When Nathan Cleverly spoke with his promoter Frank Warren about his next fight, he made it crystal clear who he wanted to face in his next bout.
“I looked through the light heavyweight division and nobody really stood out, apart from (Bernard) Hopkins who was tied up with the mandatory fight with (Karo) Murat, next I thought (Sergei) Kovalev,” the 26-year-old Welshman told RingTV.com.
“I saw he climbed the rankings really fast and he was starting to make a name for himself in America by knocking out (Gabriel) Campillo and Cornelius White with ease. So I knew the fight would capture the imagination because he is a knockout specialist, he’s unbeaten and he brings American television (HBO) and that’s something that appealed to me.”
The old adage “Be careful what you wish for” springs to mind. In Kovalev, Cleverly meets a rough, tough customer who at 30 is in his physical prime.
“He’s been impressive, looked strong, accurate, closed down the ring,” Cleverly said of the Russian puncher’s performances against Campillo and White, both of which were televised on NBC Sports Net in the U.S. “Kovalev was just so powerful and strong, he wiped those guys out quite comfortably.
“I think when he comes up against me, an all round fighter, (it won’t be so easy for him). I can take a punch. I have a lot of experience going the distance. I’m fast and I’ve got good boxing skills. I think the overall package will be enough to defeat Kovalev.”
An eight year pro now, Cleverly did things the old fashioned way, winning British, Commonwealth and European titles before winning the WBO’s world title. He won all three in just 16 months.
The intriguing looking match up with Kovalev takes place on HBO’s Boxing After Dark at 9:45 PT/ET, and on Boxnation in Britain.
A couple of weeks before the clash, RingTV.com sat with Cleverly and spoke about a variety of things including his upcoming fight, his career to date along with his thoughts on the light heavyweight division.
Anson Wainwright: You meet Sergei Kovalev on Aug. 17. What are your thoughts on him? What do you see when you break him down?
Nathan Cleverly: Kovalev is a massive puncher, unbeaten, hungry, confident. He comes with a lot of American hype behind him, so this is potentially one of my toughest fights to date. I’m expecting him to come with one thing in mind and that’s to knock me out. But I’ve prepared for this fight, preparation has gone well. Mentally, I feel good, physically I feel great. I’m ready for this guy and I’m going to show him why I’m world champion and I’m going to defeat Kovalev in style.
AW: He’s talked about as the most dangerous fighter currently fighting at 175. You looked at him and picked him as your opponent didn’t you?
NC: I looked through the light heavyweight division and nobody really stood out, apart from (Bernard) Hopkins who was tied up with the mandatory fight with (Karo) Murat. Next, I thought Kovalev, who was later made mandatory to (Hopkins’) belt.
(Editor’s note: Murat was denied a visa to enter America to fight Hopkins initially causing their fight to be postponed from July 13. Eventually problems were resolved and the fight was rescheduled for Oct. 26. However, during the uncertain time, Kovalev was moved into the mandatory spot and a fight with Hopkins was close to being made.)
I saw he climbed the rankings really fast and he was starting to make a name for himself in America by knocking out (Gabriel) Campillo and Cornelius White with ease. So I knew this fight would capture the imagination because he is a knockout specialist, he’s unbeaten and he brings American Television (HBO) and that’s something that appealed to me very much. That’s the reason why I wanted this guy.
AW: Since the fight has been announced he’s actually the betting favourite, he’s 4/6, you’re 6/5…
NC: It’s not really surprised me because of the hype behind him and his knockouts. I think they’ve looked at that and concluded he’s the favourite, they really feel he’s going to take away my world title but it’s a good situation for me. I’m quite enjoying being the underdog. I’m not usually the underdog but when I am I’ve got something to prove and I enjoy proving that point and proving why I’m undefeated and why I’m world champion. I’m enjoying this position.
AW: To use another example, is this your version of Joe Calzaghe against Jeff Lacy. You’re Joe and he’s Lacy. Is that a fair analogy?
