Tony Bellew vs Nathan Cleverly: The hatred is all real as Bellew seeks revenge against Cleverly

Grudge match takes place on Saturday night

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A crowd of over 2,000 queued in the rain on Friday, inflated their plastic sheep and cheered every moment – and that was just at the weigh-in for their idol Tony Bellew’s revenge fight against Welshman Nathan Cleverly at the Echo Arena in Liverpool on Saturday night.

The pair met in October 2011, when Cleverly held a version of the world light-heavyweight title and was confident enough to fight Bellew at the Echo Arena in his challenger’s backyard; one judge scored it a draw while the other two were justifiably wide in Cleverly’s favour and now they will do it again in a weight division nearly two stone heavier.

In theory, the increase in weight benefits Bellew, who as an amateur was an established world-class heavyweight, which is the equivalent more or less of professional cruiserweight; at the same time Cleverly was about three stone lighter and boxing in obscurity. However, the truth is that neither has proved a thing at the new weight and when they are standing next to each other it is not immediately obvious that one is naturally bigger; when they are standing face to face the attention is on the ceaseless vitriol and massive posturing and not their height, chest or fist size.

The weight division, the lack of title status and the glorious absence of baubles have done nothing to dampen the enthusiasm of the boxing public. There are two world title fights on the undercard and the four men in those scraps are little more than anonymous acts, tiny grafters in the grand Bellew and Cleverly show.

It is not easy to trace the history of their hatred but it probably originates from a misunderstanding or two and there is a chance that, real as the hate is between the pair, it was probably an unintentional slight that started it.

Bellew is easily provoked and Cleverly has subsequently done all that he can to annoy his bitter rival. “We don’t like each other,” is often the only thing that makes the pair of them nod their heads in agreement.


In the first fight, which was a terrific scrap, Cleverly fought with an arrogance that was his trademark at the time. He had worked with Enzo Calzaghe for years, sparred about 500 rounds with Joe Calzaghe and, going into the fight, he was unbeaten in 22 and the WBO champion.

Bellew had been dropped three times in his previous three fights and, even with hometown advantage, he was the underdog on the night. Bellew was already committed to a savage verbal row with his rival, which was not at that point reciprocated. “I have no idea why he hates me so much,” Cleverly said before the first fight.

Cleverly seemed to control the fight and could have made it easier if he had boxed a bit smarter and not let his heart rule his head. The same, in many ways, can be said of Bellew, who often chased too hard, neglected his skills and allowed the hefty emotions on the night to ruin any plan.

The increase in weight is not the crucial factor; the increase in ring sense will probably decide the outcome of the rematch, assuming either of them bothers to use his brains.

Since their first fight they have each been in lost fights and each shown heart as they were beaten, and another factor in Saturday night's outcome is how well they survived their brutal defeats.

Their angry verbal exchanges are at their most childish when they compare their losses and try to dismiss the other man’s conqueror as the inferior fighter. The truth is that both were horribly exposed at the higher level and there is no shame in such a revelation; it’s called a fact even in boxing, where so few truths are universally accepted.

Cleverly (left) and Bellew go head-to-head at the weigh-in

Cleverly lost his unbeaten record, WBO belt and ability to stand straight when Sergey Kovalev stopped him in four rounds in August 2013. Cleverly’s confidence was his downfall and it is his shattered confidence that is at the very centre of any debate about Saturday night’s outcome.

Three months after Cleverly’s loss it was Bellew’s turn to get stopped when he met Adonis Stevenson for a version of the world title. However, Bellew entered the ring knowing he could lose and lose heavily and, bizarrely, that mindset can be an asset, often allowing a boxer to reduce the mental scars from a savage beating.

It is a hard fight to ignore in many ways. They have history in this very ring, they dislike each other, they have both gained 25lb and they have both been the victims of nasty defeats in the last year or so.

Bellew is older by four years at 31, has the crowd behind him and, if anything, he is the overconfident one this time.

Cleverly has still not convinced enough people that he has enough left after Kovalev’s fists did their damage. Those vanished, distant scars could be the difference once the bell sounds, the talking ends and the two men start fighting.