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.
Great boxing rivalries
Great boxing rivalries
1/10 Muhammad Ali vs Joe Frazier – 1971, 1974 & 1975
Possibly one of the greatest rivalries of all time, not just in boxing but in any sport. These two titans met three times, with Ali taking home the spoils 2-1. The first was known as the ‘Fight of the Century’ in which two undisputed title holders came together, it ended with Frazier winning after 15 rounds via unanimous decision. The final fight was dubbed ‘Thrilla in Manilla’, where Ali retained all three of his heavyweight titles.
2/10 Joe Louis vs Max Schmeling – 1936 & 1938
Among two of boxing’s most historical fights. With Schmeling’s origins of Nazi Germany, these two represented something a little more than just two heavyweight boxers at their peak coming together. Louis was undefeated coming into the first fight while Schmeling already had 60 fights under his belt. The German won it with a 12th round knockout. By the time the pair met again, Louis had won the world Heavyweight title. It only took him one round to knock out Schmeling. Louis’ performances gained him national recognition and became one of America’s first African American heroes.
3/10 Micky Ward v Arturo Gatti – 2002, 2002 & 2003
The first time these two met proved to be The Ring Magazine’s ‘Fight of the Year’. A famous left hook body shot in the ninth brought Gatti to his knees and proved the deciding factor in the judges’ decision. A rematch was agreed immediately with Gatti knocking Ward down in third, however the American managed to finish the fight before losing by decision. The final fight also won The Ring Magazine’s fight of the year, Ward knocked down Gatti in the sixth, but before the referee could count to ten, the bell sounded. Gatti was able to come back and win via unanimous decision.
4/10 Nigel Benn v Chris Eubank – 1990 & 1993
In what was initially a fierce domestic rivalry, became one of world interest between these two British greats. Eubank was originally the challenger and began shouting out for Benn after only 10 fights. After winning his WBO middleweight title, Benn agreed to face Eubank. With each fighter saying they were going to knock the other one out, it was the challenger that actually did. With a technical knockout in the ninth round. The re-match was watched by half a billion people worldwide, with both defending titles it was so even, it ended in a draw.
5/10 Gene Tunney v Jack Dempsey – 1926 & 1927
Fighting twice, these bouts have gone down as two of the most famous in boxing history. Tunney won the first over 10 rounds via unanimous decision. The second is why these two were forever known in boxing history. In the seventh round Dempsey threw a flurry of punches to knock Tunney down for the first time in his career. The referee couldn’t count until Dempsey had reached a neutral corner. He didn’t oblige, buying Tunney valuable time. Tunney managed to rise at a time many say was over ten seconds. This is why the fight is known as the Long Count. Tunney went on to knock down Dempsey in the eighth and win by unanimous decision.
6/10 Manny Pacquiao v Juan Manuel Marquez – 2004, 2008, 2011 & 2012
One of the greatest modern day rivalries which will go on to be imprinted in boxing’s history. Having fought four times to this day, Pacquiao has won two, Marquez one and the other being a draw. Marquez winning the most recent with a sixth round knockout, handing the Pac-Man back to back defeats. The Ring Magazine awarded it not only ‘Fight of the Year’ but also ‘Knockout of the Year’.
7/10 Ken Norton v Muhammad Ali - 1973, 1973 & 1976
Ali’s second defeat came to the man known as ‘The Black Hercules’. In what was their first fight, Ali was the 5-1 favourite and had won 10 fights since his first lost to Frazier. Norton broke Ali’s jaw in the fight, despite The Greatest carrying on, he lost on a split decision. Six months later, Ali avenged Norton winning also on a split decision and re-gaining his NABF Heavyweight title. The third and final fight was some three years later after Rumble in the Jungle, Ali won via unanimous decision.
8/10 Marco Antonio Barrera v Erik Morales - 2000, 2002 & 2004
Involving two of more modern days most famous Mexican boxers, the Barrera v Morales trilogy is a famous one, spanning over three different classes. Their first fight was in the super-bantamweight division with both holding titles. Morales won the first on a close split decision. Deciding to move up classes, Morales went to Featherweight, where again he met Barrera for a title match. This time Barrera won, in what was Morales’ first ever career defeat. The third and final time they met was in the Super-Featherweight division, where again Morales lost and with it his WBC title.
9/10 Riddick Bowe v Evander Holyfield - 1992, 1993 & 1995
These two Heavyweight giants came together three times in a famous blockbuster conquest. In the first fight, Holyfield walked in with Lineal, WBC, WBA & IBF Heavyweight titles having beaten Buster Douglas and George Foreman. Bowe had never tasted defeat and to everyone’s surprise, won via unanimous decision. The re-match went the distance with Holyfield winning on a split decision. This was Bowe’s first and only career defeat. The third, unlike the other two, was ended after eight rounds when Bowe knocked out Holyfield.
10/10 Sugar Ray Leonard v Thomas Hearns – 1981 & 1989
These two first met in a heavyweight clash with both boxers’ welterweight titles on the line. Ray Leonard known for his boxing skill, and Hearns for his vicious punching. The epic battle lasted 14 rounds before Leonard unleashed a series of punches, forcing the ref to stop the fight. The re-match, known as ‘The War’, had both fighters again holding titles, this time in the super-middleweight class. After 12 rounds of back and forth punishment, the fight was scored as a judge’s draw. The two never fought again with Hearns moving to light-heavyweight.
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 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.Reuse content