“Losing is not an option.”
It’s a well-worn cliché in boxing, and Nathan Cleverly and Tony Bellew have noisily banged that particular drum quite a bit ahead of their cruiserweight rematch tomorrow night in Liverpool. But word round the campfire is that the loser of this weekend’s grudge fight will have as much a future as the winner. In fact, both the conquered and conqueror may be getting world title shots in 2015.
Bellew and Cleverly revisit a feud that has boiled over even more than their first match, a WBO light-heavyweight title bout in November 2011. Cleverly claims his rival is bitter and has never gotten over the loss. Bellew refuses to believe it was a legitimate defeat in the first place and says this time, at the bigger weight, revenge will be his, and conclusively so.
But settling old scores is not the only motivating factor here. Both bickering Brits received painful reality checks last year when they suffered world title defeats to Sergey Kovalev and Adonis Stevenson respectively. Both men are looking to revive their prospects and reputations after serious trouncings.
Looking back, all Cleverly had to do to earn an HBO contract and the huge money that goes with it, according to his then promoter Frank Warren, was to beat the Russian nuclear weapon, Kovalev. Near the end of round four I wonder if Warren was even able to utter the three letters “H,” “B” and “O” after his jaw sank to the floor. Kovalev destroyed all of Hearns’ and Cleverly’s lofty dreams in under 12 minutes.
Similarly, Bellew was going to stand the light-heavyweight division on its head and put himself at the very top when he beat Stevenson. He said he would take that WBC title belt and with it all the glory and money his rival had failed to seize, but the Canadian crushed the Liverpudlian inside of six rounds. The talk was talked, but Adonis didn’t allow the walk to be walked.
The epilogue to both disaster stories was that each fighter had been struggling at the 175lb limit. They had to move up. And in Bellew’s case, on the evidence so far, he looks the better for it.
So on to tomorrow night’s battle then and the “What if” questions.
What if Nathan Cleverly is defeated or even knocked out at the hands of a man he firmly believes he’s superior to? If he struggled to deal with the Kovalev loss mentally, what would this do to him? It’s no secret that after his defeat to the now light-heavyweight kingpin the Welshman seriously contemplated retirement and took time off from the game, time spent enjoying the kind of things serious fighters don’t indulge in otherwise.
Make no mistake should Cleverly lose in a close, tight affair then in the mind of Eddie Hearn, Cleverly vs Bellew III will already be signed.
What if Tony Bellew loses to the same man, at the same venue he did three years ago? At a weight he says he is healthier and stronger at, a weight where his punching power seems to have returned? The Scouser prides himself on his mental strength but such an ending would push that to its limit.
Bellew says the rumours of him starring in ‘Creed’, the spin-off movie from the Rocky franchise, are “hype and BS.” Bellew likes to shoot from the hip, probably has a future as a Sky boxing pundit, and if he can turn his hand to memorizing lines, then maybe the silver screen and the part of ‘Pretty’ Ricky Porter beckons. But is all this a distraction for “Bomber” Bellew? And would losing to Cleverly affect his being the foil for the grandson of Apollo Creed one way or the other?
Defeat for either man will be devastating. But that said, would a world title shot still be in the pipeline after another ‘L’ on their records? Incredibly, the answer to that question is, “Probably.” Cleverly is a former world champion, regardless of what you may think of his WBO reign, so the credibility factor remains. And Bellew can talk himself into any kind of fight, has challenged for two world titles, and will always gather people’s interest, good or bad. And with Matchroom and Sky Sports behind them, both bring cash and clout to the table.
Cleverly-Bellew 2 then. Maybe losing is an option after all. — Shaun Brown