Nathan Cleverly retained his WBO light-heavyweight title with a majority-points decision over Tony Bellew after 12 rounds Saturday.
Cleverly was scored 117-112, 116-113, 114-114 on the three judges’ cards to improve his unbeaten record to 23 successive wins.
”I knew he would be dangerous in the first three rounds, but in all honesty I thought he’d tire more,” the Welshman (23-0, 11 KOs) told Box Nation TV. ”But he held in there and showed he is a brilliant challenger. He’s very fit.”
Bellew (16-1, 10KOs) was warned early on by referee Richie Davies after appearing to aim a headbutt at Cleverly.
As the action began to settle, Cleverly landed two good rights to shade the first round, but Bellew responded with a furious assault in the second, flinging hooks with both hands.
After a more even third round, Bellew gained the momentum in the fourth with a solid blow to the body, and his rights over the top were posing problems for Cleverly.
Bellew was winded by a low blow in the fifth round, for which he was given time to recover by the referee. But no point was taken from Cleverly, who continued to enjoy more success with his work up close.
Cleverly reasserted his control in a busy sixth round, clipping home a series of uppercuts before landing a looping left hook, which appeared to temporarily stun Bellew.
A super seventh round saw Cleverly begin to open up, snapping back Bellew’s head as the challenger appeared to start to tire.
Despite walking into another stiff uppercut early in the eighth, Bellew had a good round, knocking Cleverly out of his rhythm with a sharp left.
With a crashing right hand, Bellew landed the significant shot of round 10, but Cleverly responded sharply in the 11th with a pair of uppercuts and a nice left hook on the bell to shade another tight round before a close finale.
Cleverly’s win was greeted by jeers in Bellew’s native Liverpool.
”I’m just devastated,” Bellew said. ”I’ve got my two kids, and I can only apologize to them.”