be a witness to this again.
Cleverly, to Sky Sports, spoke of “a great fight… similar to the first one.”
I disagree. It only served to further highlight their flaws. Cleverly lacks stamina and, despite looking like the superior athlete, is masquerading as a cruiserweight when he’s anything but legit at the weight. He needs to drop back down to light heavy, if he can.
Bellew, meanwhile, looks sluggish. Lethargic. And he also needs to sort out his on-camera attitude. He came across far too playground during the build-up. When once he seemed like an amiable fellow.
“It’s now one apiece,” continued Cleverly. “The first half I was comfortable on my jab, then slowed down in the second half. It’s one apiece we could do a third.”
Responding, Bellew said: “If this could sell-out the [90,000 seater] Millenium Stadium [in Wales] we can do a third.”
Thankfully, it wouldn’t sell-out a village hall.