After a four year, 12 fight road trip, Cefn Forest light-heavyweight Nathan Cleverly receives a well earned homecoming this Saturday when he defends his WBO belt for a third time against American toughie Tommy Karpency.
An impressive victory will leave the 23-0 (11) Welshman primely placed for a huge outdoor blockbuster in the summer that could elevate him into an elite level earner.
Last week boxing writer Glynn Evans quizzed ĎCleví about his recent past, preparation and possible future options.
Watch Cleverly v Karpency live and exclusive on BoxNation (Sky Ch. 456/Virgin Ch. 546). Join at www.boxnation.tv
Last time out, you successfully defended your WBO crown for a first time by outpointing a fired up Tony Bellew at Liverpoolís Echo Arena. It all got pretty hostile at times, in and out of the ring. How do you reflect on your performance and the experience in general?
Two weeks before, I cracked a rib sparring in London and wasnít able to do any sparring in the final fortnight. I just had to gamble on my winning instinct seeing me through, and thatís what happened.
I thought I performed okay. I boxed within my limits. My usual speed and snap werenít there and, at times, I took my foot off the gas. That said, Iím happy that I won showing a different side to my style. After trading for the first few rounds, I went back foot and outboxed Tony for the latter part. Iíd not really shown that previously.
Tonyís hostility towards me during the build up was, how shall we say, different! But it was good to have. Sometimes, when youíre fighting a foreign guy, the build up can be a bit flat. But all the Ďmouthing offí generated a lot of media hype and I think the boxing public like that. I actually enjoyed the atmosphere in his backyard. As a world champion, you have to be able to deal with hostile situations like that. I set myself a tough challenge and I believe I came through that well.
After a great fight, are we all friends now? Will he be getting a rematch?
Iíve not spoken to Tony at all since the fight so I couldnít say weíre mates now, no. Heíd have a lot to prove and gain from a rematch but, from my end, whatís the point? If it makes business sense to do it again down the line, Iíll not be shying away but Iím four years younger than him and beat him comfortably enough in his home town already. I want to move forwards, not back.
Youíve been WBO champ for nine months now. How are you settling into the role?
Iím really enjoying it. Itís been my dream since I was a young boy so you could say Iím living the dream. Chatting with the likes of Carol Vorderman and taking my belt around local football stadiums are great bonuses that Iíve reaped from working hard. You can only allow a certain amount, mind.
I feel Iím handling the media side well and Iím happy with my profile.† Iím content to just keep building it fight by fight. Iím in no rush to jump into the major limelight. You have to earn that right.
What do you know and what have you seen of Saturdayís challenger Tommy Karpency?
Iíve seen a tape of his fight with my former opponent Karo Murat. Though he lost on points, Tommy seemed very strong and tough, heís operated up at cruiser so I expect him to be big. Itís a great opportunity for him, heís got nothing to lose and as heís never been stopped, he could be very dangerous.
Heís also southpaw so potentially awkward. Iíve only boxed one before as a pro Ė Douglas Otieno Okola who I knocked out in four in a Commonwealth fight Ė but obviously I learnt my craft by sparring hundreds of rounds with Joe Calzaghe so I donít perceive a problem. Iíve been sparring with Harry Miles plus Tony Hill and King Davison from Southampton, all southpaws, and Iíve coped well. Itís another new challenge but, as a world champion, I should be able to adapt.
With all the talk of a summer blockbuster in Wales is there a danger of you overlooking Karpency?
No. The way I train, I donít need an opponent to get up for. My main focus is always to improve myself; to be sharper, fitter, more technically sound. Iíve just opened a new gym in Aberbargoed and training there, plus the opportunity to fight in Wales again and deliver a spectacular performance for the Welsh fans, provide me with all the motivation I need.
Itís 18 months since you graduated in mathematics from Cardiff University so youíve more spare time on your hands now. Is that a good thing or a bad thing?
Initially I did struggle to be a full time pro. With so much free time on my hands I stopped enjoying my training. It was affecting me. But these last few months Iíve started getting used to it and Iím beginning to find other things to fill my time. I like learning new stuff and Iím studying properties at the minute. I also like getting stuck into the DIY around the house.
This will be your first start in Wales for well over four years. What does that mean to you?
