By Shaun Brown
Nathan Cleverly is in a better place after his cruiserweight debut back in May in Cardiff. The former WBO Light Heavyweight champion returned to the exact venue (and dressing room) where he suffered his first and only professional loss, a crushing one too, at the destructive hands of Sergey Kovalev.
After taking care of Shawn Corbin, the Welshman moves on to this Sat night’s bill at the Echo Arena, Liverpool where he faces the 15-4 (11) Alejandro Emilio Valori in the first defence of his WBA Inter-Continental cruiserweight title.
All roads lead to a rematch with Tony Bellew, who fights on the same bill, for Cleverly should he come through 29th fight. Boxing Scene caught up with the 27 year old to discuss Sat’s opponent, his 200lb debut against Corbin, his new coach Darren Wilson and of course Mr Bellew.
Boxing Scene: How’s camp been for this one, Nathan?
Cleverly: It’s gone very well. It’s been keeping the momentum going from the last fight so we’re on track.
Boxing Scene: What do you know of Valori, your opponent on Sat night?
Cleverly: Well to be honest I’ve not seen a great deal of Valori. I’ve seen a few clips on YouTube. Typical South American fighter; tough, rugged, he does come to fight on the front foot. He’s the type of guy who’ll swing the wide hooks looking to catch me over the top. I think it’s a good opponent for my second fight at cruiserweight and I’m looking to put on a good display of boxing with a few variations of styles and eventually hoping to break this guy up and get the stoppage victory.
Boxing Scene: Having not seen a lot of your opponent does that affect preparations?
Cleverly: Well it has no real impact on camp but in terms of mindset it’s kinda helpful to just concentrate on your own thing and not be too concerned about your opponent. In terms of the mindset and the mentality of the fighter I feel in a good place by kind of not having too much information about the opponent. I think in a way it can help.
Boxing Scene: What were your emotions just before the ringwalk against Corbin in Cardiff where you lost to Kovalev?
Cleverly: Emotions were very calm I would say. It was very calm, very placid. I remember sat in the changing room. Just myself, my trainer, my second corner man and someone from the boxing board. It was so peaceful, it was quiet a bit of music on in the background and Eddie Hearn walked in and he said “Wow, this is not like the other changing rooms!” I think that kind of that epitomised the mood I was in.
Basically in the changing room I was in the zone and I was just there to do business. I was not in there for any bravado, nothing else but to get in that ring and do the business that night. And that’s the mood I’m in at this moment; cut out the crap and publicity sh*t and the bravado and just concentrate on getting back to the way you should be and that’s hard work, focus and just get back to boxing. Do the business, do it properly and move on. That’s the kind of attitude I had In Cardiff. You could say there was bit of pressure going back home, the demons of fighting in the same arena, same changing room where nine months earlier disaster struck. Overall it was great just to get in that ring and get rid of that memory. The whole performance went better than I expected and I was chuffed to bits.
Boxing Scene: Your cruiserweight debut didn’t go long, would you have liked some rounds to bed you in even more at the weight?
Cleverly: It was just about getting the win and the earlier the better. In that fight every shot I threw seemed to land, I had good accuracy in the fight. Corbin was a good opponent for my first fight. He looked the part, he looked in great shape and for the non-boxing fan you’d think the guy was a monster. But when he steps up he gets beat. There was no doubt I was expected to win but the manner which I won, the two rounds and the range of shots I landed on my opponent within those two rounds that was the impressive thing about it and I was really happy about it.
Boxing Scene: Esteemed boxing journalist, Colin Hart, was fairly critical of the opponent choice on TV the other night. Do you think that’s unfair on Corbin and do you wish you had a harder test?
Cleverly: I think it was an excellent bit of matchmaking, personally. Bear in mind that cruiserweight is 25lbs heavier than light heavyweight and ultimately I was starting from the bottom and I’m not expecting to jump straight into world titles or eliminators. I don’t mind starting at the bottom in the cruiserweight division and working my way up. I did it in the light heavyweight division going the Commonwealth, British, European and world title route. I think Corbin was the perfect starting point there was no need to dive in with a real test. I was out of the ring for nine months. There was a change of weight division, a change of promoter, a change of trainer, so many aspects with my boxing career and I just needed to come back regardless of opponent and just get that win and fighting. The opponent was totally irrelevant.
Boxing Scene: You’ve had some extra time to get used to the weight, do you feel even healthier, even better for it?
Cleverly: Yes I do. As the months go on I’m more and more growing into this cruiserweight division. Feeling stronger, my weight is creeping up all the time and I’m growing steadily into the weight. Sooner rather than later I will become a full-blown cruiserweight.
Boxing Scene: This is your second camp with your new coach, Darren Wilson. How’s that been going and what’s he been adding to your game?
Cleverly: It’s going very well. I’m happy with my trainer and I’m in a good place mentally. I’m happy with what we’re doing. It’s a lot better when you’re happy, it makes training a lot easier, more enjoyable. And I hope that shows in the overall performance as well. Darren is young, is enthusiastic, he’s put in a lot of work with me. We’re basically just sticking with the basics and applying the basic fundamentals really. No major changes it’s just taking over from where we left off. Going through a range of styles, covering the fighting angles, the defensive angles and applying all those styles so we can adapt in a fight.
Boxing Scene: It seems nailed on that the rematch with Bellew will happen later in the year, was there no other option for you?
Cleverly: I think it’s inevitable, myself and Bellew. We’re going to fight. The timing of it I think makes sense, let’s do it sooner rather than later. Strike while the iron’s hot. Hopefully both of us come away with wins in the Echo Arena this Saturday night and there’s no reason why we can’t collide later in the year. The foundations have been put in place and both fighters want it. He wants the fight, he wants revenge and I want to show that the first fight was no fluke and win more emphatically this time. There’s talk of it being an eliminator for a world title shot so I think it’s the fight that has to happen.
Boxing Scene: You spoke of working from the bottom up at cruiserweight so what level of fight do you see a Bellew rematch at?
Cleverly: I personally think it’s a perfect fight for a world title eliminator. Whoever wins that goes on to challenge for a world title. I think that would be a real bonus for that fight and I think that’s the perfect position for that fight. We’re both at that level. The winner goes on and whoever gets defeated they would come back down to say European level maybe.
Shaun Brown is the UK Editor at Boxing Scene and a contributor to Boxing Monthly. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org with any news, views or stories you may have. Tags: Nathan Cleverly