NC: It’s a very similar, very similar circumstance. Lacy came with a lot of hype, unbeaten, big puncher; Kovalev comes with a lot of hype, unbeaten, big puncher and they were the favourites going the fights. And we saw what happened in the Joe-Lacy fight and we’re going to see what happens in mine and Kovalev’s fight. It’s going to be my night that I break through as probably one of the leading light heavyweights in the world.
AW: Can you tell us about your camp for this fight?
NC: I’ve stayed with my home-training camp for this fight. Everything is in place. I’ve got my home, my running routes in place. It just made sense to simplify everything, keep at home. It’s a winning formula at the moment. I feel comfortable, I’m mentally focused , which is very important , whereas if I’d lost focus at home I would probably look to get away and go to a training camp but everything is running smoothly at the moment. I’ve got my running routes here. It’s quite in the countryside. I’ve got my hills, I’ve got my dad and Alan who watch me train in the gym adding anything they need to, giving suggestions while I spar. I’ve got good sparring partners coming down to my training camp and that’s a very important factor as well. Everything is in place and it’s good that I’m only fighting half hour away down the road so I’m going to be familiar to the surroundings.
AW: What was it like growing up in the valleys in Wales? Could you tell us about that and the path you took into boxing?
NC: I was brought up in a small town, quite a roughish area; very, very little facilities, not much to do. I was someone with a lot of energy. I was very keyed up, very competitive; I got myself involved in a lot of street fights as a young kid. Naturally, that lead me into boxing and since that first day in the gym, the smell of the boxing gym, that kind of “Rocky feeling,” it gripped me. I had a massive passion for boxing and I set up my ambition from day one to be world champion. The environment I was brought up helped. I was quite insecure as a kid and wanted to better myself and feel good and boxing allowed me to do that by winning my fights and achieving something so that’s how I got into the sport really.
AW: You grew up with Joe Calzaghe as your idol. You learned some of the fundamentals of the sport at with him in the early years of your career and today the two of you are very good friends. How is he able to help you?
NC: Myself and Joe were brought up in a similar environment, only six miles down the road from each other, and (his gym) was the first gym I ever stepped into. He was a big inspiration to me, obviously being from similar backgrounds and then going on to achieve great things. It kind of inspires you and starting off in that gym I learned a lot, the fundamentals of boxing, what’s required, the hard work, the discipline, the training methods. I learned a lot and I applied those at a young age and it’s a massive contribution to where I am today.
Myself and Joe are very good friends, we have a lot of respect for each other. He has a lot of experience behind him and he always passes down advice or tips down to me. I can always learn from Joe’s mistakes and if there’s anything I need to know, he’ll tell me. I can benefit from that. It’s invaluable experience for me. I can learn from someone who’s been there and done it so it’s good thing for me to be around from someone who achieved a lot in this sport, I can apply things from his career to my career and keep learning.
AW: They say never meet your heroes. You didn’t just do that you befriended yoursÔÇª
NC: YeahÔÇª I befriended Joe and likewise, he has a good friend in me, he likes supporting me. He’s seen me from a young age come through. He predicted I was going to be a world champion, his dad and trainer Enzo predicted I was going to be a world champion. They saw my ability from day one and they knew I was destined to go on and be world champion and they backed me from the start and they still back me know. I respect their belief in me, that’s why we have a close friendship.
AW: Have you spoken to Joe or Enzo Calzaghe about this fight?
NC: Not really. Opponents (are) a separate issue between me and my promoter Frank Warren. We discuss the opponent and who we’re going to fight and who I want to fight and I tell my promoter and to push for it and he’ll try his best to go out and get it for me and that’s what happened with this fight. I mentioned this guy and they’ve gone out and got him. That’s my choice and my promoter’s choice if we can work through the politics and get these guys and fortunately we nailed this one.
AW: They say be careful what you wish for.
