Saturday, September 30, 2023  |



Nathan Cleverly is ready for Andrzej Fonfara and world title glory

Fighters Network

Cleverly (r) in his final successful title defense against Robin Krasniqi in April 2013. Photo: Scott Heavey

This Friday, in Chicago, Ill., former WBO light heavyweight titleholder Nathan Cleverly tackles super-tough Polish puncher Andrzej Fonfara and, not for the first time, he will enter the ring as underdog.

In Aug. 2013, Cleverly went out of his way to defend his title against Russian destroyer Sergey Kovalev and, following a devastating fourth-round stoppage loss, the amiable Welshman elected to make an unforeseen 25-pound jump to cruiserweight.

“It was a rash decision to move up after my first loss and I suppose I was on the rebound,” said Cleverly, who won two warm-up bouts at 200 pounds before dropping a split decision to old rival Tony Bellew in an eagerly anticipated rematch.

“When I lost to Kovalev, the money dropped and, after speaking to Eddie [Hearn], the option was there to move up with a view to fighting Bellew. That was a big fight, which I loved being involved in, and it was decent financially. It was just too much too soon and it was always going to be difficult against a big cruiserweight like Bellew.”

Cleverly (29-2, 15 knockouts) maintains that even if he had defeated Bellew, a move back to 175 pounds was inevitable. The 28-year-old feels the extra weight left him lethargic and flat-footed and Bellew simply capitalized. He is also adamant that the 25-pound drop will not be a factor when he returns to light heavyweight for Fonfara.

“It’s straightforward getting back down to 175 pounds,” said Cleverly, who knocked out an over-matched light heavyweight by the name of Tomas Man in just 24 seconds last time out. “I’m like any other fighter who has to watch what he’s doing when it comes to dropping those last few pounds.

“I felt great in training and I’m back to my old self.”

Stevenson-Fonfara-fight-635It is vital that the analytical Cleverly is back to his best because Fonfara (27-3, 16 KOs) is as game as they come. The hard-hitting 27-year-old is a former world title challenger who broke the 10 consecutive knockout streak of RING light heavyweight champion Adonis Stevenson. He even managed to drop the Canadian in the ninth before losing a competitive unanimous decision.

“Fonfara is a very good fighter,” said Cleverly with respect. “There are no frills and he’s just direct, strong and a very hard man. This guy is definitely a dangerous opponent, who can punch well with both hands and he’s got a decent resume.

“He was the first man to stop Julio Cesar Chavez Jr.; he has wins over Gabriel Campillo and Tommy Karpency, and he gave Stevenson some problems. Fonfara has real pedigree and I’m up against it but if I perform at my best, I believe my speed, variation and elusiveness will be too much for him.”

This will be the first time that Cleverly has crossed the Atlantic for paid work since he battered American Shawn Hawk to an an eighth-round stoppage defeat in Los Angeles in Nov. 2012. The difference is he was heavily favored to win that bout although, it must be said, this away-mission does not seem to be a concern for the Welshman.

“I’m thriving on this challenge,” he said. “There’s an element of pressure because it’s on the big stage but that comes with the territory. Fonfara is a good fighter but I want to perform with the same spark that I did when I held the world title and that has been inspiring me in training.

“Ultimately I’m looking forward to getting in there because this is a proper fight and that’s what I’m in the business for.”

If Cleverly emerges victorious in Chicago, then he may finally lock horns with German-based southpaw Juergen Braehmer. But while that bout has been locked in previously, he also has eyes on “Superman” himself.

Cleverly said, “If I beat Fonfara, then I’m in the position to challenge an elite fighter like Stevenson or I could revisit the Braehmer option but my focus is 100 percent on my next fight.

“I had my heart set on Braehmer but the Fonfara option, which was tougher, is a huge opportunity to make a statement in America. It was also better financially and I’ll make a real name for myself with a win on Saturday.”

This reporter has encountered Cleverly in a variety of different moods down the years. He has always been the model professional, in and out of the ring, but following the Kovalev defeat, the heartbroken Welshman was completely disenchanted with the sport. That passion seems to be rekindled and he is very confident of upsetting the odds.

“I think the fight will go the distance or I could stop Fonfara late,” said the former titleholder.

“There will be some boxing but there will also be times when we stand and trade. Overall, providing I stand up to Fonfara’s big bombs, I believe that I can overcome him and, at the very least, win on points. He’s no Kovalev, although he has bags of energy and takes a great shot.”

Tom Gray is a member of the British Boxing Writers’ Association and has contributed to various publications. Follow him on Twitter @Tom_Gray_Boxing.