Nathan Cleverly (right) doesn’t mind fighting in hostile territory. | Przemek Garczarczyk/Premier Boxing Champions
There was a point in Nathan Cleverly’s career when he was a world champion. He captured the WBO light heavyweight title by clobbering Aleksy Kuziemski within four rounds in May 2011. It wasn’t until the Welshman defended it a few times before he was considered a legitimate, elite-level pugilist.
That was until he ran into a Russian buzz saw named Sergey Kovalev two years later.
Kovalev trounced Cleverly and took him out in the fourth after dropping him twice in the third. Just like that, in a matter of 20 or so minutes, the majority of the boxing world changed course and cast him off as just another U.K. fighter who couldn’t handle the upper echelon of his weight class. It didn’t help matters much when he dropped a 12-round split decision to Tony Bellew when he was trying to climb to the zenith of the cruiserweight division.
In an odd twist of fate, Cleverly was given another crack at a world title, but as crazy as it sounds -- because every fighter wants to be crowned champion--– he declined the fight and opted to battle an arguably much tougher opponent in a foreign land with no title on the line.
“I was presented with the opportunity to fight Juergen Braehmer in Germany for the WBA [light heavyweight] world title,” Cleverly revealed recently. “And I had my heart set on that fight. I was looking forward to that fight. It was a chance for me to become world champion again.
“Then my promoter, he came back to me a few weeks later with the opportunity to fight Andrzej Fonfara in America, in Chicago,” he continued. “I took a few days to make a decision. I was presented with this fantastic opportunity to come to America on a big platform, PBC, and showcase in a big fight against Fonfara. So ultimately, I just feel it was too much of a big opportunity to turn away. It's probably a more difficult fight but it's on a bigger platform.”
Fonfara (27-3, 16 KOs) was considered just a solid contender in the sport after being dominated by Adonis Stevenson last May. But the Polish-born pug stormed into the limelight in April when he trounced the hugely popular Julio Cesar Chavez Jr. on national television.
Fonfara’s stock has never been higher and Cleverly knows a win over him will likely place him right in line with a world title, whether it’s against original foe Braehmer, Stevenson or even a rematch with Kovalev, Sherdog.com’s number-one rated pound-for-pound boxer. But Cleverly isn’t looking past Fonfara one bit.
“You beat Fonfara, and you're in the category then with Stevenson and Kovalev,” Cleverly said. “I'm not sure if Kovalev is going to fight Andre Ward and where that leaves Stevenson. I would just be happy to be in the ring with any of those guys, whoever. [But] just, let's beat Fonfara. Let's get through this fight. It's a tough fight. But provided I get through this, then I'm in that elite mix and deal with the likes of Kovalev, Stevenson.”
A native of Caerphilly, Wales, Cleverly (29-2, 15 KOs) understands the challenge that lies ahead of him Friday night. Not only does he have to endure the pressures of headlining Premier Boxing Champions’ latest event on Spike TV, he’ll be taking on Fonfara in the Pole’s adopted hometown of Chicago.
“It's a great challenge,” he admitted. “I'm in this fight thing for challenges, to fight the best fighters and to put myself on the big stage. If you want to be on the big stage, if you want to be involved in big fights, you've got to deal with these circumstances. You've got to deal with the pressure of fighting in your opponent's hometown and you've got to be able to perform under these pressures. It's a challenge but it's one I'm going to take on. It's what I'm looking forward to.”
Aside from flying halfway across the globe to fight Fonfara in his own backyard, the fighter himself what “Clev” has to deal with once the bell tolls to begin the contest. As daunting a task it may seem for the former world champ, who is a slight underdog going in, Cleverly said his style will give his foe a plethora of problems.
“He's got an excellent resume,” he said. “He's come off of some good wins. He's fought a lot of world-class fighters. He looks to be in good shape in later rounds (and) looks to have good fitness stamina levels while still punching hard late in the fight.
“I don't think there's many weaknesses with Andrzej but what I can capitalize on I believe that my movement,” he added. “I believe my speed and my punch variation; I believe the variety will give Fonfara problems. And I believe I can pull this off.”
The Cleverly-Fonfara scrap will be held at the UIC Pavilion and the live telecast on Spike will begin at 9 p.m. ET/6 p.m. PT.
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