Nathan Cleverly conquers creaky Robin Krasniqi in unanimous verdict
• Welshman retains WBO light-heavyweight crown
• Unification fight with Bernard Hopkins moves closer
Sean Ingle at Wembley
What was billed as Nathan Cleverly's toughest fight turned into a shut-out as the Welshman retained his WBO light-heavyweight championship – and moved closer to a unification fight with Bernard Hopkins – with a unanimous points decision over Robin Krasniqi.
Nathan Cleverly in action against Robin Krasniqi (right). Photograph: Andrew Couldridge/Action Images
Two judges scored it 120-108, awarding Cleverly every round. Only one judge gave Krasniqi anything, scoring the bout 119-111. It was marginally more competitive than the numbers suggest. It was just that Cleverly was better at every facet: at distance, up close; when the fists were flying, when the jabs popped like pistons.
There was no disputing the strength of Krasniqi's chin or his resolve: he was rocked repeatedly yet he kept coming back. Afterwards Cleverly paid respect to his challenger, saying: "I thought sooner or later he was going to have to go but he was very tough. Plan A was to box and Plan B was to get inside. He was hurt a lot but he wasn't quite ready to go, so in the end I had to revert to Plan A."
Krasniqi, a German-based Kosovan, was the WBO's No1 contender and arrived in London with a record of 39 wins and two defeats. Initially, at least, he had the mindset of coming to win. Cleverly soon changed that.
Both men tried to impose the jab in the opener but Cleverly's left hand was sharper and faster. Several times he connected before a flurry briefly wobbled Krasniqi. It proved to be a warning.
In the second, Cleverly stepped up his attacks and reddened the face of his opponent with a smart right uppercut, and though Krasniqi finally got some sort of footing in the fight in third, Cleverly was always pressing, probing, hurting.
Too often, Cleverly's jab resembles a clay-court player's backhand – with more wrist than shoulder in the punch, too much flick and not enough spit – but in the early rounds it was highly effective and he used it repeatedly to push Krasniqi back on to the ropes.
By the fifth, Cleverly's best round, it looked a case of when, not if, the fight would end. Krasniqi was breathing hard and being dismantled with sharp lefts to the body and rights to the head.
Yet the final onslaught never arrived. In the sixth, Cleverly switched off and Krasniqi took heart – he even probably took an uneventful seventh by landing a big right hand at the end of the round. Cleverly continued to box on the back foot in the eighth but the jab and classy combinations returned, along with his dominance.
You had to admire Krasniqi's bravery but he was getting outclassed. Despite his seemingly impressive record, only 15 of his 39 wins had come against fighters with winning records – and he had never fought the full 12 rounds he was being asked to do here.
Yet he kept battling away. In a furious exchange in the ninth, both landed shots but Cleverly was the one coming forward, with Krasniqi backtracking, buying time.
To his credit, Krasniqi tried to pressure Cleverly in the 10th but he was picked off again. Now the pattern from the opening three rounds began to return: Cleverly dominant with the jab, Krasniqi game but limited, unable to retaliate. His rueful face at the final bell told the story.
Cleverly, who moves to 26-0 with 12 knockouts, did enough – as usual – but his career has stagnated since he became world champion in 2011. He wants the big fights, and, just like his close friend Joe Calzaghe at a similar stage of his career, he needs them too.
On the undercard, Derek Chisora looked flabby and unconvincing in beating the Argentinian Hector Alfredo Avila with a ninth-round stoppage.
Meanwhile, the former WBO featherweight champion Scott Harrison, who is attempting to rebuild his career at 35 after a seven-year hiatus, lost his attempt to win the WBO European lightweight championship on a unanimous points defeat decision to Liam Walsh.
Nathan Cleverly proves himself the Prince of Wembley
The Welsh boxer extended his unblemished record to 26 wins and kept his WBO light-heavyweight crown with a unanimous points victory against Robin Krasniqi in his fifth title defence
Nathan Cleverly made Robin Krasniqi pay for his pre-fight taunts by ending his world title dreams in comprehensive fashion at Wembley Arena.
Cleverly extended his unblemished record to 26 wins and kept his WBO light-heavyweight crown with a unanimous points victory.
Krasniqi had his moments in an entertaining skirmish but the German-based Kosovan did not possess the overall quality to trouble the Welshman on the occasion of his fifth title defence.
The judges scored it 120-108, 120-108 and 119-109 and that was a sweet result for the champion after Krasniqi had dubbed him the 'Princess of Boxing' at their head-to-head press conference on Thursday.
Cardiff City's Championship winning heroes celebrate with Nathan Cleverly
Krasniqi had come into the fight with only two career defeats - the last being seven years ago - and full of confidence after a sequence of 38 straight wins, but Cleverly was in full control apart from taking a breather in the seventh.
Even then, however, two of the judges gave him every round and it was a good night's work for Cleverly with IBF belt holder Bernard Hopkins, potentially his next opponent, tweeting that he was monitoring events Stateside.
Both men tried to feel each other out in the opening exchanges with Krasniqi, in particular, adopting a cautious approach on the backfoot.
But the Kosovan was pushed back on the defensive when Cleverly landed a strong right shot and had to cover up as the bell neared.
Cleverly was already looking supremely confident thrusting out his left jab in the second stanza and, even though they weren't spiteful blows, it was showing Krasniqi who was boss.
Krasniqi did deliver a useful upper cut at the start of the third but Cleverly raised his arms as if to say the punch didn't hurt.
And the pattern of the fight was soon restored as Cleverly continued to hunt down his foe, pinning his opponent on the ropes twice before Krasniqi escaped.
Krasniqi was trying to stay out of trouble but he was stung by a big right over the top and spent most of the fourth round on the move.
But he was slowed by a terrific upper cut and when a big left connected flush it seemed a matter of time before Cleverly would finish his man.
Krasniqi tried to rally by throwing some big rights but Cleverly landed the most telling shot of the fifth round when he sent in a thudding body shot.
Cleverly was really focusing on the body with piercing blows sent into the Kosovan's ribs and Krasniqi was now trading at close quarters rather than on the move.
But Krasniqi refuted the suggestion that he was tiring by opening up at the end of the sixth and persuading Cleverly to take a backward step.
The round seemed to stir Krasniqi's belief that he could provide an upset and, having spent most of the seventh on the front-foot, he unleashed a ferocious right which beat the Cleverly defence and got his supporters to their feet.
Cleverly re-asserted his authority to an extent in the eighth but it was far from the comfortable ride that many had predicted.
But Cleverly broke from his breather in the ninth and, spurred on by the excitable presence of Joe Calzaghe ringside, began to dominate proceedings like he had done earlier in the contest.
The Cleverly jab reigned supreme in the tenth and Krasniqi was looking increasingly tired and perhaps fortunate to hear the bell as the Welshman rained down blow after blow at the end of the session.
By then, Krasniqi gave the impression that he was simply content to make it to the final bell and Cleverly strolled to victory despite being able to produce that knockout punch.
Enzo Maccarinelli also won in the light-heavyweight division earlier when he stopped Sheffield journeyman Carl Wild in the sixth round.
Maccarinelli had been due to meet Commonwealth champion Ovill McKenzie in a re-match after their first fight last November had ended in controversial defeat for the Welshman.
But McKenzie withdrew with injury at short notice and Wild stepped in. The Yorkshireman was game but Maccarinelli soon found his range and rhythm and dropped Wild with a powerful left hook to the body before stepping up the pressure and ending the contest with 42 seconds remaining.
Merthyr featherweight Dai Davies' 30th birthday was spoiled by a 78-76 points defeat to Joe Murray.