A Hard Day’s Night: Nathan Cleverly Edges Tony Bellew After Bruising Affair In Liverpool

(Tony Bellew catches Nathan Cleverly with a punch, if not on the scorecards)

Welshman, Nathan Cleverly, underwent the toughest fight of his life in overcoming Liverpudlian Tony Bellew on Saturday. The points margins of 117-112 and 116-113 on two of the three judges’ scorecards seemed particularly harsh on Bellew, a revelation here, with adjudicator Terry O’Connor closest to the mark, scoring the contest an even draw 114-114.

Bellew fought out of his skin in this, his first foray into world class. On TQBR’s card (which tallied with O’Connor’s), he led handily after the bout’s opening third and seemed good for a narrow lead going into penultimate round. Cleverly, though, has a superb engine, and upped the pace sufficiently over the closing sessions to retain his unbeaten record. Quite where Dave Parris found a five point margin for the Cefn Fforest windmill, though, is head scratchingly unclear.

Bellew boxed superbly, mixing smart fencing with thunderous punching. The pair hunted each other’s ribcages mercilessly throughout, engaging in the sort of close quarter punch-out that thrills its audience, something the vociferous Echo Arena crowd would fervently attest to. Bellew was by far the stronger puncher of the pair, buzzing Cleverly in round 2 and almost knocking his head from his shoulders with a pair of blistering right hands in the 10th. The world-ranked Cleverly has an uncommon resilience, though, and rode expertly away from peril at both flashpoints.

Both men had suffered disappointing omens earlier in the day. The Welsh rugby team had endured a gut-wrenching World Cup defeat in New Zealand, whereas Bellew’s beloved Everton FC had taken a pounding away at Chelsea. Perhaps this helped to stoke the mean spiritedness which fuelled their performances throughout this intense battle, another quality match to have been waged on British soil in 2011.

Cleverly set his stall out instantly, rushing into Bellew on the opening bell with busy attacks. Bellew exhibited good poise at such times and rarely looked flustered. After hurting the favourite with a short right hand in the 2nd, he assumed control; double jabbing before touching his man up with short, chopping shots. At the end of each burst, Bellew would send in a rib-bender, or a long right hand to the chin, punches which appeared so forceful, they would surely have done for a lot of men at this weight.

Cleverly, who scaled 174 ¼ to Bellew’s 175, came on through the middle rounds and the pair engaged in a stirring 7th frame, during which momentum was exchanged more than once. Bellew dug down hard in rounds 9 and 10, yet Cleverly’s extended body assault came to bear over the championship rounds and the Scouser was unable to match his opponent’s surge to the line.

It was a rollicking good fight, and exactly the type of test both boys require at this stage of their development. A rematch would be a logical next step and, after this result, would surely generate more income second time around. The decision was roundly booed by the partisan crowd. Nevertheless, Cleverly moves to 23-0 (11) with the win, while Bellew tastes defeat for the first time in 17 starts.

Cleverly has a way to go still before he can hope to scalp the division’s top brass, whereas Bellew, whom this writer owes an apology, came of age. The “Bomber” was fantastic last night and after the smoke cleared on another entertaining night at the fights, Britain was left with twice as many world class light heavyweights as it had going in.

About Tim Starks

Tim is the founder of The Queensberry Rules and co-founder of The Transnational Boxing Rankings Board (http://www.tbrb.org). He lives in Washington, D.C. He has written for the Guardian, Economist, New Republic, Chicago Tribune and more.