Nathan Cleverly has been the WBO light heavyweight champion since May 2011 and the undefeated Welshman has appeared in THE RING’s top -10 rankings for 158 consecutive weeks.
At the very least the 26 year old’s longevity, talent and entertaining style should have guaranteed a lucrative and meaningful championship reign but to this point Cleverly (THE RING’s No. 2-rated lightweight) remains on the outside looking in.
This Saturday, at the Wembley Arena in London, the engaging pressure puncher will finally make the fifth defense of his title against mandatory challenger, Robin Krasniqi, but despite the German boasting some impressive stats of his own he remains a relatively unknown quantity.
“Krasniqi is a very good opponent,” countered Cleverly. “He’s won 38 straight fights and knocked out his last four opponents, so he’s coming in hungry and full of confidence. At 25 years old he is going to do everything he can to rip this world title away from me.
“This guy is being overlooked because he hasn’t got the same reputation as say (Chad) Dawson, (Bernard) Hopkins or (Jean) Pascal. A lot of people are very cynical because they haven’t heard of him, or seen him box, so they label him a ‘bum.’
“Most of these people are idiots who know nothing about boxing and have no idea what it’s like to be in the ring. Nobody wants the bigger fights more than me and I would love to meet the rival champions because I get more credibility and financial gain.”
Cleverly has backed up his words on this argument. He has made verbal challenges to WBA light heavyweight boss, Beibut Shumenov, as well as to Bernard Hopkins.
“The Executioner” is now targeting the Welshman as a potential opponent, after his record breaking IBF title win over Tavoris Cloud last month, and Cleverly remains eager to do business.
“It just takes time and there’s a lot of politics involved,” he said. “Do these other guys want to take me on? I’m a 26-year-old hungry champion, coming into my prime. When the day comes and one of those guys is across from me – I will be ready for it.”
Cleverly isn’t the first Welsh product to be deprived of respect early in his championship journey. Future Hall of Famer and two-weight world champion, Joe Calzaghe, was subjected to similar criticism but turned the doubters on their respective heads with an electrifying run of victories late in his career.
“There is a comparison,” he said. “Joe became world champion but he wasn’t given credit for his defenses because a lot of people hadn’t heard of certain opponents. He was in the same position as I’m in now but, as Joe proved – class shines through in time.”
On analyzing the current light heavyweight scene it’s clear who Cleverly respects and who he believes to be on borrowed time.
“Beibut Shumenov is just a good fighter,” said Cleverly. “He’s solid at what he does, but not spectacular, and he was fast tracked to a world title so his name isn’t established. He might hold a title but that is a fight I would win and win convincingly.”
Cleverly’s voice changed perceptibly at the mention of THE RING and WBC champion Chad Dawson.
“He’s top class,” Cleverly told RingTV.com. “His technical ability is excellent, he’s powerful and in my opinion the best light heavyweight on the planet at the moment. Andre Ward may have beaten him last time out but making 168 pounds was clearly as issue.”
Still, sharing a ring with the legendary ‘B-Hop’ appears to be the singular ambition and should he emerge victorious on April 20 then Cleverly has the veteran at the top of his wish list.
“I’ve got too much for Hopkins and that’s the fight I want without a doubt,” he said.
First, Cleverly must take care of a teak tough but unappreciated challenger and, despite cynicism, the Welshman has accorded Krasniqi full respect by whipping himself into magnificent shape.
“I’m going to show the public why I’m world champion,” stated the British star bluntly. “This is my mandatory challenger and it’s going to be a great fight. Krasniqi will attack and I’m not one to shy away from a tear up.”
“The fans are going to see the most exciting light heavyweight fighter in the division.”
Photo / Harry How-Golden Boy, Elsa-Golden Boy, AFP
Tom Gray is a member of the British Boxing Writers’ Association and contributes to various publications. Follow him on Twitter: @Tom_Gray_Boxing