NC: Yeah, boxing at this level at light heavyweight, they’re all good and dangerous fighters. This one in particular but this is perfect for me to prove myself and to move from just a world champion. By winning this fight I’m moving to the elite class and that’s where I feel I belong and I have to go out and prove that now and this fight is that platform for me to prove it.
AW: Do you feel you’re a little underappreciated for what you have achieved in boxing?
NC: Most definitely. I feel underappreciated at times. At the end of the day, when you look at my record, I’m 26 years of age, with five world title defenses under my belt. I’m undefeated. I’ve gone the traditional route winning all the domestic titles and I moved so fast through the ranks and I beat Karo Murat who’s now mandatory for and fighting Hopkins. I beat him when I was 23. I beat Tony Bellew who’s mandatory for the WBC champion, Adonis Stevenson, and now I’m going to beat Kovalev who’s Hopkins next mandatory for the IBF belt.
So the guys I’ve beat or going to fight, I’ve beat the champions’ mandatory challengers, so when you look at it that way I’ve had some excellent wins and hopefully with the Kovalev win, that’s really going to underline that. There’s only one way to go then and that’s potential unification fights and only the big fights then because that’s where I belong. Time will tell. I still have time on my side but it will all come out in the wash and the cream will rise to the top.
AW: You actually went to university and managed to juggle that and boxing for a few years. Can you tell us about that?
NC: That period of my life way crazy because my life was so active. I had so much going on, I had a professional boxing career and I had my university study in mathematics, which was such a complex degree. So my life was very intense. I had such a high work load with the training and the studying and I had to push through at times. It was very hard, very challenging but I love that. The challenge of pushing myself mentally, testing myself physically and pushing myself to the limit, getting myself through exams, getting myself through my professional fights. It was a real tough time but at the same time I loved it. I love testing myself and succeeding and the buzz I got from it was fantastic and here I am today with a university degree behind me and I’m a world champion, undefeated. So the grafting and the hard work I put in has really paid off. I look back now and wonder how I did it. It’s something I’m glad I did and it’s put me in this position I am today.
AW: What are your thoughts on the light heavyweight division?
NC: It’s a good division at the moment, it’s been thrown wide open. Stevenson winning the WBC title is new on the scene (after) knocking out Chad Dawson, and Hopkins is still about and a big name in this division. Myself, WBO champion, and Kovalev is fresh on the scene who’s added a bit of spice with his power. So it’s quite hot at the moment with potentially some guys from super middleweight coming up. Who knows? Maybe Andre Ward could join us in the future and I believe some great fights are going to be made in the next six months.
AW: How do you see some of these fights at 175 pounds playing out: Bernard Hopkins vs. your old opponent Murat?
NC: Hopkins goes into that fight as the favourite. I think he nicks this fight on points. It’s not going to be an entertaining fight. Murat is a steady fighter, applies steady pressure, does nothing exceptional but Hopkins will use his ring craft, he’ll move, use his angles and pick his shots and win rounds. He’ll do just enough to win rounds, I believe Murat will apply pressure and make him work. I just think Hopkins will win a close points decision.
AW: Adonis Stevenson vs. Tavoris Cloud?
NC: Interesting fight, Stevenson fresh and confident after his first round knockout. Cloud is returning after a disappointing performance against Hopkins. I’d have to say Adonis Stevenson for that fight, he’s brimming with confidence, he wants to keep that belt desperately, I think he’ll maybe catch Cloud flat footed and potentially stop Cloud early in this fight and that wouldn’t surprise me, if the fight goes late, the second half, then Cloud could make it interesting. I think Stevenson will have to much zest for Tavoris Cloud.
AW – You’re currently ranked No. 2 by THE RING magazine. Could you share your thoughts on the on the magazine’s rated light heavyweights?
C – Adonis Stevenson – Yeah, well he’s fresh on the scene, came from nowhere, knocked out Chad Dawson, who was the (champ) but I believe he’s still got to prove that in the next couple of fights, just because he’s coming off one win at light heavy over Chad Dawson in the first round that doesn’t mean he’s the outstanding number-one fighter. He has to prove he belongs there. At the moment his spot there is possibly valid but I think we can judge that in a few fights time after my Kovalev fight, after Hopkins-Murat, after him against (Tavoris) Cloud, we can take all those fights into consideration and can look at the number one then.
