EXCL – Clev: With greater risk comes greater reward
Cefn Fforest’s Nathan Cleverly (29-2, 15KO) admits that he’s taken a bigger risk by opting to face Poland’s Andrzei Fonfara (27-3, 16KO) but he insists that the potential rewards are worth it.
He said: “Fonfara is the riskiest option I had but with greater risk comes greater reward. I was prepared to put that on the line. It’s a fantastic opportunity for me to go back to America, bring back my best form and get firing again.
“A win would probably be the biggest of my career. It’s a big opportunity, it’s on a massive stage and it’s down to me to grab it with both hands, push on and relight my fire.”
The Welshman will travel to America in October, making his third appearance across the Atlantic Ocean and it will be his most high profile yet as he attempts to re-establish himself as one of the world’s leading light-heavyweights.
Cleverly, 28, made little noise stateside when he out-pointed Antonio Baker as a prospect in 2008 and not much more when he defended his then WBO world title with an eighth round stoppage of Shawn Hawk in 2012.
However, he hopes it’ll be a case of third time lucky with the fight staged by Al Haymon’s Premier Boxing Champions [PBC] series that often air their shows on CBS, the terrestrial channel that broadcasts to over 300m Americans.
He said: “This one is a bigger fight. I know I made a world title defence in America against Shawn Hawk but this fight is on a bigger platform, Fonfara is a bigger name and he’s coming off a big win against [Julio Cesar] Chavez Jnr.
“Fonfara’s stock is quite high at the moment, so it’s a big fight all round. That’s what I want to be involved in, big fights. They get my juices flowing and I’m really excited by this opportunity.”
It was expected that Cleverly would go across Europe to face Germany’s Juergen Braehmer, who currently holds the WBA’s second tier ‘Regular’ title, and it was even stated that terms had been ‘provisionally agreed’. Despite that, Cleverly makes no secret that he’s taken a tougher task because the offer was better.
He said: “There were two options on the table, I had Juergen Braehmer for a WBA world title and then another option came in at a later date with the Fonfara fight. I’ll be honest with you, I had my head set on the Braehmer fight to start with.
“It was a chance to have a version of the world title again. It was a fight that was meant to happen years ago and I was thinking we could get it on once and for all. I was prepared to go to Germany for it but then I had a big offer from Fonfara in America that I just couldn’t turn down.”
Sauerland Promotions, who handle Braehmer’s interests, stated that Cleverly opted for a ‘pay day’ instead of a title shot but he, naturally, strongly disagrees. He said: “Initially, I was still going to go for the world title fight. About five days went by, I sat down and weighed up the pros and cons… I just thought the Fonfara would be the best move for my career.
“Financially, it’s obviously better but that’s not the main reason, I just think it takes me in to a very big market in America and I feel there are a lot of opportunities over there. Would they come again if I didn’t take the chance? I don’t know.
“There were no real options on the table, it was just a one-off fight with Braehmer for the title. I was bang up for it but I just feel the Fonfara opportunity eclipses that. I’ve made my decision and I’m really excited by it.”
Cleverly and Braehmer were originally due to fight in 2011 but a series of frustrating circumstances derailed their meeting. When Cleverly was mandatory challenger for Braehmer’s WBO belt, the champion avoided it by agreeing to face then-WBA title holder Beibut Shumenov, only to cancel days before the fight.
Four months later, when Braehmer again pulled out at very late notice against Cleverly, the sanctioning body stripped him and installed Cleverly as champion. For those reasons, Cleverly appears to feel little sympathy for Braehmer now.
He said: “We’ve got a lot of history, haven’t we? Obviously we were meant to fight before, he pulled out once and didn’t arrive at the airport the second time.
“It was a big let down, he didn’t turn up to defend his world title against me and I was disappointed. It is what it is, that’s the path that happened. I’ve moved on and I look forward to the future.
“It’s a fight that could still happen in the future. I’m still relatively young in the sport of boxing, so I’ve got a long time ahead of me. Braehmer, I’m not sure how long he’s going to hang around now [he fights former sparring partner Konni Konrad in September] but it’s a fight that can most certainly happen in the future.”
In Fonfara’s biggest win, a ninth round retirement of Mexico’s former world middleweight champion Julio Cesar Chavez Jnr, the Pole collected the WBC International title. With Al Haymon’s Premier Boxing Champions [PBC] series often choosing not to publicise the belts that are at stake, it’s unclear if it will be on the line for Cleverly.
The belt may symbolise little in terms of recognition and legitimacy but collecting it would give Cleverly a ranking with the governing body and help set up further big fights in future, although he admits to not paying any attention to the issue.
He said: “I’ve not really enquired about what belts are on the line. There may be one on the line but I don’t really care, I’ll be honest with you. I’m just happy that I’m involved in a big fight, where I’ve got something to lose and risk.
“I think it’s going to be a good fight, a cracking fight and a gel of styles. We’re both tall, he can punch hard and if I bring my A-Game, then I believe all my tools will result in a real good blend of styles. So, I’m excited by it regardless of whether there’s a title on the line or not.
“It helps if you’re high in the rankings but ultimately, as long as I concentrate on winning my next fight, the rankings will take care of themselves. I don’t look too in-depth about it; my philosophy is just to win. I don’t really look at the rankings that much. For me, it’s just a matter of picking big fights and trying my best to win them – that’s where I’m focusing my energy.”
The obvious requirement of a title fight is to make championship weight [175lbs], something Cleverly hasn’t done since 2013. Although the Welshman doesn’t blame weight making on his loss to Sergey Kovalev, it’s no secret that he felt the pinch with the last few lbs and that prompted his cruiserweight experiment. However, Cleverly isn’t worried about the weight as he returns to light-heavyweight.
He said: “I think the fight will be at championship weight, on the light-heavyweight limit of 12st 7[lbs]. That will be the first time I’ve made the weight in nearly two years but in my last fight against Tomas Man [KO1] in London, I made 12st 10lbs quite comfortably. That was reasonable and I felt good there, as well. Getting down three lbs lighter shouldn’t be an issue. I’ll be a good, big light-heavyweight.
“I’ve been at cruiserweight, tried it and fought naturally bigger guys. When I come down to light-heavyweight, I’ll be the bigger guy and I’m face a guy who has fought guys slightly smaller [Fonfara’s win against Chavez was at a catchweight of 172lbs]. That’s going to give me an advantage.”
Currently, the WBC title is held by the hard-hitting Adonis Stevenson (26-1, 20KO), a Haitian born but Canadian based slippery southpaw with phenomenal punching power. At 37-years-old, Stevenson has Father Time to contend with as the boxing world wishes he and Sergey Kovalev, holder of the division’s three other major titles, would finally unify all of the belts.
That dream-match was almost derailed last year and it was Fonfara who almost provided the spanner in the works, dropping the champion heavily on route to a competitive points decision loss.
Analysing the level of his opponent, Cleverly said: “He took Stevenson all the way and knocked him down, which obviously isn’t easy. Fonfara’s in a good run of form at the moment and I’m expecting the best of him.
“He’s got a good record and he looks like he can punch reasonably hard, I’ve just got to bring the best of myself. I’m only looking at and analysing his recent success. He’s still young and he’s still improving.
“You’re only as good as your last fight. Fonfara was very good in his last fight and he has been in his last few fights.”
An exact date and venue for Cleverly vs Fonfara is yet to be finalised and formally announced. However, it will happen in October and it’s likely to be on the east coast of America.