Cleverly finds victories in defeat

Shaun Brown
18/11/2015 11:08am

Amidst the darkness of defeat there are victories to be found.

The record will show that Nathan Cleverly lost a 12-round unanimous decision to Andrzej Fonfara just over four weeks ago in Chicago. What the black and white of it all will not say was how Cleverly pushed the Pole all the way in the fight and has a case for 'what might have been' had his nose not been broken in the seventh round.

With that and a swollen ear for his tremendous effort Cleverly emerged from what was one of the most entertaining fights of 2015, so far, with his credibility restored and a reputation enhanced. The former WBO light heavyweight champion is healing up and ready to go again in 2016. A few doors have been opened, America was impressed and the Welshman, when asked by Boxing Monthly, agreed that he achieved a bit of redemption in the process.

“I suppose there’s an element of redemption but I knew it was coming,” said Cleverly when looking back on his performance in which a record number of punches were thrown for a light heavyweight fight.

In some quarters, the 28-year-old from Caerphilly had been dismissed as a force or even a threat to the leading players at 175lbs. A crushing loss to the dominant Sergey Kovalev in 2013 along with the hard to swallow defeat to Tony Bellew (whom he beat in 2011), albeit at cruiserweight, had left some wondering how much Cleverly had to offer.

“I knew this day was going to come where people would actually see what I can do and the heart I’ve got and how mentally tough I am. It was inevitable. They say the cream always rises to the top and it always happens in boxing. Look at how long it’s taken some fighters to rise to the top. People have doubted them and then as the years have gone on they are at the top. It always shines through, the star always shines.

“You have your off days, all fighters do. Form is temporary class is permanent. Take the Bellew fight at cruiserweight, it wasn’t great. I didn’t perform great because I was carrying a lot of weight around. I’m not a cruiserweight. I’m a light heavyweight (who) potentially could make super middleweight. I was carrying a lot of muscle around and I just gassed by the midway stage. Bellew was 15 stone on the night, he even said he was 15 stone, pressing on me. What was I to do? I was just gassed. I was carrying a lot of muscle, a lot of weight… I was 14st 4lbs and I was pumped into that weight. It was all artificial. It was obvious if you know your background in boxing. I blew up, I was sapped.

“Obviously people are quick to criticise but I can take that. I just left it be because I knew in a few fights time what I could do. The Fonfara fight showed that. The heart, the determination, the skill level against one of the best fighters in the division. It was kind of a night of redemption, even in a loss, because it was against an elite fighter. The higher the risk, the higher the reward. I’m happy with it and I’m glad I’ve been able for people to realise it and see it once and for all. I’m in a good place really.”

It was clear to hear how well, particularly mentally, Cleverly was feeling when BM spoke to him recently. The battle scars are going away and he’s even been doing some shadow boxing in his living room! The rest of 2015, however, will be about resting and recuperating. The Matchroom fighter aims to have a good rest before turning his attention to more “meaningful fights” in 2016. The aim is simple: To keep the momentum going on the back of his performance against Fonfara.

“What do I do? Do I stay unbeaten and keep fighting mediocre fights and bums and get nowhere? Or do you challenge yourself against the best and bigger the risk bigger the rewards. Meaningful fights are elite level fights. That’s the route I’ve chosen and I hope I can get the big fights.

“The likes of the Fonfara fight, the big fights, I know its higher risk. That was quite a brutal fight. It was 12 rounds of non-stop action. You could say a lot of punishment to the body. They’re hard fights and you think how many of those do you need in your career. You don’t want to overcook it. At the same time you’re in the fight game to be involved in good quality proper fights. Fonfara was a real fight. He proved that on the night. The stats proved it. The level of the fight, the shots that were being thrown. It was an elite fight at the top of the division. Albeit the result didn’t got my way but I gained a lot from that fight. I’m still in a happy place, I’m still optimistic.”

With Cleverly’s 29th birthday a few months away there is little to worry about, he feels, about getting old overnight after such a gruelling fight. Being smart is the key. The former world champion believes he is still getting stronger and there is still even more improvement to come. But fights with Fonfara, he knows, for the sake of career longevity have to be few and far between – no matter how much he enjoyed the brutality of it as he told BM.

“If you’re a fighter at heart you relish those battles. That was a fight. It was brutal and in a way I kind of soaked up and enjoyed it,” he said trying hard to disguise his pleasure at it.

“As barbaric as that sounds it was quite an enjoyable experience.”