• Steve Bunce

Kovalev offers Cleverly chance to shine

Steve Bunce June 25, 2013
Nathan Cleverly deserves greater exposure for his achievements - but it's coming © AP
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Boxing fans are spoilt at the moment. Not only are we in the middle of a golden age for British boxing, but right now you can become an instant fan by spending a mere 100 hours in front of your computer screen. You can find out anything you want to know, you can go back in time and watch stuff from just about any decade. But there's no replacement for developing as a fan - just like you develop as a fighter, or a writer. Before the age of the internet you came to boxing slowly, you came to enjoy it, you branched out, began to identify what you really liked and what you really disliked - it took years, even decades!

But not now. It takes hours - and you miss out on something when you become an instant expert. David Haye said something just before he was about to fight Wladimir Klitschko: "If I knock him out in the third round, as I leave the ring I'm going to hear someone say, 'yeah, but did you see those shorts he was wearing? They were rubbish!'" I think that sums up the situation with modern fans and their love-hate relationship with promoters and boxers. It certainly helps to explain how Nathan Cleverly could end up being called a coward for a few days not so long ago.

As WBO light-heavyweight champion, 26 years old and unbeaten in 26 fights, Cleverly should be hot property - but his situation has been bizarre for a good few years now. He has had so many guys fall out of bed and so many career trajectories come crashing down that it's a miracle he's got a profile at all! Joe Calzaghe had one or two fights fall through over the years, and Lennox Lewis had a couple, but for Cleverly's five WBO light-heavyweight world title fights he's had about 10 different opponents, venues and dates - maybe even more. I've never known anything like it! It is madness.

He's had dreadful luck, and with that has come the frustration of being turned down by Bernard Hopkins, Carl Froch and Mikkel Kessler over the years - but it's all going to change on August 17 when he fights Sergey Kovalev at the Motorpoint Arena in Cardiff. The Russian is also unbeaten in his 21 fights and - online - has suddenly become about the second-most feared fighter in the world.

When this fight was first suggested there was a lot of silence - until Kovalev sent Cornelius White to the canvas three times in the third round earlier this month. With that, the narrative changed. Suddenly Kovalev became this destructive machine, this monster -and it looked like he was after a fight with Bernard Hopkins, not Cleverly. And people inside and outside the boxing business put one and one together and came up with three. Somehow it was Cleverly's fault! Somehow it was Cleverly avoiding Kovalev! Somehow Cleverly was running from this unbelievably destructive machine! It couldn't be further from the truth.

Anyway, Hopkins had a look at the fight and thought, 'this Kovalev ain't bad, but he doesn't bring enough to the table for me in America. I've got a couple of other options, I'll chase them'. So Kovalev comes back to Cleverly - who for five days was considered a coward for running away from the Russian. And now Clev is fighting the Russian monster - nice. It's a fantastic fight, one that will boost Cleverly's profile in a big way, and put him where he deserves to be

If he takes care of Kovalev, the division's great destructive fighter, then the likes of Adonis Stevenson and Bernard Hopkins will find it harder to refuse him. At the moment they can say, 'Nathan Cleverly, he's a nice guy but who has he met? Who has he fought and beaten? Those were all okay fighters, but he hasn't beaten a good fighter'. That is what has been said so far.

People believe that Kovalev is that big fighter - and I think Kovalev is made for Cleverly. I can understand why Kovalev's people didn't want it, and why they were going for Hopkins - more money for starters, and in some ways an easier fight. It is certainly an easier fight to lose and recover from. But they've got Cleverly, and now let's see if the two get it on.

Will it be enough to win over those modern boxing fans, though? No, I don't think it will. Frankly, if Cleverly had three fights in Cardiff in seven days - Stevenson, then Hopkins, then Kovalev - people would still argue about the sequence of the fights. There is nothing that anybody can do in the ring to please more than about 70% of the fans - and if you're pleasing 70%, you're onto a winner. Scratch that - 50% will do!

Could Bernard Hopkins be lured to the Millennium Stadium? © AP
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I'm afraid that is the truth about modern boxing. It doesn't make it bad that fans have so many opinions and such great voting power with their wallets, it is what it is. At the end of the day, trying to satisfy everybody is impossible in modern boxing.

But it'll satisfy the fans in south Wales. Cleverly fought Tommy Karpency there last year - on paper it wasn't a great fight and in the ring it was a repetitive with Karpency surviving for 12 rounds. But there was a good crowd in to see their man. He is a fighter that the Welsh will get behind - and if they get the type of fight that I think they'll get from Kovalev, they'll get behind him in a big way.

Beat the Russian and, the next time we're down in Cardiff, we could pull the roof over at the Millennium Stadium and get 30,000 or 40,000 in for Cleverly-Hopkins. That's Calzaghe figures - and that's what Cleverly deserves.

On Buncey's Boxing Podcast this week, Callum Johnson talks to us about sparring with Matthew Macklin ahead of his WBA and IBO title shot against Gennady Golovkin stateside this weekend, Barry McGuigan gives us the lowdown on Carl Frampton's schedule for the rest of the year, and Frank Maloney tells us more about the man with the biggest heart in heavyweight boxing. Who could he possibly mean? If you seriously can't work it out, you're duty-bound to listen in!

Until next week - adios.

© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.

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Steve Bunce has been ringside in Las Vegas over 50 times, he has been at five Olympics and has been writing about boxing for over 25 years for a variety of national newspapers in Britain, including four which folded! It is possible that his face and voice have appeared on over 60 channels worldwide in a variety of languages - his first novel The Fixer was published in 2010 to no acclaim; amazingly it has been shortlisted for Sports Book of the Year.