By Shaun Brown
Nathan Cleverly 26-1 (12 KOs) is hoping to turn a negative into a positive when he returns to the scene of his first professional defeat on May 17 at Cardiff’s Motorpoint Arena. The Welshman will be embarking on a new chapter in his boxing career at cruiserweight by first taking on the 17-4 (12 KOs) Sean Corbin.
Eight months ago, Cleverly who was once tipped to reach boxing superstardom much like compatriot Joe Calzaghe, suffered a catastrophic defeat to the Russian wrecking ball Sergey Kovalev. That night, Cleverly was making the sixth defence of his WBO light heavyweight title and a win over his opponent would’ve propelled him into the bright lights of super fights at 175 lbs. It was a gamble taken by himself and his team. One that was over in the fourth round before the dice had been properly thrown.
“Sometimes you need a wake-up call,” said Cleverly to BoxingScene when discussing the loss to Kovalev.
In the aftermath of such a disappointing night, there was speculation that his hunger for the sport had disappeared and that he might just walk away with his body intact and money in his pocket. Cleverly admitted that the thought of retirement had crossed his mind and that he needed to look deep down inside himself to see what he had left.
“There was a point when I thought about not returning to the boxing ring. Probably because in this sport it’s got to be all or nothing for me. I didn’t just want to be in cruise control throughout my training camps and mentally not focused. At world level when you’re fighting hungry challengers sooner or later you’re gonna come unstuck at some point. You get all the success and you can get carried away with it so you take your eye off the ball. You train as a champion when you should train as a challenger.”
“I did question my future in the sport,” he continued. “You question the level of desire and that maybe you’re enjoying life a little bit too much. Have you took your eye off the game, off the prize and lost that eye of the tiger? We moved through the ranks so fast it was a daze. I was winning all these fights, winning titles, you’re on TV, you’ve got people speaking about you and praising you and it’s a real boost to your ego and you’re living the dream. It’s like a whirlwind and becomes a little bit crazy. It was my dream to be world champion in the sport and to achieve it and get the accolades was just a fantastic thing. You need a little reality check sometimes and I’ve had mine now
“As I’ve said after that time out of the sport something clicked and I really had that urge to get back and that belief that there’s a lot more for me to give. It’d be a real, real shame to throw all that way.”
The time away from boxing meant Cleverly could lead a ‘normal life’. A rest was needed, enjoyment was required and the sport forgotten about for a period. But I asked him if a break from boxing should have been taken sooner.
“In hindsight you could possibly say that. To mentally and physically have a little break can be good sometimes to refresh. With boxing being an intense sport, the camps being intense, the mental pressure is also intense so sometimes it’s good to get away from that and recharge and comeback. So in hindsight, yeah. But when you’re on a roll, when you keep winning, when you’ve got momentum you just go with the flow really and then I came up against Kovalev and it was Kovalev’s night. It was disappointing but hopefully we can rebound in a positive fashion.”
The announcement that Cleverly would be campaigning at cruiserweight brought murmurings from the boxing community that the defeat to Kovalev may have proved that he had no future with the likes of the Russian, Adonis Stevenson and fellow A-listers at light heavyweight. Departing a scene that contained KO artists, savage power and an Alien may well be the best thing for him but one weight division up sees men of size, stature, crudeness and relentless aggression. Is he ready for what lies ahead?
“I’m prepared for it, I’ve been sparring heavyweights which is good to get used to that strength and physicality. I’m feeling confident. You look at all the world champions and they’re big, strong, tough guys. They’re really good fighters and well-schooled. I started my professional career at welterweight, my first couple of fights I was a 10st 10lbs fighter! It’s quite crazy to look back and that now I’m a cruiserweight. Because of that I believe I can bring up the speed from the lower weights, my high energy levels and my work-rate. A lot of the cruiserweights will struggle with that. Their strengths will be their power, they’re naturally bigger than me, they’re gonna hit harder and how am I gonna deal with that? It’s gonna be a challenge, no doubt, a massive challenge because of the big jump up in weight. But we’re gonna take it on and give it everything we’ve got.
“A lot of people question the move and maybe they see it as an instinctive reaction to my first career defeat, a rash decision to move up. Understandably so. Ultimately I had to make this decision on my own. Everyone has an opinion, I just had to go on what I felt and the way I had been feeling in training camps. The way I’d been feeling in sparring at the different weights and how I’d been handling the bigger guys. Overall I come to the conclusion I perform better when my weight is at its ultimate level which is around the mid-thirteen stone mark. I really felt I was operating at a good level in the gym. I felt good, I felt energised and I felt sharp and strong. I was performing at that weight in sparring.”
“I knew in the fights there was something lacking; that little bit extra. But I kept winning and while you do you stick with it. I felt it was inevitable I’d move up sooner or later. I’d been light heavy since I was 20 years of age. That’s a long time and I’ve grown within that period; muscle density, bone density, just natural growths. In an ideal world there would be a weight in between light heavy and cruiser, that would be a perfect scenario but there isn’t and we’ve just got to do it properly now and go through this weight division and steadily work towards those big title fights potentially.”
And from here on in it will not be his father in his corner, Vince (who predicted his son’s move to cruiserweight nearly two years to BS https://www.boxingscene.com/team-cleverly-nathan-wants-fight-heavyweight--55352 ) nor will it be Adam Booth, who Cleverly spent some time with last year during his recuperation period. Instead it will be Darren Wilson; a friend and strength and conditioning coach to Cleverly.
“Training with my Dad was a real successful partnership,” said Cleverly. “We achieved a lot in such a short space of time with all the titles. It was a bit of a daze really because it happened so fast. We had such great momentum we really accelerated through it. I was enjoying it as well but there comes a time when you get a bit stale and you need a little change and I felt over the last year that time was coming and Darren was someone whose been involved in the training team for a couple of years. We’ve done a lot of strength and conditioning work together. He’s come in, added a new voice which can be sometimes beneficial.
“We knew each other, don’t live too far away from each other which is a bonus and then I had that time with Adam Booth who has an excellent reputation. I had a little chance to get away from home so I thought I’d throw myself out that comfort zone for a few weeks with Adam Booth. I was very impressed, he’s got good knowledge and got a good training set-up down there. I was really impressed. But I was a little too much out of my comfort zone. I was living out of a hotel. I had to make that decision and I decided to make home my training camp where I live. I told myself that’s my camp. I’ve got my own gym set-up down there and I give Darren the call to help me out in the gym with some pad work and we’ve kept that routine since and I’m enjoying it and I think that’s important as well too enjoy it. Now it’s back to basics and a matter of just getting that eye of the tiger back.”
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