WBO light heavyweight titleholder Nathan Cleverly has revealed that he managed to beat British rival Tony Bellew, in what many are calling the fight of the year, despite being in severe agony with a fractured rib.
The injury was sustained 14 days before the Welshman’s second successful title defense, while sparring with Chris Eubanks Jr. But instead of pulling out, crocked Cleverly, 24, decided to keep the problem a closely-guarded secret and push ahead with his grudge date against Bellew at a sold-out Echo Arena, Liverpool, Eng.
“We had top keep it majorly quiet. I did it when I was training in London two weeks before the fight. I did six rounds with George Groves and then another six with Chris Eubanks’ boy and in the 11th he caught me on the back and cracked a rib,” said Cleverly on BoxNation TV. “I finished off the 12 rounds and didn’t show any pain.
“But I had a week of sparring back home planned with Sam Sexton, a heavyweight, which I had to cancel because I could not take a shot to the rib because I was in so much pain. I saw the doctor and the physio and they both said the only thing was rest. My dad, girlfriend, Adam Booth and Groves, who had been there when it happened, were the only ones who knew. And I also told Frank Warren. I gave it a couple of days and in the end I said, ‘bugger it – let’s gamble on him not throwing any body shots with the left’.”
That was a brave move. Had Bellew found out about the injury before the bout he, undoubtedly, would have targeted the damaged area. Indeed, at one stage during their remarkable barnstorming 12-round battle, which he won on a majority decision, Cleverly feared the challenger did know as he delivered a number of sharp punches to the rib cage.
“He did throw a couple of left body-shots, one which caught me flush on the rib. It just sent a shooting pain right through my body because it’s a three to six-week injury,” Cleverly went on. “It was so painful but I refused to give in and dug deep.
“But during the fight I thought ‘this guy knows about it’ and I started questioning myself because he was throwing a lot more body shots than he had before in fights. But I just disguised it and didn’t show any emotion. I went through the pain barrier.”
Certainly, those fortunate enough to witness the night’s relentless action were delighted that Cleverly (23-0, 11 knockouts) did continue, as he and Bellew (16-1, 10 KOs) produced an absolute belter, sure to live long in the memory.
Now, despite demands for a re-match from Bellew, who claims he won ‘at least six rounds’, Cleverly is setting his sights on a unification fight. The RING’s No 1 Bernard Hopkins ( 52-6-2, 32 KOs) or Chad Dawson (31-1, 18 KOs) — once the WBC rule on their controversial scrap last Saturday — IBF holder Tavoris Cloud (23-0, 19 KOs) and WBA champion Beibut Shumenov (12-1, 8 KOs) are all possibilities for 2012.
“I think Shumenov would be good next step for me. He’s only had about 13 fights and is WBA champion. Or there’s Tavoris Cloud, the IBF champion, who is a good fighter. There’d both be unification fights.
“If a fight with Hopkins or Dawson came along I would take it. Whether or not I’m ready, I don’t know,” was the honest appraisal of the undefeated Cleverly. “But if I was in the ring with these guys, I believe I could pull off a victory because I have one those styles, while not always the prettiest, that means I know how to win. I always get the ‘W’ in the end. Technically I have a lot to learn still — but I’m getting there.”