Boxing: Old school, new school? Cleverly and Bellew spat

For those of a certain antiquity, the increasingly ubiquitous press conference rumpus between world-class Light-Heavyweight contender Nathan Cleverly and champion of the Commonwealth Tony Bellew will have proven distasteful. Others of more recent vintage will be torn. Nurtured as we were on the polarised demeanours of the ever urbane Lennox Lewis, the pantomime charm of Frank Bruno and the caustic atmosphere of all things Benn and Eubank, it is hard to either embrace or condemn the two ‘headline’ novices. I’m caught between the conflicting etiquettes I grew up with.

But in the promotion of a fight in the modern era, these type of push and shove, chest beating exercises serve a purpose. Attracting interest. There will be people in Nathan Cleverly’s home town who do not know he is now regarded as a champion of the world. At least the layer of the world visible from the World Boxing Organisation’s headquarters in San Juan, Puerto Rico. A partially obscured perspective, palm trees presumably block out Jean Pascal, Tavoris Cloud and Bernard Hopkins.

As the headline act on a pay-per-view show, this anonymity is a problem. When the WBO’s champion, Jurgen Braehmer, pulled out with an injury just 72 hours before the first bell, the pay per view card Frank Warren Promotions had compiled began to look shallow. As a PPV show this a huge problem, and as Amir Khan’s handlers will attest, the TV network are more instructive on quality [All credit to Adam Smith, SKY’s Head of Boxing, for instilling more back-bone into his negotiations with domestic promoters].

Tony Bellew may not have the professional resume associated with world-title challengers in the days of yore but he brought a spiky line in hype and will arguably contribute more to the pay-pre-view pot than the more qualified Braehmer he replaces.

It was equally refreshing to see the focus of the promotion on the headline bout and not the grudge match between James DeGale and George Groves, a fight drawing lazy and premature comparisons with the golden era of Benn and Eubank.  The two unbeaten prospects succeeded in convincing interested parties of their mutual dislike however and it this personal element that sells tickets. It provides hype, it provides a sellable attribute to a fight that boxing’s myriad of sanctioning bodies and convoluted governance struggles to afford the casual observer.

Longer term this lowest common denominator schtick will wear thin if it doesn’t precede good fights. After all, Prince Arron and Sam Webb produced no such histrionics and yet delivered a rousing contention of the famous Lonsdale belt. In the end, no matter how the sport is packaged, promoted or presented – it is the fight that matters.

For the interested, Tony Bellew revealed via Twitter that he was 6.5 pounds above the limit when the call came. Reward for discipline when a fight isn’t on the horizon. How true this revelation was will be further substantiated by his performance on Saturday, in Nathan Cleverly he has an opponent who isn’t the World-Champion his newly awarded belt would project him to be, but he is growing ever closer to that revered level.

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