Tony Bellew vs Nathan Cleverly 2: Liverpudlian adds fuel to the ire in grudge match

Liverpool cruiserweight admits he can’t stand his opponent, writes Alan Hubbard

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The Independent Online

If there is a louder voice in Liverpool than Tony Bellew, fight fans have yet to hear it. Some say the Scouser has a mouth as wide as the Mersey Tunnel. Bellow might be a more appropriate surname.

The one-time nightclub bouncer has spent most of the week talking up his return contest with the former WBO light-heavyweight champion Nathan Cleverly at Liverpool’s Echo Arena next Saturday night. Normally he wouldn’t need to, because every seat has been taken but there are still pay-per-view subscriptions at £16.95 a time to be sold for a domestic dispute which bears the increasingly overworked label “grudge match”.

Usually such encounters are the product of promotional hype but there is genuinely no love lost  between a pair who fought for the Welshman’s world title in the same arena three years ago, with Cleverly edging a decision that Bellew still bitterly disputes.

This time there’s no belt at stake over the scheduled 12 rounds. Both have moved up to cruiserweight after Bellew, 31, lost a further world title challenge when thumped by Canada’s Adonis Stevenson in six rounds, and Cleverly forfeited his unbeaten record to the rib-bending fists of Russian Sergey “Krusher” Kovalev, who last week forced the near half-centurion Bernard Hopkins to finally feel his age.

“I think after what Kovalev did to him, he understands now that he can be hurt,” says Bellew of an opponent who is his complete antithesis, a brain-boxer with a maths degree. “Our first fight bears no relevance to this one,” he adds. “I am a far better fighter now. I was killing myself making the weight. He [Cleverly] was a world and European champion, we were miles apart but he hasn’t shown that he’s a better fighter. He’s only had one style throughout his whole career. All he does is walk forward with an insane work rate and fight like crazy. Has anyone ever seen him counter-punch? He was just a paper champion. When he came up against a real world-class fighter in Kovalev he got beat, well and truly beat.

 “I really don’t like this guy. I can’t stand him  and I’m going to do something about it. I’ve fought many fights on emotion alone but I can control those emotions better now. The only time you’ll see me showing emotion is when the referee jumps in and stops it or he’s counted out.”

Yet behind the bluster lurks a family man who can be surprisingly self-deprecating. “I know exactly who and what I am. They are talking about this being a similar grudge fight to Benn and Eubank but in no way am I going to compare myself to legends like them, or Michael Watson. I am not fit to carry those guy’s jock straps.

“I’m probably too honest for my own good. I was working nightclub doors at 15 so there’s nothing about boxing that could bother me. I love fighting and I’d do it for free – but don’t tell the promoter that because it’s my fists that feed my kids.”

For his part the 27-year-old Cleverly recognises that this reprise is the acid test as to whether he has  repaired the confidence fractured last year by Kovalev. “It took a while to get over it,” he admits. “I even considered quitting but I took six months off and rediscovered myself. Now I want to re-establish myself as a contender. The fire is burning again.”

Cleverly v Bellew II is exclusively live on Sky Sports Box Office on 22 November, with George Groves, Anthony Joshua and James DeGale on the bill. Visit
skysports.com/cleverlybellew

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