By Frank Warren
This week two world champions, Nathan Cleverly and Ricky Burns, received huge incentives to succeed in their pending title defences this year. Victories will propel the Celts into unification matches next year that will see both their global profile and earning power explode. Welsh warrior Cleverly, formerly a product of the Calzaghe camp in Newbridge but now coached by his dad Vince, has consistently looked a top pedigree prizefighter, while racing to 24 consecutive wins and the British, Commonwealth, European and WBO light-heavyweight titles.
‘Clev’ has all the hardware to evolve into a huge ‘crossover’ star. A mathematics graduate from Cardiff University, he is highly intelligent, engaging and not bad looking. More importantly the kid can really fight.
He has already successfully defended his crown on three occasions but it’s been extremely difficult to entice the biggest names in the division to step up against him. Presently Nathan can only defend against fighters listed by the WBO. These days most of the governing bodies rankings are littered with similar sounding fighters from Eastern Europe - many decent - but even diehard fans struggle to distinguish between them. Sadly some don’t appeal at the box-office.
Nathan was due to box in Cardiff on 27th October but now has the opportunity to crack the American market when he defends his WBO Crown on Saturday 10th November at the Staples Center in Los Angeles. It is a fantastic chance for Nathan to showcase his skills in front of the fans and media in the US.
And though ‘Clev’ is just 25 and still developing, I’m confident he has the skill set and mental fibre to emerge as king of the pack. The valley boy from Cefn Fforest oozes speed and class, is blessed with a concrete jaw and has a terrific engine. Years as an unpaid sparring partner with his friend and former two weight world champion Joe Calzaghe have provided top grade experience you can’t beg, steal or borrow.
The Welshman is now close to becoming the full package and next year could be in big unification fights against WBA ruler Beibut Shumenov or IBF title holder Tavoris Cloud.
Scot Burns will also get an opportunity to earn top dollar if he triumphs in the third defence of his WBO lightweight title when he heads the bill on my pre-Christmas bash at London’s ExCel Arena on 15th December.
His top ten rated opponent shall be named next week. We offered the gig to European king Gavin Rees but the Welshman’s promoter ‘Steady Eddie’ Hearn swerved it. Rising southern stars George Groves and Billy Joe Saunders also featured in championship matches.
Provided ‘Rickster’ prevails, I have an understanding with Golden Boy for him to lock horns with white hot US hope Adrien ‘The Problem’ Broner in late February or early March.
By then, the trash talking 23 year old from Cincinnati – who comically orders his father to brush his hair before conducting his post-fight interviews – is widely expected to have relieved Mexico’s Antonio DeMarco of his WBC strap. They clash in Atlantic City on 17th November.
Broner, who is unbeaten in 24, can certainly fight and is being groomed for greatness. However, the Yanks tend to get a little ahead of themselves whenever a fresh native talent emerges and I’m more than happy for my man to meet, and beat, Broner in a title unifier on either side of the Atlantic.
Like Cleverly, Burns has been brought through properly and has learnt his craft. At 29, the man from Coatbridge is right in his prime – a top quality all rounder – and these are the types of tests he covets. In Rocky Martinez, Michael Katsidis, Paulus Moses and Kevin Mitchell, he has conquered far superior opposition to what Broner has faced.
The showdown will allow Burns to tap into America’s sizeable Scottish community, just as Edinburgh’s Ken Buchanan wooed them at Madison Square Garden in the early 1970s, and finally coin the rewards his considerable talent and dedication merit.
Amir Khan confirmed that another American, Virgil Hunter, shall be the latest in his long list of coaches.
However, expect similar difficulties to those that provoked his recent split from Freddie Roach.
Californian Hunter is feted for steering super-middleweight Andre Ward to the upper echelons of the sport’s ‘pound-for-pound’ listings so Khan will feature a second with regard to commanding his attention; just as he did with Roach who’s star turn is Manny Pacquiao.
The Bolton boy needs to invest considerable time into tightening his porous defence and instilling the tactical nous that will minimise the number of clean connects on his chin.
Amir is gifted, exciting and brave but anyone who clips him clean can take him out. He returns against California’s Carlos Molina, a feather-fisted lightweight, on 15th December.
Despite steering Ricky Hatton to the IBF light-welter title and promoting one of British boxing’s greatest nights when he mowed down Kostya Tszyu At Manchester’s MEN Arena in 2005, it’s no secret that I’d prefer the ‘Hitman’ to remain retired.
I’d certainly have found him an easier comeback opponent than Ukrainian Vyacheslav Senhenko. At 35, the 2000 Olympian might be a year older than the Mancunian but he was a WBA welter champion as recently as April of this year, and his only reverse in 33 pro outings came last time out against ex Hatton scalp Paulie Malignaggi.
No one ever trained harder but, after three and a half years of less than monastic retirement, Hatton will have plenty of rust to shift. Mike Tyson, a man not dissimilar to Hatton in either ring style or lifestyle, remained explosive in the early rounds of his many comebacks but generally faded if a fight entered its later stages, will this happen with the Hitman? We will see in November.