For many years the career of Nathan Cleverly (b. 1987) was compared with that of the great Joe Calzaghe, but the Cefn Fforest man has struggled to compete with such a legendary predecessor.
While comparisons with Calzaghe were remarkably unfair on the man who succeeded him as Wales’ great hope on the world boxing stage, the reasons why they came about were understandable.
Cleverly learnt his trade the hard way, sparring hundreds of rounds with long-reigning world super-middleweight champion Calzaghe at Enzo Calzaghe‘s ramshackle Newbridge gym.
The youngster turned professional in 2005, proving to be – like Calzaghe – a rangy, athletic fighter, with formidable boxing skills, a smothering volume of punches and remarkable hand speed.
But Calzaghe had been destined for greatness from the outset, following a formidable amateur career. In the early days, Cleverly was better known for his 10 GCSEs and three A levels that saw him take on and complete a maths degree at Cardiff University whilst forging his professional career.
In the ring, Cleverly often looked classy, but – with just three stoppages in his first 10 fights – he seemed to lack punch power. Then, in one of his worst performances, he was somewhat fortunate to claim a points victory over Joey Vegas, where he was rocked badly in the fourth.
The points victory over blown-up middleweight Antonio Baker did not set the Vegas Strip alight, and soon afterwards Cleverly left the Calzaghe stable to be trained by his father, Vince – an old comrade of Enzo Calzaghe from their younger days as entertainers on the pub-singing circuit.
Cleverly Jr has always paid credit to his years working with the Calzaghes and said how much he learnt, but it was from this point that his career really began to take off.
He took on well-respected battler Tony Oakey at his own game in a 12-round slug-fest for the vacant Commonwealth light-heavyweight crown, leaving the veteran bloodied and beaten at the end.
After three early stoppage defences, the Welshman went for the vacant British title against unbeaten Danny McIntosh in a bear-pit atmosphere at London’s York Hall.
Again Cleverly triumphed by fighting his opponent’s fight, getting in brash, knock-out expert McIntosh’s face from the outset and dropping him four times before ending it in the seventh.
Aged just 22, Cleverly had secured a British title a year earlier than Calzaghe had managed at the equivalent stage of his career.
Seven months later he added the European title to his growing collection of belts, following a win over Antonio Brancalion.
With his maths degree now also completed, the WBO world crown was in the Welshman’s sights, but champion Juergen Braehmer would prove a difficult man to pin down.
The German was in the midst of an appeal against a 16-month jail sentence for assault and insulting behaviour, but a title fight was eventually scheduled for 21 May, 2011.
Braehmer was a late pull-out with an eye injury, but the show went ahead and Cleverly – already the interim champion from his fights during Braehmer’s legal troubles – was declared champion.
He had got to world status a year ahead of Calzaghe, and in one fewer fights. He also became just the second Welshman – following lightweight legend Freddie Welsh – to win British, Commonwealth, European and world belts.
Tony Bellew was the first replacement called upon for Braehmer, but when he failed to make weight Polish veteran Aleksy Kuziemski stepped in – and was despatched in four rounds.
The Welshman’s first defence was a huge domestic affair as he took on Bellew on the ‘Bomber’s’ home Liverpool turf, the champion coming through some tricky moments to claim a deserved points victory.
He then struggled to find the sort of opponents to meet his ambitions, despite being prepared to travel to the States where his victory over Shawn Hawk made him the first Welshman to win a world title bout in Los Angeles.
Cleverly targeted the other major light-heavyweight names in his bid for recognition and big money, and finally succeeded in securing a 2013 bout with hellacious puncher Sergey Kovalev in Cardiff.
But the thick-set Russian proved far too much for the ambitious Welshman, walking through Cleverly and dropping him three times in the third before finishing him in the fourth.
Aged just 26 at the time of the defeat, Cleverly had the talent and potential to rise again and was finally free of the burdensome comparisons to the unbeaten Calzaghe.
He chose to move up to cruiserweight, a heavily criticised decision that was exposed in a points defeat against arch-rival Bellew.
A drop in weight and pursuit of another world light-heavyweight title were then back on the agenda…
- Nathan Cleverly’s career record
- Nathan Cleverly on Twitter
- Nathan Cleverly – official site
- Wikipedia – Nathan Cleverly
- Is Cleverly the new Calzaghe?