Nathan Cleverly: I’ll quit boxing if Bellew beats me
The two men meet in Bellew’s Merseyside back yard on Saturday with Cleverly’s WBO light-heavyweight title on the line and the victor expected to face the winner of the Bernard Hopkins-Chad Dawson fight across the Atlantic on the same night.
It’s a domestic dust-up fuelled by loathing and a sub-plot sprinkled with press conference spats and police officers since Bellew almost stepped in as a last-minute opponent for Cleverly in May.
Back then unbeaten Welshman Cleverly had been due to challenge Juergen Braehmer for the WBO belt, but the German champion’s withdrawal just days before the fight sparked Bellew’s rise to prominence.
Cleverly and Bellew almost got it on there and then at the pre-fight press call as the barbs quickly got out of hand, and although the Scouser later failed a check weigh-in the match simply had to be made to satisfy an eager boxing public.
Last month’s press call to promote the fight ended in further chaos when police officers were called to a Cardiff hotel following another spat between Cleverly’s trainer-father Vince and the Bellew camp.
Both fighters are promoted by Frank Warren and insist the grudge is genuine, but nothing shifts tickets like bad blood and a 10,000-plus sell-out is predicted at the Liverpool Echo Arena on Saturday night.
Despite his revelation that he is a Liverpool fan as well as a Cardiff City supporter, Cleverly knows he is entering the lions’ den where thousands of Scousers will be baying for his blood.
But whether it is a sign of his supreme confidence, or a genuine assessment of the limitations of his opponent, Cleverly has no hesitation in making the most extraordinary of statements just 22 fights into an unblemished pro career.
“If I lose I would go as far as to say I would retire. I would go out of the sport, there would be no point continuing,” said the 24-year-old.
“Losing is not an option. The fact we’re both undefeated makes the fight really interesting as we’re going out there protecting records.
“But I can’t wait to teach him a lesson on fight night and prove I’m a worthy world champion.
“With the fight in his back yard it might be a bit hostile but it’s just a ring and it’s only what happens in the ring that matters.
“He tries to fill himself up and make himself believe everyone is behind him.
“But he’s delusional and in all truth he is not well liked.
“He shouts his mouth off and with his whole demeanour he comes across as a loudmouth.
“There’s been a bit of disrespect and that just adds to the fire. I’m out to show talk is cheap.”
Strangely, though, the broadsides of British and Commonwealth champion Bellew have done the trick to raise Cleverly’s profile at this point in his career.
After all, only boxing aficionados would probably remember the names of Cleverly’s last four opponents – Aleksy Kuzimeski, Nadjib Mohammedi, Karo Murat and Antonio Brancalion.
And, as a Cardiff University maths graduate, Cleverly is intelligent enough to appreciate the value of a good domestic scrap.
“’It’s not as if I’m fighting an unknown foreign guy this time,” said the Cefn Fforest fighter.
“It’s two undefeated British guys in the same weight division and there’s a genuine rivalry there. It’s great to have that around a fight.
“We’ve had a bit of verbals since the first fight was announced but I don’t mind that. In fact, I like the big build-up.”
Cleverly has been spending part of that build-up at the Hayemaker gym in London where David Haye plotted his path to world heavyweight title glory.
The Welshman has been sparring with British and Commonwealth super-middleweight king George Groves and Chris Eubank’s son, Chris junior.
And Both Eubank senior and Haye cast a trained eye over Cleverly’s gym work.
“I’ve been up to London a couple of times and it was nice to get away from home comforts and get my game head on so to speak,” said Cleverly.
“As a fighter George is very classy and technically very good. It will certainly be beneficial for me.
“There’s nothing better than quality sparring and doing good rounds with guys like George is good for confidence.
“David and Chris were there for a few days and it’s nice to have those guys run the rule over you.
“I’ve left nothing to chance and my preparations have gone well.
“I even did a bit of work with David so I don’t see how you can get any better than that.”
Warren maintains Hopkins or Dawson is the carrot for the winner in Liverpool but Cleverly insists he is not thinking further than this weekend.
“Hopkins would be a dream fight,” he said.
“Any fighter would love to be involved in a fight like that and take the opportunity with both hands. It would be awesome. But I’m only thinking about October 15 and taking care of Tony Bellew.
“Tony fancies an upset and a lot of people do, but that’s why this fight’s keeping me on my toes. I won’t allow that to happen.”
Watch Cleverly v Bellew live and exclusive on BoxNation (Sky Platform Ch.456) from 6.30pm on Saturday.
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