Reflecting on Nathan Cleverly’s recent unanimous decision defeat to Polish slugger Andrzej Fonfara, I was surprised to read in the press words such as ‘Painful defeat for Cleverly’ or ‘where does Cleverly go from here?’ As someone who has broken their nose twice I can confirm that yes Saturday probably was painful for Cleverly especially after round 7 when a Fonfara upper cut shattered the Cefyn Fforest mans nose. But even so these words seemed a little harsh.
The articles implied it might be time for the Welshman to retire following his third professional defeat. It would seem prudent to question the wisdom of these respected boxing analysts because the fight I saw was not one of a defeated man going through the motions eyeing a pay cheque. It was a gritty performance in the (adopted) back yard of a dangerous, heavy handed opponent. Let us not forget that Fonfara recently knocked out Chavez Jnr, a result that might not have caused shock waves in the UK but over on the other side of the Atlantic it was unexpected to say the least. So make no mistake about it Fonfara is the real deal, this is clearly how Cleverly viewed the match up prior to signing for it as he turned down a shot at WBA ‘regular’ champion Jurgen Braehmer. Clearly thinking that victory over the American based Pole would lead to bigger things.
The all action fight lasted the distance with both men trading hurtful shots all night before the final bell separated the two combatants. Cleverly the far bloodier of the two due to the previously mentioned broken nose sustained mid way through the fight. But even after suffering this Welsh man did not take a step back. It would be fair to say until this point he was winning as he found time to showboat in the early rounds- clearly confident that his electric speed of hand was doing the damage. So to conclude a very brave defeat and one that nobody should take shame in, a warrior to the end who at no point looked finished.
The other defeats sustained by Cleverly; steam rolled by Sergio Kovalev inside four rounds, although since proven that this is no disgrace with the Russian unifying the light heavyweight division and dominating everything in his path. And the other loss a lacklustre performance against Tony Bellew that took place at cruiserweight. A foray he should never have contemplated due to his frame lacking the stature required for that weight class despite standing over 6 feet 2. Therefore hardly two terrible opponents to have lost against and last weeks fight was by far his most competitive defeat. Despite the fact Fonfara deservedly won the decision the idea of Cleverly hanging up his gloves seems utterly absurd.
For some, Cleverly is difficult to warm to. They assume that because he has a maths degree and hails from South Wales that he was born with a silver spoon in his mouth and not cut out for the brutality of professional boxing. However his detractors have clearly never been to the tough old mining towns of the valleys. Anyone who thinks growing up in this part of the world is easy should ask Joe Calzaghe, the boxing legend, who was bullied at school. And the fact he has a degree should be applauded not degraded, especially considering he completed this whilst juggling his time between studying and training.
One article written since the Fonfara match up that carried a lot of substance was written by former world champion Johnny Nelson who suggested that Cleverly got his tactics wrong in the fight due to the inexperience of his trainer Darren Wilson. He claims that had he moved around the ring more he would have had a far easier nights work. This assertion to me seems absolutely correct and I do think if there is a rematch this is exactly what he should do. Standing still and trading is also the way Clev tried to fight against Kovalev with disastrous consequences. A part of me thinks perhaps he tried to fight this way against Fonfara to prove how tough he is and in fairness he probably gained far more respect from doing so and losing then moving, boxing and winning. If he had done this he would have been derided as boring by his critics, but then again he would be in line for a world title shot. It is a funny sport.
The decision of whether Cleverly should change trainer is down to him but it is worth considering, would a more experienced corner-man instructed a change of game plan? Or with respect to Wilson he may have urged this only for the Welsh man to charge on regardless. This is for him to decide over the next few months.
Did Nathan box ‘Cleverly’ last week?’ No he did not, but what he did do was provide an excellent spectacle and proved to his doubters he really can fight when required too. If he repeats this performance with the seriously big hitters of Kovalev and Stevenson it is doubtful he would prevail. But he has excellent skills and a great boxing brain; if he recovers and uses these attributes he can beat Fonfara in a return match. And after that who knows. Nathan should stick to his skills and ignore his critics, there is still more to offer in his career.