Nathan Cleverly (26-0, 12 knockouts) defended his WBO light heavyweight title for the fifth time with a convincing twelve round unanimous decision over Robin Krasniqi (39-3, 15 KOs) at the Wembley Arena in London. Official scores were 120-108, 120-108 and 119-109.
The unbeaten Welshman weighed in on Friday at 174, a pound heavier than his mandatory challenger.
Cleverly, rated No. 2 by THE RING at light heavyweight, looked to be in tremendous shape and was accompanied to the ring by former two-weight world champion Joe Calzaghe. Krasniqi appeared confident, despite a less than unenthusiastic welcome, and looked anxious to back up his pre-fight taunts
The challenger had presented Cleverly with a skirt at last week’s final press conference and labeled him a “princess” much to the amusement of the assembled media. The Welsh star laughed on the outside but it was clear the infringement lit a fire under him and he vowed to punish his opponent come fight night.
The first round was all Cleverly, who followed a bursting left jab with a sharp right cross which made the challenger’s legs dip. The champion smelled blood and went gunning for an early stoppage but Krasniqi did well to recover and regained his composure to see out the session.
Cleverly continued to control center-ring over the next three rounds. He feinted with the jab, or doubled and tripled on the shot, which reduced the chances of Krasniqi being able to find an effective counter punch.
The champ was having it so easy that he switched tactics in the fifth and drifted to the inside. More than once he sunk in bursting left hooks to the body which visibly troubled Krasniqi, much to the delight of Joe Calzaghe, who yelled for Cleverly to repeat the dosage.
With these new inside tactics in place Cleverly was becoming more available to the incoming, but he still produced solid and impressive work. The crowd was on its feet during some of the exchanges and Krasniqi managed to land more shots in the sixth than he had in the previous rounds combined.
The champion’s corner clearly felt that it was better to be safe than sorry and implored Cleverly to keep things at a distance from that point onwards. Krasniqi responded by applying steady pressure and scored with his best punch of the contest in round seven – a vicious overhand right.
In round eight Cleverly boxed effectively from the outside, maintained the jab and paid more attention to defense. It was more of the same over the next two sessions but towards the end of the tenth the Welshman made a last-ditch effort to secure the stoppage with a powerful assault to head and body.
It was not to be.
Cleverly closed well in the championship rounds and by this point Krasniqi had lost most, if not all, of his ambition. He had no answer to his opponent’s jab and a knockout looked unlikely given that Cleverly had already absorbed his best punches.
Coming in, Krasniqi was unbeaten in seven years and the only two defeats on his resume occurred during the early stages of his professional career. Tough and talented, the Germany-based Kosovan had stopped his previous four opponents convincingly and earned this title shot by posting solid wins on a consistent basis.
Cleverly, by contrast, has been far from busy. Illness and subsequent postponements have left the affable twenty-six-year-old extremely frustrated with his career and the big fights continue to elude him. Tonight was a chance to re-affirm his standing at 175 pounds and he did just that.
He was levels above.
Moving forward Cleverly repeated his intention to face ageless wonder, and reigning IBF champion, Bernard Hopkins, but that fight will likely take place towards the end of the year. The Executioner meets former Cleverly victim, Karo Murat, in his own mandatory assignment on July 27th.
“I enjoyed it in there,” said Cleverly. “I was focused throughout and it was a good boxing display. I went for the finish a few times but I couldn’t get it so I kept it long. I believe I can produce the goods against the elite level opponents.”
Promoter Frank Warren indicated that Cleverly could meet former champion Juergen Braehmer in his next fight.
Liam Walsh vs. Scott Harrison
Liam Walsh, from Norfolk in England, outpointed former two-time WBO champion Scott Harrison in a ten-round lightweight attraction. Both fighters weighed 134.5 pounds.
The fight was initially competitive but Walsh was a step ahead in terms of sharpness and ring generalship. The twenty-six-year-old switch hitter kept Harrison on the end of an effective jab, matched him on the inside and gradually tempered the older man’s aggression as the rounds rolled by.
Harrison, known as “The Real McCoy,” was hurt badly in the ninth when clusters of punches began landing with disturbing regularity and Walsh went all out for the stoppage. The proud Scotsman managed to battle back but he looked despondent and groggy when he returned to his corner.
Walsh closed well in the tenth and barely took a shot in anger during the final three minutes.
The enigmatic Harrison took part in ten world title fights at featherweight, between 2002 and 2005, besting the likes of Juan Pablo Chacon, Wayne McCullough and Manuel Medina along the way. Still, despite his successes, highly publicized problems with alcohol and two prison terms all but destroyed his promising career.
At thirty-five years of age, after a seven-year layoff, Harrison returned with two wins against non-descript and overmatched opposition but Walsh, who improves to 14-0 (10 KOs), was simply a bridge too far for him.
Official scores were 98-92, 97-93 and 97-93.
Photos: Scott Heavey-Getty