The immediate interest in the recently announced fight between British heavyweight champion Fabio Wardley and 2020 Olympic bronze medallist Fraser Clarke is proof that opposites attract.
The two unbeaten heavyweights both have ambitions of reaching the top but whereas Wardley set out with a dream, Clarke began his professional career carrying a weight of expectation.
Wardley has grasped the power of the internet and uses it to promote himself and his fights whereas Clarke is friendly and outgoing but, at heart, a traditionalist who prefers to talk with his hands. Wardley is a lone wolf these days, shunning the security of a long-term promotional contract to pursue the most attractive opportunities. Clarke has the full backing of the Sky Sports and Boxxer machine.
The biggest difference between the two comes when we look at their boxing journeys.
There is absolutely no comparison in the level of opposition Wardley (17-0, 16 KO’s) and Clarke (8-0, 6 KO’s) faced before deciding to turn professional.
Clarke spent years as part of the ultra-professional Team GB boxing programme, benefiting from the highest level of coaching and competing around the world against the best of the best. He collected an Olympic bronze medal and went to hell and back on a regular basis when he boxed in the World Series of boxing.
Wardley took an entirely different route. The men he faced on the white-collar boxing circuit probably aren’t even well known in their hometowns and villages but they each played a crucial part in building him into the fighter he is today and paying gym subs, selling tickets and forcing himself to stay disciplined whilst holding down a job provided him with a different type of education.
Walking out at a nightclub in Stoke to fight a local doorman in front or his friends or fighting in a working mans club in Batley on a Sunday afternoon is certainly character building.
The leap from white collar fighting to professional boxing isn’t such a rare journey these days. Most small halls shows have a young, ticket selling fighter or two who have who built a large following on the unlicensed scene and have decided to try their luck as professionals. Some will come and go after a couple of fights when they realize how long and hard the path they are embarking on is. Not many - if any - will make as big an impact as Wardley.
“He downplayed it a little bit to say the least. There’s a little more to it as I’ve proven in my career,” Wardley told BoxingScene.com after Clarke disparaged his boxing background. “That’s what I’m trying to get across. Not that there’s anything wrong with amateur boxing but there are other routes. I want to try and be an advocate of that. It isn’t quite as downbeat as he wants to make it seem, just two casual, fat, drunk blokes having a scrap outside a pub. It’s not that. Some kids train for weeks and months on end and all they do is box on white collar shows for years. They commit themselves to the sport.
“There’s a lot of different factors to it. As an amateur you can go and box somewhere like Uzbekistan and lose. Ok, great. You go home and nobody is really gonna get on your case about it. ‘How did you do?’ ‘Oh, I lost.’ ‘Oh, ok. No worries.’
“You go down the pub and see the same geezer that smashed your head in a few weeks ago? That’s not ideal to be honest.”
The fight is so intriguing because nobody can be certain what will happen. Of the two fighters, however, Clarke is the fighter with the questions to answer.
In the buildup to a big fight, narratives quickly become facts and people seems to have latched onto the line that fighting Wardley over 12 rounds maybe a step too far, too soon in Clarke’s career.
That entirely contradicts his own belief that his deep amateur background and experience fighting elite heavyweight prospects in the five round format WSB give him a grounding that the champion can’t hope to match. If that hold true, those qualities should make him a prohibitive favorite over a fighter with Wardley’s background regardless of a few extra rounds.
It should also be factored in that Clarke was 29 when he decided to turn professional and there was a widely held opinion that he had waited too long to turn over and that the years of attrition he had been through as an amateur will have taken their toll physically. There was precious little talk of a slow build of a career back then. He was expected to move quickly. Clarke’s rise has been solid rather than spectacular but he hasn’t shown any alarming signs that should cause that schedule to alter. This is the right fight t the right time.
The deciding element might just be the one we have absolutely no evidence of.
When Nathan Gorman broke his nose early in their British title fight, Wardley bit down and stopped Gorman in the third round. He has proven he can hold his nerve and come through an early crisis and has won fights when the odds haven’t been stacked in his favour. During his eight professional fights Clarke hasn’t yet needed to show that he can weather a storm or change the course of a fight if things are going wrong.
If he is to announce himself as a genuine heavyweight threat, he will need to do that on March 31st.
“It’s definitely a factor. Obviously, he’s done certain things of that ilk in the amateurs but that was years ago and in the amateurs,” Wardley said. “In the pro’s there’s a different feeling. There’s a different pressure. There’s more to it. It’s not the same thing and I’m tried and tested. I know there are no question marks when it comes to me and that goes for people looking in from the outside or me looking at myself. I know I can do it. I know it’s been done.
“With him, he can look at himself and think he can do it but everyone else can look in and wonder has he really got the heart for it. Who knows.”
“There are a lot of miles on the clock and he isn’t a young man anymore. He’s having to rush his career now, hence them saying that if he wins it’ll be the fastest route ever to a British title. That means nothing. You don’t get an extra belt for it or anything. I think it’s more of a negative that he knows and they know that he’s in a rush and when you do anything in life in a rush, it usually doesn’t turn out too well.”