By Nick Halling
Dagenham lightweight Kevin Mitchell had hoped to be boxing Miguel Vazquez for the IBF lightweight title on the Froch-Groves II undercard at Wembley on 31 May, but it seems that the Mexican will not be ready in time. The Mexican was badly cut in his last defence against Dennis Shafikov in February, and the cut is taking a longer than expected time to heal.
Instead, Mitchell will still be on the Wembley bill, but now fighting in an IBF eliminator. This is potentially still good news for the East Londoner. Assuming he comes through the eliminator, Mitchell will become the mandatory, and Vazquez will have to defend against him within a specified amount of time. Without the eliminator, he would have been a voluntary defence, and all kinds of options would come into play. If he wins, therefore, he will be in a much stronger overall bargaining position.
Who Mitchell will defend against has yet to be announced, but there are suggestions that Ghislain Maduma might be in the frame. In the lastest IBF rankings (published in February), the unbeaten Maduma is ranked number six (Mitchell is ranked seventh). It’s a logical fight to make.
Maduma is interesting and capable. Born and raised in Kinshasa, the African relocated to Montreal to turn professional in November 2010. He has won all 16 of his fights to date, with 10 stoppages. However, a closer examination of his card reveals a noteable absence of big name opponents. He has also yet to box out of Canada.
The feeling is that Mitchell would profit from the kind of test Maduma is capable of. Since losing a WBO title challenge against Ricky Burns in October 2012, the East London boxer has had four straight victories against limited opponents. The Montreal-based African is a step up in class, and it’s probably fair to say that if Mitchell cant beat Maduma, he’d stand little chance against Vazquez anyway.
Mitchell’s camp opens in earnest later this month, and is likely to include some warm weather training in Spain. If he gets past Maduma (or whoever else is thrown at him on 31 May), he can look forward to home advantage when Vazquez is brought over to London later in the year.
Due back into camp with long-time trainer Billy Nelson this week, former WBO lightweight champion Ricky Burns has decided that he wants to freshen up his team. He has informed Nelson, and is believed to be on the search for a new cornerman as a matter of urgency.
Word out of Glasgow is that there has been no acrimonious split, and that Nelson has been informed directly, rather than hearing the news from a third party.
Burns' decision comes on the back of losing his crown to Terence Crawford last month, the fortunate draw against Rey Beltran, and the come-from-behind victory over Jose Gonzalez.
There has been talk of Burns possibly moving up to light welterweight, but until a new trainer is in place, all bets are currently off. Time is of the essence now, however, as the Scot is due out in Glasgow at the end of June - giving him slightly under 12 weeks to prepare under a new team.
The announcement last month that former world light heavyweight champion Nathan Cleverly was signing for Matchroom didn’t surprise anyone. In the chattering village of the fight game, this was one of the industry’s worst kept secrets.
What did come as a shock, however, was the former WBO boss’s announcement that he was hiring the relatively unknown Darren Wilson as his trainer. Cleverly had spent four weeks working at the Adam Booth gym in South London, and was widely expected to be the latest addition to the Hayemaker client list. Given his quality and pedigree, Cleverly would certainly have been a natural and desirable fit.
Cleverly is an intelligent, mature individual, and he knows what he needs and what works best for him. Word out of South Wales is that while he was hugely impressed by Booth’s set-up and knowledge, the lifestyle of living in a hotel out of a suitcase just wasn’t going to get it done over the long haul.
The Welshman appreciates the comforts of home, and likes the feel of family and friends around him. His running routes in South Wales have been long mapped out. In South London, those runs just aren’t there. Those close to Cleverly insist he was simply a long way from where he wanted to be.
So rather than any kind of fallout, which had been suggested in some quarters, Cleverly and Booth parted on excellent terms, their link thwarted by nothing more sinister than 200 miles of the M4 motorway. Dont be surprised if Cleverly, when he is looking for high-end sparring, pops into the Booth gym in search of partners.
On a day to day basis, however, the former light heavy champ, who will step up to cruiser next month, will train at a purpose built facility built on his own property. He is an independent type who doesn’t appreciate a large circle of people around him. When it comes to working in the gym, he’s much more a loner, happy with his own company and in his own space.
It is into this space that Darren Wilson will now work. The new trainer didn’t drop in from nowhere: he has been part of Cleverly’s team for a couple of years, working primarily on the strength and conditioning side of the business.
The fighter likes and admires his youthful energy, his love of the sport, and the fact that his sole motivation appears to be simply to make his boxer as good as he can possibly be. In the meantime, Cleverly will trust himself to put in the shifts necessary and not cut corners. It is unlikely that Wilson will be the boss in the relationship, but Cleverly isn’t the type who needs that anyway.
In an era when so many boxers are seduced by the name and reputation of a so-called superstar trainer, with extremely mixed results, it’s refreshing to find a fighter who knows what he wants, and isn’t impressed by the glamour names of the training world. How things work out with Wilson running the show remains to be seen, but if anything goes wrong, Cleverly wont be able to blame anyone but himself.
The good news is that he is fully energised once more following his morale-sapping loss at the hands of Sergey Kovalev last August. That four round demolition hurt far deeper than the mere physical level. The break – combined with the step up to cruiser – has recharged the batteries.
The plan, as outlined by new promoter Eddie Hearn, is for a cruiser debut on 17 May in Cardiff, followed by another fight in the summer, then the prospect of a return engagement with Liverpool’s Tony Bellew later in the year as a possible world title eliminator.
The pair clashed in October 2011 in a noisy encounter, stoked primarily by the bellicose Bellew. Cleverly won a narrow decision then, and Bellew has been yelling for a chance at revenge ever since. With both men under the same promotional banner, that should be a simple match to make (assuming they both keep winning in the meantime). And with Bellew already banging the drum, it should be a bumper payday for both of them.
Nick Halling is a commentator for Sky Sports.