Much has been made of the recent 20 year anniversary of the infamous Chris Eubank v Michael Watson fight and rightly so. Over 12 million people watched on ITV in 1990 as nine turgid rounds at White Hart Lane eventually gave way to the explosive and near fatal conclusion of a long running grudge between the two proud but brutal fighters. Few will forget Eubank getting up off the canvas in the 11th round and go on to ferociously knock out Watson in that dramatic and deadly last round. Remembered mostly for the wrong reasons, it was one of several massive, global fights staged in Britain between fighters from the UK and Ireland held in the early-Nineties. This glorious period is often referred to as the ‘golden era of the Middleweights’ but it was actually a golden era for British and Irish boxing in general. In particular, the weight grades between Light-Middleweight up to Cruiserweight saw the ‘holy-trinity’ of Eubank, Watson and Benn but there was also Henry Wharton, Lou Gent, Carl Thompson, Nicky Piper and latterly Joe Calzaghe. All moving between the weights and picking each other off. Add to that the notable Irishmen of the time Sam Storey, Ray Close, Noel MacGee and, of course, Steve ’Celtic Warrior’ Collins and you had a bumper crop of domestic grudges and Championship title fights. The global reach of this era should not be understated either. For example, it’s estimated that the second, and perhaps most thrilling Eubank v Benn fight, was watched to its controversial conclusion by close to one billion viewers worldwide.
Currently we’re looking at another batch of British fighter in those weight grades who, twenty years on, could give bloom to a similar era of brilliant British boxers. Martin Murray, Carl Froch, George Groves, James De-Gale, Billy Joe Saunders and amongst that group is also both Tony Bellew and Nathan Cleverly. Both unbeaten, both British, both holding a belt and both with an equal amount of loathing for each other, this will be an absolute belter. Bellew has chided Cleverly constantly since their first proposed fight, in which Bellew failed to make the weight at late notice, and the bad blood has continued through various press conferences, each one slightly more ridiculous than the last. Bellew utterly convinced and trying hard to convince Cleverly that he will knock him out, that he will go through hell to beat him, that Cleverly’s too intelligent to be a fighter, that Cleverly has never fought anyone like him before. Welshman Cleverly is clearly irked by the abrasive and frankly quite annoying Scouser. He knows he faces his own psychological battle to maintain discipline throughout the fight and not descend into the brawl that Bellew so obviously wants.
Conversely Bellew will look to prove his critics wrong about his potential weak chin and ability to tactically box his way to a title
Twenty years ago in the last ‘golden era’ there was also a Light-Heavyweight fighter from Cardiff and like Cleverly he also had a much publicised degree. Also like Cleverly he faced taunts and questions about his heart and credentials because of this. Whilst Nicky Piper may have stood out for the same reasons as Cleverly does, he let his fighting do the talking and posed some serious questions of Nigel Benn before going on to win the WBO Light-Heavyweight title from Noel Macgee. Cleverly would do well to adopt some of Pipers control, dignity and professionalism in the face of Bellews taunts. It will serve him well come fight night.
Tony Bellew on the other hand has everything to gain by cranking up the ill feeling. Fighting in front of his hometown crowd on Merseyside he knows he has little to lose in this fight. He’s a fighter who struggles to make the 175lb weight and should Cleverly beat him, he knows he can blame the ‘hollow-legs’ on the weight then move up to Crusierweight and start the process of winding up Matty Barker for another domestic showdown. If he wins however, he’s looking at a re-match with Cleverly, probably in Cardiff or a real money spinner against Bernard Hopkins. This dangling carrot makes Bellew a dangerous animal and Cleverly knows he will have to show real discipline, ring craft and a granite chin to win this. He’ll look to sit behind his jab, clock up the points then pick off Bellew in the later rounds as he becomes more desperate to land a big shot on Cleverlys oh-so-inviting chin.
There’s a famous quote in boxing, often wrongly attributed to Mike Tyson but in actual fact uttered by Joe Louis, which goes “Everybody has a plan until they’ve been hit”. Against the big hitting Bellew, Nathan Cleverly needs to heed this warning from history. If Cleverly is to fulfil his promise and go on to fight the big-ticket show against Hopkins and the like he’s not only going to have to beat Bellew but he’s going to have to show the kind of maturity, patience and skill that people expect of future world champions. Conversely Bellew will look to prove his critics wrong about his potential weak chin and ability to tactically box his way to a title. Either way this is going to be a real humdinger, a massively exciting showdown and hopefully the beginning of a new era of great British Boxing showdowns. Bring it on.
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