By Terence Dooley
Life is good for Nathan Cleverly right now, the 24-year-old won the vacant WBO 175lb title on May 21st with a fourth stanza stoppage win over Poland’s Aleksy Kuziemski at London’s O2 Arena.
Cleverly had to keep his composure during fight week. Serial withdrawer Juergen Braehmer pulled out of a proposed defence just days before the first bell. Tony Bellew stepped into the breech only to fail a check weigh-in leaving the way free for Aleksy to step in at short notice to ensure the vacant WBO light-heavyweight title remained on the line.
Nathan did the only thing he could do, keeping his head during the confusion to register a victory and win the strap. “I feel as though I’ve done it the hard, proper way by going the British, Commonwealth and European route,” stressed Cleverly when speaking to me at Frank Warren’s ECHO Arena show on Saturday night.
“It was a pain in the arse when Braehmer pulled out but what can I say? I kept focused and got to fight for a world title. Bellew was in for a day but couldn’t make the weight so it was a rollercoaster ride, but worth it when I finally got the chance to fight for the world title.”
He added: “Braehmer had done this before and has a history of it. I stayed focused. I enjoyed becoming a world champion so it was good. It was great to hear those words.”
Cleverly seems to be on a collision course with Liverpool’s Tony Bellew, the two men have clashed at pressers, in the press and at shows. Cleverly, though, insists that it is a professional, rather than personal, rivalry.
“I don’t know him personally, he doesn’t know me personally, so I can’t say anything one way or the other and he can’t judge me. We are both fighters, both winners and there is obviously a rivalry because we’re the same weight division. I have a world title, obviously something that Tony wants and something that I refuse to let go of so we’re going to have that rivalry,” explained Cleverly.
“I’ve won all the titles, a title eliminator and the WBO title, Tony’s only got the British and Commonwealth belts so he has got a few more steps to go before he should fight me but I’d be ready if he gets one ahead of schedule. It is up to me whether I give him a shot.”
The former mathematics student has appraised the light-heavyweight rankings. Calculating a route to the top that he hopes will take in the likes of IBF holder Tavoris Cloud, Jean Pascal and consensus kingpin Bernard Hopkins.
“There is talk of that,” he said, looking ahead to a potential clash with the likes of Hopkins. “It would be great if we could get it on. There’s fighters out there like Cloud so hopefully if Hopkins is still around in a few fights time we can have a showdown.”
Fellow Welshman Joe Calzaghe holds light-heavyweight triumphs over Hopkins and Roy Jones Junior. The former super-middleweight world champion pegged Cleverly for titles as soon as the Cefn Forest-based youngster turned pro back in 2005 – a commendation that boosted the fledgling professional.
“Joe has shown respect for me and I’ve a lot of respect for Joe, he was an inspiration to me growing up so it is great to hear his words of praise and that he always said I’d be a world champion,” he cleverly concluded.
Tony Bellew is the other part of the potential domestic dustup; the Liverpudlian boxed his way to a unanimous point’s victory over Ovill McKenzie on Saturday and has promised that a Cleverly-Bellew showdown will be a ‘chocks away’ slugfest.
“I’d make the fight tomorrow but it is up to the powers that be. I came through McKenzie unscathed, never lost a round and stuck to a game plan. I showed a different side to me and proved something people didn’t believe,” blasted Bellew.
“I wouldn’t take a backwards step against Cleverly so that fight would be explosive. If you watch his fight he fights 5’ 8’’ Tony Oakey up close, he is 6’ 1½’’ and fights in your face all the time. If he fights me he is going not going to back me up because he doesn’t have one punch power. He slaps, throws a daft amount of punches and sticks his tongue out when he gets caught with big left hooks. If I catch him with one of my big left hooks he will be out.”
Indeed, the three-time ABA heavyweight titlist feels that his controlled display against ‘The Upsetter’ bodes well for his chances in a shootout with Cleverly. Saying, “I stopped McKenzie in his tracks a couple of times even though I didn’t throw one big power shot. I hit him with short right hand and he was wary all night.”
He added: “The guy knocks out cruiserweights for fun, he has knocked out bigger guys than me but gets hit of me and won’t take a risk. I thought he’d have pushed it more. Give me someone who shows me something else and I’ll adapt – I’m versatile.
“Nathan told me to keep picking up his titles so I said, ‘Listen, son, I became mandatory for this title, I didn’t pick it up’. It is not about vacant titles, I’ll fight anyone, I asked to fight him after twelve fights, he is tailor made for me because he’ll stand there and bang with me, that is all he knows.”
There is talk of Cleverly defending against Dmitry Sukhotsky, his number one contender, yet every indication that ‘Bomber’ will get his wish sometime in 2012. “It will happen,” insists the 28-year-old.
“I am sure Francis [Warren] wants it to happen, Frank [Warren] wants it to happen, Sky Sports want it to happen and the fans want it to happen, so it will happen. I would sit down and discuss it tomorrow. I’d fight him tomorrow, I really would. I will say one thing. If I fight Nathan here in Liverpool we’ll do ten to eleven thousand tickets, that is a fact.”
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