Boxing: Brutal test for Cleverly as Bellew turns on the power

Welshman retains crown before hostile crowd as DeGale holds nerve to boost world title hopes
Click to follow
The Independent Online

In a bout of savage intensity, Welshman Nathan Cleverly retained his WBO light-heavyweight title with a majority points decision over hometown challenger Tony Bellew here last night.

It was a fierce, rumbustious scrap, arguably controversial and certainly worthy of a return. The decision was understandably badly received by the Liverpool crowd; of the all-British judging panel, one awarded it to Cleverly 116-113, another 117-112 and the third scored it 114-114.

The assessment seemed generous to Cleverly, who had to struggle at times against an opponent he thought would try and out-fight him. In fact, for the majority of the contest "Bomber" Bellew tried to box him at his own game with considerable success.

It was 24-year-old Cleverly's second defence and certainly the most arduous fight of his career. The action was fast and at times, frenetic with the crowd on their feet. It was a real war from the outset and this clash of the maths graduate from the Valleys and the lippy Liverpudlian with qualifications in accountancy added up to a rare fighting feast.

It was probably the last two rounds that swayed it in Cleverly's favour. Previously, both were unbeaten and as a grudge match, it had been built into a sort of Benn-Eubank scenario. The fight was preceded by unsavoury scenes at the weigh-in and press conferences including head-butting and bad-mouthing which the Board of Control said they would clamp down on. They have not done so.

But the hugs of the fighters at the end showed what a lot of raging bull-shine it all is. "I knew he would be dangerous in the first three rounds but in all honesty I thought he'd tire more," said Cleverly. "But he held in there and showed he is a brilliant challenger."

James DeGale gained the pick-me-up victory he needed to revive his career after his defeat by rival George Groves, by relieving Poland's Piotr Wilczewski of his European super-middleweight title. But he had to come from behind to do so, winning on a majority decision in a contest which tested his nerve and resolve.

In a hard-fought and often untidy contest in which he sustained a cut right eyebrow and cheek, 25-year-old "Chunky" DeGale scraped home by two points, (115-113) on two scorecards while the other marked it a draw (114-114). My own assessment was that DeGale won by three rounds but it was not the most illustrious performance from the Olympic champion, who took a long time to work out how to combat a crafty, experienced opponent.

There were anxious moments for DeGale in the first half of the bout, but his stronger finish brought a conclusion which now elevates him into the world rankings after his 12th fight. On paper at least it is a springboard for him to gazump Groves and earn a world title fight, which he had set his heart on before the next Olympics. The better option might be for DeGale to settle his domestic differences with Groves in the New Year.

The referee seemed concerned about the cut to DeGale's eye but his corner did neat repair work. He had a torrid time in the fourth and fifth rounds but came back strongly in the last three, sending Wilczewski's gum shield spinning at the end of the 10th. The 33-year-old Pole grew visibly tired and DeGale was just about worthy of his triumph.

Billy Joe Saunders, the Beijing Olympian who turned pro at the same time as DeGale, made short work of Hungarian opponent Norbert Sekeres to win his 10th consecutive contest. In what was supposed to be a warm-up for 22-year-old Saunders' first title fight, a Southern Area middleweight belt at Wembley on 5 November, he blasted Sekeres in two minutes 51 seconds of the first round.

After his lay-off with injury the "Caravan Kid", from a travelling community in Hertfordshire, is looking sharper with every fight.