1- Bernard Hopkins – Understandably, still going strong despite his age, he’s on merit. He deserves to be there, he’s the IBF champion, he beat Tavoris Cloud and his record speaks for itself. I think it’s only a matter of time until he’s knocked off that spot by someone younger like myself.
2 – Nathan Cleverly – I think it’s an accurate position when you consider the guys I’ve beat. I beat Murat and Bellew and now fighting Kovalev and certainly when I beat Kovalev I’ll be possibly challenging for the number-one spot. I’ve got time on my side to take that number-one spot and that RING magazine belt.
3 – Sergei Kovalev – I think the destructive way of late he’s been knocking out these guys in impression fashion he certainly deserves to be up there, so number two and three fighting, that’s a great fight for the division. That’s a true fight.
4 – Tavoris Cloud – I think he’s up there but his form against Campillo and Hopkins, it hasn’t set the world a light. He’s been quite flat. He’s lost a world title and has a contentious decision against Campillo so he’s holding on to his position by his finger tips. He’s still a contender, a major player, but he’s lost a bit of form.
5 – Chad Dawson – I think he’s still a major player in the division despite his two knockout defeats. He is a class act. He can definitely come back but it will be interesting to see how he reacts after two bad knockout defeats. Some guys are never the same again and that could be the case with Chad Dawson. Is he ever going to be the same again? That’s the questionÔÇª it’s unlikely.
6 – Karo Murat – He’s very a solid type of fighter, very one dimensional, good at what he does but certain guys with my type of style, who can box and move will beat him all day. He’s got a chance with Hopkins but I just feel Hopkins will just spoil and “old man” him and nick a points decision.
7 – Tony Bellew – One of the best in the division. We’ve already fought. He’s a big light heavyweight. He’s very hungry and he’s got a chance against Adonis Stevenson provided (Stevenson) gets through Cloud. I fancy his chances in that one, so he’s going to be a big player in the division.
8 – Isaac Chilemba – Chilemba’s a good fighter, nice boxer, fast hands, keeps it long, can move. He’ll be tricky for a lot of light heavyweights with his style. He’s quite sharp, good mover. He’ll be one of those tricky ones in the division who will give anyone a good fight.
9 – Jurgen Braehmer – He’s still around, gutsy type of fighter, good puncher but he’s seen better days now. I think he’s coming to the end of his career. I think if he ever fought me I’ll end his career.
10 – Jean Pascal – He’s a good fighter, big reputation, one of the bigger names in the division, good strong fighter, always puts up a fight again. I think Hopkins showed how to beat him and that Pascal isn’t an elite-level fighter. He’s a good fighter.
AW: When you’re away from boxing, tell us a little about what you enjoy doing in terms of hobbies and interests?
NC: When I’m out of training I just enjoy relaxing, going home resting up, making sure I get my diet right. I’ve got an active brain. I’m a thinker. Since I’ve finished my studies I’m always looking for other things. I’m always going home studying and thinking of projects and what business I can potentially go into around boxing. I look at different things: property, starting up my own business. I play football. I play a lot of charity football games. It’s my second sport. I love a game of football, anything to keep busy.
AW: Lastly do you have a message for Sergei Kovalev?
NC: I respect him very much as a fighter. (He’s a) no nonsense fighter who’s prepared to fight anyone. He’s coming over to Wales to take me on. I have big respect for him doing that, but he’s coming up against a guy who’s going on to great things and I’m going to show him the difference between good fighters and the elite-level fighters. He’ll see that on fight night.
Photos / Scott Heavey-Getty Images, Rich Graessle-Main Events, Al Bello-Getty Images
Questions and/or comments can be sent to Anson at [email protected]and you can follow him at www.twitter.com/AnsonWainwright