(Anthony Crolla, right, shares the spoils with Derry Mathews)
On a promotion that had been marketed with the tagline “No Retreat, No Surrender” there were “No Winners” Saturday on Merseyside. Lightweights Anthony Crolla and Derry Mathews could not be separated after 12 tense rounds at Liverpool’s Echo Arena, while in the main event, light heavyweights Tony Bellew and Isaac Chilemba also hit deadlock at the end of a tedious encounter that neither man tried hard enough to win. Even the Sky Sports commentary team had an off night, along with an entire raft of young prospects on a televised undercard.
For a handful of rounds, the do-over between Mathews and Crolla appeared to be heading in the same direction as their first battle. Crolla, 134 ½, nicked the opening session due to his tidier boxing, however, Mathews, 134 ¾, landed the heavier punches in rounds 2 and 3 and seemed the more comfortable of the pair. Boxing on the back foot and smartly decked out in yellow and black, Crolla resembled a man trying to take a shower without getting his hair wet at times. Mathews meanwhile held centre ring and looked keener to rekindle the mayhem the duo had generated last year.
Matthews (32-8-2, 17 KO), landed the more hurtful blows in rounds 4 and 5 and an extended salvo in round 6 had Crolla hurt, bleeding and seemingly demoralised. As Mathews’ left hook and long right came into play in round 7, he looked in complete command as Crolla continued to leak from a cut over his right eye. To his credit, though, the New Moston man kicked on in round 8 and steadied the ship.
As Crolla (25-4-1, 9 KO), reprised the role of busy boxer he’d inhabited earlier in the fight, Mathews cracked him with a chopping right hand that steadied him. As time stood still for a second, Crolla dropped his hands and flashed a goofy smile in acknowledgment before covering up on the ropes. Mathews, though, was unable to capitalise as his own right eye started to swell. Crolla came on again over the final quarter and nicked a final round that was fought on a knife-edge to secure a share of the spoils. Scores were 115-113, 113-115 and 115-115. TQBR had it 115-114 for Mathews.
Sky Sports commentator Nick Halling only had eyes for Crolla throughout the evening (which was grating enough) but his suggestion that the rematch had “topped” the first fight was difficult to fathom.
There can be few more damning indictments of alphabet world titles in 2013 than the bout between Bellew and Chilemba. An eyesore devoid of anything approaching world class boxing, it had nonetheless been deemed fit to merit “official title eliminator” status by one of the various outfits that still roam the plains.
Malawi’s Chilemba (20-1-2, 9 KO), a human floor-to-ceiling ball, spent most of his time against the ropes, pinging hither and thither in an attempt to make Bellew (19-1-1, 12 KO) miss, which wasn’t difficult, as the belligerent Scouse blow-hard specialises in overshooting his punches. Often, the self-proclaimed “Bomber” can miss entire combinations when he has a man cornered, in spite of his boasts about being an “animal” and a “smashing machine.” He looked more like the “Schofield Kid” from the Clint Eastwood western “Unforgiven” here, who crowed of being a cold-blooded killer but couldn’t hit a barn door with a shovel.
Chilemba, 173, changed tack and lead off in round 6, catching Bellew, 174, with herky-jerky punches -- seemingly at will. Unable to land a clean punch, or evade the visitor’s unfathomable attacks, Bellew was reduced to walking in circles, hitting while holding and lunging at Chilemba without any real direction. It was awful to watch.
If the Crolla-Mathews fight featured two men that didn’t deserve to lose, this one was quite the opposite. On the final bell, an always emotional Bellew leapt up onto a set of turnbuckles and bellowed: “I’ve won that,” to an audience confused into silence. It wasn’t the first time over the course of the evening that he’d been wide of the mark. Scores were 116-112 (Chilemba), 116-115 (Bellew) and 114-114.
Halling’s sympathy for Bellew in his post-fight wrap-up seemed entirely misplaced and rounded off a poor night overall for him in the commentator’s seat.