Nathan Cleverly - The Great Welsh Hope?

This is an article I recently did on Nathan Cleverly as part of my university course, I've had some feedback from The Sun's sports editor, but I was wondering what you guys think of it. Any feedback would be great.

LAST year was an awful one for British boxing. Many of the men who held world title belts at the beginning of the year had them snatched from their grasp by the end, and despite a slew of quality contenders, few managed to capitalise on their opportunities at the world stage.

However, it was not all doom and gloom, as two champions remained at the close of 2011. Firstly there was Scottish lightweight Ricky Burns, who gave an electrifying performance to outpoint tough Aussie Michael Katsidis for the WBO interim title. Having since been elevated to the position of full champion, Burns cruised to an easy decision over former titleholder Paulus Moses this past weekend.

The only other British boxer to keep his title going into to 2012 is 25-year-old Nathan Cleverly from Caerphilly, who won the vacant WBO light-heavyweight title back in 2010 by beating awkward Frenchman Nadjib Mohammedi. However, Cleverly's choice of opposition and a couple of questionable performances make me wonder whether he is worthy of his belt, and so in this article I have decided to breakdown Cleverly's career and look at possible future opponents in a hope to see if Cleverly can live up to the hype surrounding him.

Cleverly is perhaps the least tested of the current group of title-holders in the light-heavyweight division, Bernard Hopkins, Beibut Shumenov and Tavoris Cloud. While Cleverly began fighting good, solid opposition on his way to a title shot, more recently he has opted for easy defences against opponents who are average at best. The likes of Tommy Karpency, Alex Kuziemski have no place at world level.

The obvious choice would be Dimitry Sukhotsky, who has a record of 18-1-0, is ranked number nine by Boxrec and is the mandatory challenger for Cleverly's WBO belt. Sukhotsky is a good boxer and would certainly prove a tough test for Cleverly, though I believe the Briton has the ability to beat him. The other reason this would be an interesting fight is that Sukhotsky has defeated similar opposition to Cleverly, including Mohammedi, who gave Cleverly trouble in only two rounds. This fight makes the most sense for Cleverly's next return to the ring, because it gets a mandatory challenger out of the way and Sukhotsky is a step up from the opposition faced so far.

However, there are a number of other good challenges for Cleverly in the division even if he doesn't face Sukhotsky or the other belt holders. The other name that comes to mind is Spanish boxer Gabriel Campillo, who is currently ranked number 10 in the world by Boxrec and who recently suffered a questionable defeast by Cloud. He is a solid contender and former title-holder and most of his losses have been close decisions. Campillo's most notable win was perhaps his victory over Beibut Shumenov, so fighting the Spaniard would be a good way for Cleverly to build up to a unification bout with either Cloud or Shumenov. Both have expressed interest in the fight, although Shumenov would be the most likely opponent.

There are also a few good possibilities outside the top ten, such as Ismayl Sillakh (No. 11), Enzo Macarinelli (No. 12), Zsolt Erdei (No. 17) and Adrian Diaconu (No. 21). All would make for more competitive fights and would certainly bolster Cleverly's position the division. A meeting with Macarinelli has the added draw of being a big fight in Wales, and Enzo's heavy hands and fragile chin would make for an exciting contest.

The fact that Cleverly has so far ignored these names in favour of nobodies is very disheartening, especially after his promising rise in the sport. It would be more worrying if Cleverly continues on this path, taking easy defences to keep his belt. I don't believe this is all Cleverly's fault, as his promoter Frank Warren is known for following the creed of the right fight at the right time. Given some of Cleverly's performances, I can understand why Warren might be a bit apprehensive about putting him in the ring with some bigger names.

As a Welshman, I have high hopes for Cleverly and at his best, as in his fight against Karo Murat, he looks world-class, proving he can box and go toe to toe in a slugfest, being equipped with a granite chin and great recovery time. That is why it is so disappointing when he faces sub-par opponents like Tommy Karpency. I can understand that the Karpency fight was a homecoming for Cleverly and so he needed to look impressive in front of the Welsh fans, but I and many of the other fans would much rather see a competitive fight between two equally matched opponents than a one-sided showcase.

Luckily, Cleverly has already set his next fight for the end of next month. Hopefully this time we will see him face someone who can at least put up some form of competition, unlike Karpency, who could not win a single round. I believe Sukhotsky will probably be Cleverly's next opponent and a convincing win would certainly go a long way towards restoring my faith in Cleverly as a real champion rather than a paper one, because if he continues on his current path, years from now no one will remember him from beating people of Karpency's calibre. Cleverly has had time to grow and has beaten some good opponents, but the deficiencies of his recent opponents is making him look weaker and weaker, which is a shame. He has the ability to carve a place for British and more importantly Welsh boxing in the light-heavyweight division.

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