Welshman Nathan Cleverly will make the second defense of his WBO light heavyweight title against British and Commonwealth champion Tony Bellew on Oct. 15 at the Liverpool (England) Echo Arena.
The unbeaten Brits were scheduled to meet in May but Bellew, who was a late replacement on the card, failed to make the weight. However, a fiery press conference, in which the pair were pulled apart, suggested there would be a match up at a later date.
Now the grudge bout is on with the winner being promised a crack at American legend and RING champion Bernard Hopkins in 2012, possibly on UK soil.
Cleverly, 24, certainly views the Bellew clash as the natural next rung on the ladder to becoming undisputed champion.
“'I think the fight’s happening because of that last press conference. There’s been a rivalry developing over the years. Now I am the world champion, he’s got the ultimate chance of fighting me,” said Cleverly (22-0, 11 knockouts).
“He is about six fights behind me, and he has got his shot early. Does he deserve a title shot? No. But it makes sense. It’s a fight the fans want to see, and it’s necessary. I want to get it out the way and then move on to bigger things.
“It is a stepping stone to the big fight with the American. To share the ring with a legend like Bernard Hopkins would be special and even more so if it’s a homecoming fight at the Millennium Stadium.”
Cleverly is happy to take on Bellew (16-0 10 KOs) in his own Liverpool backyard, underlining his growing confidence since retaining his WBO belt for the first time, against Poland’s Aleksy Kuziemski, in May.
“I had the choice where I wanted the fight. I could have had it in Wales or Liverpool.” said Cleverly, schooled in the same gym as legendary compatriot Joe Calzaghe. “We were struggling to find the right venue in Wales with the right capacity. But it will be a good sell in Liverpool.
“I am going into the lion’s den to pull off a great performance. It is still a boxing ring and whether it was set up in Liverpool or Wales makes no difference to the outcome. It’s still Tony Bellew, and I am still the world champion. Wherever it is, I am pretty sure I will beat this guy.'
According to promoter Frank Warren, the all-British showdown is likely to be an eliminator to face 46-year-old WBC champion Hopkins, who is fighting countryman Chad Dawson on Oct 15 in Los Angeles.
“I'm in discussions with Hopkins' promoter, Richard Schaefer, about a potential fight with the winner," said Warren, who looks after Cleverly and Bellew. "So it's a massive incentive for both guys. This is a tough fight for them, but there is something there afterwards.
“It doesn't get any better than that. This is a lively division, and it’s about to get a lot livelier.”
Bellew, renowned for his brashness, is convinced he will be the one stepping into the ring with Hopkins as he predicted a first career defeat for Cleverly.
"Cleverly has never knocked anybody out in his life, and he's dreaming if he thinks he going to do it to me," said the Englishman, 28, who lifted the British and Commonwealth titles with successive wins against Ovill McKenzie. “I’ll be fit and ready on the night, and it's the worst scenario that he could have wished for. I'll give him nightmares.
"I rattled him at the last press conference. He‘ll deny it but he was physically shaking, and it's still playing on his mind now. He can't beat me mentally or physically, and he knows that. He may have a touch more speed, but I have plans to counter that."