And so off to the gym they went and Cleverly took to it immediately. As his aptitude flourished into craft, Cleverly and his father/trainer, Vincent, embarked on this fighting journey with a plan: If Nathan was going to fight, he would be a professional. He would train as such and the goal would be to keep as many miles off his body in order to preserve him for the pro ranks.
“I was 11 years of age when I started boxing but I always trained with a professional mentality,” Cleverly said. “I always trained hard and always prepared myself for the professional boxing game. The scoring is very different from the amateurs and I always prepared for that.”
At 6’1½” (he seemed taller in person) with a 74” reach, a big frame and a naturally awkward style, the echoes of former trainer Enzo Calzaghe remain in Cleverly’s style. For the first four years of his career (though his father is always at his side), Cleverly was trained by Enzo, whose son, Joe, retired undefeated as a champion both in the 168 and 175-pound divisions. With them both being Welsh, Nathan was naturally developed on Calzaghe’s shows. When Calzaghe fought Bernard Hopkins in Vegas, Cleverly was making his U.S. debut on the undercard.
However, boxing politics is a very real thing. When Cleverly’s promoter, Frank Warren, and Calzaghe split, Cleverly was worried there would be backlash if he stayed at Enzo’s Newbridge Boxing Club, instead moving to his father’s gym in South Wales. While the change was arguably the toughest of Cleverly’s career, he gave credence to the idea that having multiple trainers can add to a fighter’s overall game.
“I picked up techniques off different trainers,” he explained. “Every trainer tells you something different. They tell you something new. So I just pick up the best bits that I feel comfortable with. I am putting together my own style and I think everyone can add something to your game.”
While Cleverly is new to U.S. fans, the U.K. is very opinionated about him already. Part of a growing trend of developing fighters acquiring belts at a rawer stage in their careers, Cleverly understands the frustration but also the process he is undergoing. Admittedly, Hawk is not the step-up in opposition fight fans want from Cleverly (his original opponent, Ryan Coyne, dropped out due to a promotional dispute with Don King) but this is just the precursor to bigger things to come.
“I think I am maturing as a fighter. I am maturing as a person, in life in general. I am starting to settle down more. In the fight profession, I am more experienced and, bit by bit, becoming a more well-rounded professional fighter,” he said. “I am only 25 but I have [steadily developed]. I won regional titles, finally a world champion. I think within the next six months, we are going to be in line for the big fights. And once the big fights start, they’ll be no stopping them. It will be big fight after big fight after big fight. This is just the calm before the storm.”
What is refreshing about Cleverly is that he questions himself openly. There was no arrogance from him regarding his position. He knows that while he has this title, he also has yet to prove to the world and to himself that he is an elite level fighter.
“I think [first] get settled as a world champion, get a little more experience and then it’s going to be the big push, the big fights,” said Cleverly. “Am I really a world-class fighter or am I a ‘B-Class’ fighter? I think in the next year, we will find out.”
Part of the “A-Class” status to Cleverly and his father is obviously fighting in the U.S. Though he appears to draw well in the U.K., to be a true superstar, Cleverly feels he must fight and sell well in the U.S.
“I think the States is really the ticket to the next level,” Cleverly said. “This is the plan is to get the exposure in the U.S. I would like to put on a good show and then maybe come back in early 2013, set up a big fight. Then I will return to the U.K. sometime in the future.”
As for his opponent on Saturday, Shawn Hawk, Cleverly did not appear to know much but expected the fighter’s very best. Coyne was a southpaw and Hawk is an orthodox fighter. With a switch like that at this late hour, anything can happen.
“My opponent seems rugged, strong. He has a good opportunity to fight for the world title,” said Cleverly, “so he has very little to lose. I think he is going to try and really win the fight, come to fight. I am expecting a tough fight but one that I will win.”
Whether this is a precursor to a mega-fight down the road with one of the big names at 175 in early 2013 (Cleverly-Hopkins at Barclays Center?) or not remains to be seen. A lot of questions remain with Cleverly. Will his mere 11 knockouts in 24 wins be enough to keep fighters like Tavoris Cloud, Jean Pascal, Hopkins or - dare I say it - Chad Dawson at bay? Is Cleverly miscalculating the way Amir Khan appears to have by leaving a market he is still growing in to pursue one questionable for English fighters lacking KO power? Or is Cleverly a welcome action fighter addition to a division bereft of direction? Who can answer but time?
“I believe I can be the best but believing it and actually producing is different,” Cleverly said. “I just want the opportunity to prove it once I get in the ring against the top guys. And once I step up, that will be the challenge. Can I beat these top fighters? I believe I can. That’s the goal.”
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