Boxing: British fight horrors abroad hasn’t put me off travelling insists Cleverly
NATHAN Cleverly insists a horror year abroad for British fighters hasn’t persuaded him to keep the home fires burning for good.
Cleverly, the WBO light-heavyweight champion, cannot wait for his ‘homecoming’ fight against American Tommy Karpency in Cardiff next month.
It’s over four years since Cleverly last fought in Wales, on the undercard of the Joe Calzaghe-Mikkel Kessler Millennium Stadium blockbuster in November 2007.
Since then the unbeaten Welshman has picked up British, European and world titles outside Wales and even crossed the Atlantic to fight on the Calzaghe-Bernard Hopkins undercard in Las Vegas in April 2008.
And, though he is ready to put on a show to remember against Karpency at the Motorpoint Arena on February 25, Cleverly is adamant that it could still be a case of ‘have gloves will travel’.
That is despite the fact EIGHT British boxers lost world title fights abroad in 2011, with former light-welterweight champion Amir Khan among those to cry foul over “hometown decisions” after he lost to Lamont Peterson in Washington DC last month.
“I was ready to go over there to America to fight (WBA champion) Beibut Shumenov,” insisted Cleverly.
“I’d been more than happy to go over there and fight – and it’s something I look forward to doing in the future.
“You’re up against it a little more, of course you are. But it’s still a boxing ring and you just perform to your best and forget the politics.
“I’m sure nine times out of 10 the decision is correct and the right man wins.”
Cleverly can look forward to an exciting new year after targeting 2012 as a time when he aims to add another world belt to his possessions. Shumenov, Hopkins (WBC) and Tavoris Cloud (IBF) are the other recognised light-heavyweight champions and, as is always the case in boxing, the path to unification is full of intrigue, suspicion and enough politics to fill a US campaign trail.
Should Cleverly make short work of Karpency – the unheralded Pennsylvania fighter who has 21 wins from 24 fights – then the Welshman might move close to a summer showdown with one of the other belt holders.
“My aim for 2012 is to win the defence on the 25th and push on for unification fights and a massive one in the summer,” he said.
“I’m only 24 and I’ve got plenty of time on my side, but there’s no way any light-heavyweight in the division is going to take the belt off me.
“I’m going to get stronger and better and be world champion for long time. I’m going to train hard, stay focused and take on all comers.”
Cleverly saw the old year out reflecting on a job well done in 2011.
In May, he became WBO champion when the German Jurgen Braehmer withdrew on the eve of their scheduled O2 Arena contest in London.
Cleverly stopped Polish veteran Aleksy Kuziemski a few days later and then in October won a much-hyped Battle of Britain in Tony Bellew’s Merseyside backyard.
And as a mathematics graduate, Cleverly was quick to mark his achievements in 2011.
“I’d probably say it was an eight out of 10,” he said.
“I had two fights in 2011 and they were good, competitive fights.
“But I’m always looking to improve, I’ve spotted certain areas and that’s what I intend to do.
“It was a crazy year to deal with mentally. We had a lot of opponents pulling out, notably Braehmer, who I was meant to be fighting for over a year.
“When the time came he didn’t take the fight and I was upgraded to full world champion.
“The Kuziemski fight was a comfortable night’s work in the end and I enjoyed the moment of being world champion.
“That was one of the highlights, but the big one was going to Bellew’s backyard and beating him.
“He was undefeated, hungry, dangerous but I felt I won the fight quite comfortably in the end.
“There have been whispers of a rematch but I’ve gone in another direction.
“We’ve passed that hurdle successfully and it’s a case of moving on.”
Now Cleverly – who has targeted an ambitious four fights in 2012 – heads the queue as Welsh boxing prepares to find lasting new energy.
As well as Cleverly, the stock of British and Commonwealth featherweight champion Lee Selby – who will also defend his titles on February 25 – is rising fast while expect to see Gavin Rees and Gary Buckland fighting for European honours.
And, in Olympic year, Andrew Selby – brother of Lee – and Fred Evans will fly the Welsh flag at London 2012.
“This will be a big year for Welsh boxing, an exciting year,” said Cleverly.
“I’m leading the way and there are some great fighters coming through on the undercard.
“I’ve known Lee for a long time through the amateur ranks.
“We’re the same age, we were always at international tournaments together and it was only a matter of time until Lee came through.
“He’s a good fighter and as long as he stays focused he can go all the way.
“We’ve got some great Olympic prospects too in Andrew and Fred and you can see the excellent potential there.”