The Pugilist

Bellew-Cleverly II: Make it happen!

The Pugilist

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It has been a great year for British sportsmen and women. Time after time, they have exceeded expectations and silenced cynics (or "scattered gloomsters", as Boris Johnson so eloquently put it) - and professional boxing has been no exception.

Carl Froch shook off any dangers of a 'B student' stigma with a world-class blitz of the undefeated Lucian Bute; Kell Brook proved he is far tougher than his mollycoddled promotional build has let on in outlasting Carson Jones, and even David Haye and Dereck Chisora were able to repay the fans who endured their ridiculous and shameful build-up with a worthwhile in-ring blow-off.

The Pugilist has developed a bit of an Achilles heel this year when it comes to predictions, that weakness being Brit boxers with something to prove. The ratio of good calls to bad has otherwise been pretty solid (Manuel Charr conspiracy theories notwithstanding…) but when Tony Bellew added his name to our 'we were wrong' list on Saturday, TP could not have been happier.

Much like when the British Olympians and Paralympians produced the sheer volume of medals and superlative performances they did despite many suspecting the home Games to be a waste of time, when one of 'their own' proves the majority wrong the British sporting fan actually finds a pleasant taste to 'humble pie'.

In hanging tough with Edison Miranda early on at Alexandra Palace before wearing the veteran down and stopping him in the ninth, Bellew did just that.

Not only this, but the victory opens the door to a healthy scenario on the domestic scene. Namely, it adds fuel to the fire of an eventual rematch between 'Bomber' Bellew and Nathan Cleverly.

Last year the two engaged in an absorbing war in Cleverly's first defence of the WBO light heavyweight title, and the Welshman's majority decision victory was certainly disputable after 12 very close rounds.

The heat between the two began to slowly rise from there: Bellew spent months lobbying for a rematch via Twitter, and openly criticised pretty much every career step Team Cleverly took from there, from the Tommy Karpency fight to the ill-fated attempt to meet Robin Krasniqi at Royal Albert Hall.

Things intensified further over the past fortnight as work began to finalise Cleverly's next and third title defence, ultimately announced as a bout with Ukraine's Vyacheslav Uzelkov at the Motorpoint Arena in Sheffield.

Frank Warren's claims that he had tried to negotiate 'big-money' fights for Cleverly with Matchroom against either Bellew or even Froch did not help.

While Eddie Hearn dismissed the Froch suggestion as a publicity stunt, Warren's claims struck a nerve with Bellew, who claims he received no such offer.

"Despite what they've being saying, they never made me an offer to fight again," he said last week.

"I physically went to Frank Warren's office and begged for the opportunity and was told 'no'. I'm maximum risk, zero gain.

"But I don't need Cleverly to make my career. He's world champion but I'm fighting Edison Miranda while he fights guys like Tommy Karpency and Vyacheslav Uzelkov."

Given Bellew's lengthy lobbying for the return bout, it's hard not to take his side on this. But either way, the stand-off will hopefully be resolved and the two will clash some time in 2013.

Neither man has done enough just yet to be considered one of the very best at 175, but The Pugilist believes that not only can they help each other towards this, but also swat away even more of that Great British boxing cynicism by continuing to beat the tar out of each other for our enjoyment.

Though it lacks the back story of George Groves vs James DeGale or the shock factor of Haye-Chisora, there is potential within the Cleverly-Bellew rivalry — both inside and outside the ring — for it to evolve into the Eubank-Benn of this generation. Hopefully political manoeuvrings will not rob us of this possibility.

Both men require more work to further test their quality and establish their reputations, but while some of this will no doubt happen before either camp would seriously consider reopening negotiations for a rematch, a second and perhaps even third fight would go a long way towards earning them the respect and reputations they feel they deserve, much in the same way many famous boxing rivalries have.

Of course, the big risk is that such a series may only benefit one fighter. Perhaps neither will make that step from very good to greatness. Whether Warren or Matchroom like it or not, it's a chance they need to take to avoid further disillusionment within the masses.

The popular tricks to keep certain fighters' reputations intact in deathly-dull, minimal-risk scenarios is wearing down the patience of a jaded audience.

Pull the trigger on these simmering British rivalries. Give the public more to sink their teeth into. Bellew-Cleverly and Groves-DeGale earned rave reviews and left everyone wanting more the first time around.

There is always danger of a Catch-22 situation when it comes to monitoring the rise of a boxer's career, and we all understand that. But that rise will earn far more stability through fan support if the boxer is question is willing and allowed to get stuck in and take a chance. Just ask Mr Froch...

As Tony Soprano once said: "No risk, no reward." Get Bellew and Cleverly back on a collision course and we can see which of the two wants worldwide acclaim and a crack at the likes of Chad Dawson and Tavoris Cloud the more.

Speaking of Dawson, his defeat at the hands of the superb Andre Ward is covered in-depth by our American correspondent Kevin Iole. Could the loss have big ramifications on the aforementioned light-heavyweight summit, with 'Bad' Chad surely destined to return to his preferred weight class to rebuild his momentum at the expense of those looking to climb that particular ladder? Time will tell.

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