PREVIEW: Nathan Cleverly to fly the flag on the world stage again vs Badou Jack

PREVIEW: Nathan Cleverly to fly the flag on the world stage again vs Badou Jack

Cefn Fforest’s Nathan Cleverly (30-3, 16KO) is set to fly the flag for Welsh boxing once again on the world stage when he meets Badou Jack ‘The Ripper’ (21-1-2, 12KO).

On Saturday, the light-heavyweights will support the high-profile Floyd Mayweather vs Conor McGregor event at the T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas, live on Sky Sports Box Office and Showtime.

It will be Cleverly’s first defence of the WBA Regular world light-heavyweight title that he gained in October, whilst Jack enters the contest having vacated his WBC world super-middleweight title in January and deciding to move seven pounds north.

It’s yet another tough matchup for Cleverly, who has travelled to the backyards of genuine world class opposition in three of his last four outings, including; Liverpool’s Tony Bellew, Chicago’s Andrzej Fonfara and Germany’s Juergen Braehmer.

Combined with Cleverly’s previous fights in years gone by against the likes of Karo Murat and Sergey Kovalev, it’s difficult to find another active Brit whose record runs as deep with legitimate names.

The Welshman is only 30-years-old, though will recognise the potentially damaging effect a fourth loss would inflict. A defeat would call on a rebuilding period for Cleverly, who is unlikely to be motivated by returning to domestic level. For that reason, Cleverly must seize the moment in his eighth world title bout since turning professional 12 years ago.

Jack’s success at the 168lb limit has often come courtesy of superior physical attributes, namely; size, strength, work rate and fitness. It’s helped him out-hustle top operators in Anthony Dirrell and George Groves, earning Majority and Split Decision wins, respectively.

Those are qualities Cleverly can match – he’ll certainly own a size advantage being a natural light-heavyweight and his engine has never failed him in the 175lb category, only stalling at 200lbs when his water-inflated cruiserweight experiment failed in a rematch against Bellew. Cleverly is likely to have a longer reach and should use his neglected jab to keep Jack at arm’s length whenever he doesn’t want to initiate exchanges. When close, Cleverly’s favoured shot is a left to the ribs and that will be needed to discourage Jack’s attacks.

To pull off what many observers would class as an upset is sure to be Cleverly’s career-best result and it would also overcome bookmaker underdog odds of 3/1. Such an occasion requires Cleverly to put it all together and to produce his most complete performance yet. The determining factor could be his decision making, choosing when to pick the right moments to unload.

More importantly, Cleverly will also have to decide when not to hold his feet and stay in front of Jack, affording him easy opportunities to reply – a habit he’s been guilty of in previous losses to Kovalev and Fonfara. The former WBO champion has often fought to entertain in give-and-take affairs but after 33 fights of experience, the fans’ thirst for machismo should have been quenched long ago.

More recently, Jack has battled to draws against Lucian Bute [which was later turned to a disqualification win due to a failed drug test] and James DeGale. The quartet Jack has faced in his last four fights have all held world titles at one stage and none of them have been able to tame Jack’s calculated aggression.

Jack’s effectiveness is not only restricted to his physicality though as the 34-year-old also owns an extensive skill set. Up close, he often tucks up behind a tight defence, choosing his moments to catch and counter in response. Jack is a solid puncher who distributes his output evenly to head and body but like Cleverly, the effects are not often destructive.

The Swedish born boxer represented Gambia at the 2008 Olympics, later fighting most of his professional fights under the guidance of Eddie Mustafa Muhammad – including a long forgotten draw against Marco Antonio Periban and a first round knockout loss to Derek Edwards in 2013 and 2014, respectively. He has since split from the former light-heavyweight champion and hooked up with original trainer Lou Del Valle, another ex-title holder in the division he’s now entering.

It’s unlikely the change of set up will affect Jack’s tactics or approach, which often begin with well-timed jabs to the stomach, forcing opponents to reset before they can get going. For Cleverly to overcome Jack’s consistent pressure, his quickness can’t be limited to his hands and must be reflected in his feints and feet.

Cleverly’s second appearance in Las Vegas, where he fought in 2008 on the Joe Calzaghe vs Bernard Hopkins undercard, comes after a training camp that has been concluded in near complete privacy. His small team, which is led by Llantrisant’s Darren Wilson, have been working away in Bargoed for months despite the fight only being publicly announced two weeks ago.

Jack, who is promoted by event headliner Floyd Mayweather, hasn’t scored an early victory since 2014 and Cleverly has only recorded two knockouts in that time frame. Their both likely to be extended to the final bell and after 12 rounds, volume and body language could be the deciding factor – especially in Las Vegas where aggression is often rewarded by the judges.

For some reason – potentially body language – only five out of a potential 12 judges have favoured Jack in his most recent four fights. If Cleverly can summon all of his energy and skill to capitalise, it will be one of Welsh boxing’s best ever wins, especially as it’s on away soil.

The pair are likely to lock horns at around 2am on Sunday morning, live on Sky Sports Box Office. Hours later, modern great Floyd Mayweather will return from his second retirement to take on Dublin’s debutant Conor McGregor, a two-weight Mixed Martial Artist champion, in a non-title super-welterweight bout.

McGregor has never boxed professionally before and despite his undoubted charisma, he’s unlikely to improve on a no-mark stint in amateur boxing many moons ago. Still, ‘Mystic Mac’ will be rewarded handsomely with tens of millions of dollars – conveniently providing the Nevada State Athletic Commission with dubiously intentioned motives to sanction the farcical matchup.

It’s very likely that Mayweather handles McGregor as easily as he would any combat-sportsman transferring from another discipline. It could spark a backlash from the casual fans who don’t own the foresight to see through a very transparent narrative.

For those reasons, advises punters to make the most out of their pay-per-view fee by enjoying Cleverly-Jack, a genuine fight between two world-class boxers and certainly not a circus attraction.

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