Iíve really enjoyed my journey, defending my titles around Britain in all the big cities. I particularly love London and the York Hall, in particular, is always magical. But I think the timing is right to come home. The build up has been great and already weíre near to a sell out which shows the nation is getting behind me. Itís very special and Iím very proud. Victory is no foregone conclusion but, if it comes, Iím sure Iíll be very emotional.
Do you feel added pressure as the frontman for the very talented crop of young Welsh boxers that are emerging such as Lee Selby, Francis Robinson, Lewis Rees and Craig Evans?
Yes, as world champion I feel a real responsibility to carry the mantle and itís a pressure I thrive on. Iím in boxing to be number one, the best I can. I enjoy being at the top and leading by example.
With Wales playing England at Twickenham in the Six Nations earlier in the afternoon, and your team, Cardiff City, facing Liverpool in the Carling Cup Final at Wembley the following day, it promises to be an immense weekend for Welsh sport. Might you get distracted?!
Iíll try not to. Like all Welshmen, I love the rugby internationals and Iíll be tuning in, in my hotel room, trying to stay relaxed, not getting too wrapped up in it all. A Welsh victory would set the night up very nicely and definitely give me a little boost. Then, hopefully, Iíll be able to keep the winning streak going for the nation.
Iím a big fan of Cardiff, theyíre the closest team to my hometown. Iíve been invited to take my belts around the stadium a few times so itís good to have that link. Iím honoured to be so involved in such a great weekend.
A win over Karpency would pave the way for a muted summer blockbuster at one of the local football stadiums. Bernard Hopkins, Chad Dawson, Jean Pascal, Beibut Shumenov and Tavoris Cloud have all been touted as potential opponents. Whatís your assessment of them?
For me, Hopkins is number one in our division. Heís the oldest world champion in the record books, a legend, but, with my youth and enthusiasm, Iíd definitely fancy it.
I view (WBC king) Dawson as the most dangerous in the division. Heís big at the weight, southpaw, heavy handed and technically good as well. The timing would have to be right for that one, maybe a few more fights down the line.
Pascal is a fight that definitely interests me. I think our styles would really blend well. Heís a big name and a huge draw in his home country. Iíd be prepared to go to Canada, if needed. Heís big, strong, powerful, pumped up, explosive but Iíd back my speed and stamina to wear him down over the 12 rounds.
Shumenov (the WBA champion) is more inexperienced and that would be a good unification fight, a good stepping stone. Heís young and hungry and heíd definitely give me a tough fight but, from what I saw of him against (Gabriel) Campillo, itís a fight I should definitely win.
Cloud (IBF boss) is a very vicious fighter; a big puncher who likes to come forward and stamp his authority. Heís an American whoís been given the Jeff Lacy style hype. Heís also quite busy and fit. Like Pascal, I think our styles would mesh well. We all like to fight on the front foot and get involved. It could be very entertaining.
If I could choose, Iíd go with unification against either Shumenov or Cloud. Both would be progressive moves towards getting to the very top guys in the division, Hopkins and Dawson.
Another option might be your former stablemate and one time WBO cruiser king Enzo Maccarinelli who recently dipped his toes into the 175lb division.† Do I detect a bit of friction brewing?
Possibly. Though Enzo and me were stablemates, we were never really friends as such. I donít really know whatís happening with his career at the minute. I understand an opening has emerged for him to challenge Shane McPhilbin for the British title back up at cruiser next month.
If he does stay at light-heavy, builds his name back up and got himself back into contention for my title Iím sure it would be a big fight for Wales. Obviously we did a lot of sparring when we were both at Enzo Calzagheís but I was a 19 year old middleweight and he was a big powerful cruiserweight. Even then, ability wise, I always felt I was a level above him.
Your predecessor on the WBO throne, Germanyís Juergen Braehmer, jilted you last year.† Could he still feature?
Unlikely. He did make a comeback recently but didnít look too sharp. Heís too temperamental, too unreliable to line up a fight with.
Recently, you called out former WBC super-middleweight boss Carl Froch. Why?
I just think it makes sense. Two top British fighters, just one weight class apart. It would generate a lot of interest.† Carlís mentioned stepping up before and heís mentioned my name in the past.
Weíve both displayed our heart and guts, both like to stand and trade so itíd sure to be entertaining. If that was offered for this summer, Iíd definitely take it. Carlís tough, has a granite chin so itíd likely be a distance fight but I just think Iíd have too much speed and movement.
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