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 ‘Clev’ 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 Liverpool’s 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 wasn’t able to do any sparring in the final fortnight. I just had to gamble on my winning instinct seeing me through, and that’s what happened.
I thought I performed okay. I boxed within my limits. My usual speed and snap weren’t there and, at times, I took my foot off the gas. That said, I’m 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. I’d not really shown that previously.
Tony’s hostility towards me during the build up was, how shall we say, different! But it was good to have. Sometimes, when you’re fighting a foreign guy, the build up can be a bit flat. But all the ‘mouthing off’ 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?
I’ve not spoken to Tony at all since the fight so I couldn’t say we’re mates now, no. He’d have a lot to prove and gain from a rematch but, from my end, what’s the point? If it makes business sense to do it again down the line, I’ll not be shying away but I’m four years younger than him and beat him comfortably enough in his home town already. I want to move forwards, not back.
You’ve been WBO champ for nine months now. How are you settling into the role?
I’m really enjoying it. It’s been my dream since I was a young boy so you could say I’m living the dream. Chatting with the likes of Carol Vorderman and taking my belt around local football stadiums are great bonuses that I’ve reaped from working hard. You can only allow a certain amount, mind.
I feel I’m handling the media side well and I’m happy with my profile. I’m content to just keep building it fight by fight. I’m 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 Saturday’s challenger Tommy Karpency?
I’ve seen a tape of his fight with my former opponent Karo Murat. Though he lost on points, Tommy seemed very strong and tough, he’s operated up at cruiser so I expect him to be big. It’s a great opportunity for him, he’s got nothing to lose and as he’s never been stopped, he could be very dangerous.
He’s also southpaw so potentially awkward. I’ve only boxed one before as a pro – Douglas Otieno Okola who I knocked out in four in a Commonwealth fight – but obviously I learnt my craft by sparring hundreds of rounds with Joe Calzaghe so I don’t perceive a problem. I’ve been sparring with Harry Miles plus Tony Hill and King Davison from Southampton, all southpaws, and I’ve coped well. It’s 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 don’t need an opponent to get up for. My main focus is always to improve myself; to be sharper, fitter, more technically sound. I’ve 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.
It’s 18 months since you graduated in mathematics from Cardiff University so you’ve 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 I’ve started getting used to it and I’m beginning to find other things to fill my time. I like learning new stuff and I’m 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?
I’ve 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 we’re near to a sell out which shows the nation is getting behind me. It’s very special and I’m very proud. Victory is no foregone conclusion but, if it comes, I’m sure I’ll 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 it’s a pressure I thrive on. I’m 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?!
I’ll try not to. Like all Welshmen, I love the rugby internationals and I’ll 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, I’ll be able to keep the winning streak going for the nation.
I’m a big fan of Cardiff, they’re the closest team to my hometown. I’ve been invited to take my belts around the stadium a few times so it’s good to have that link. I’m 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. What’s your assessment of them?
For me, Hopkins is number one in our division. He’s the oldest world champion in the record books, a legend, but, with my youth and enthusiasm, I’d definitely fancy it.
I view (WBC king) Dawson as the most dangerous in the division. He’s 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. He’s a big name and a huge draw in his home country. I’d be prepared to go to Canada, if needed. He’s big, strong, powerful, pumped up, explosive but I’d 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. He’s young and hungry and he’d definitely give me a tough fight but, from what I saw of him against (Gabriel) Campillo, it’s 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. He’s an American who’s been given the Jeff Lacy style hype. He’s 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, I’d 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 don’t really know what’s 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 I’m sure it would be a big fight for Wales. Obviously we did a lot of sparring when we were both at Enzo Calzaghe’s 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, Germany’s Juergen Braehmer, jilted you last year. Could he still feature?
Unlikely. He did make a comeback recently but didn’t look too sharp. He’s 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. Carl’s mentioned stepping up before and he’s mentioned my name in the past.
We’ve both displayed our heart and guts, both like to stand and trade so it’d sure to be entertaining. If that was offered for this summer, I’d definitely take it. Carl’s tough, has a granite chin so it’d likely be a distance fight but I just think I’d have too much speed and movement.
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