Bernard Hopkins and Nathan Cleverly interested in fight, but mandatory road blocks remain

USA TODAY Sports

Bernard Hopkins and Nathan Cleverly have expressed mutual interest in fighting one another, but mandatory challengers from the IBF and WBO may block the path.

Bernard Hopkins and Nathan Cleverly, holders of the IBF and WBO light heavyweight titles, respectively, are interested in a fight with one another, but far less interesting mandatory challengers may stand in the way.

While Golden Boy is reportedly trying to get Hopkins' mandatory with Karo Murat delayed (Murat stepped aside to allow the Cloud-Hopkins fight int he first place), Cleverly sounds as though he's committed to not only his April 20 defense against Robin Krasniqi, but another mandatory defense against Juergen Braehmer. Braehmer failed to show up for a fight with Cleverly in 2011, forfeiting the WBO title, which gave Cleverly full titlist status.

Hopkins had nice words about the 26-year-old Welshman:

"Cleverly brings a lot to the table himself. He can fight and has the looks. He knows how to promote. I've been watching him and he's knocking on the door of superstardom. He is a threat to me and any other 175lb fighter."

And Cleverly was appreciative:

"It's great to read what Hopkins has been saying about me, he's the ultimate warrior and doesn't shy from any challenge. You saw how he schooled Tavoris Cloud last month to break his own record to become the oldest world champion in history. He wants to fight me so I say lets get it on, it would be an honour to share the ring with him and I'd love the challenge of beating a legend."

Whether or not Cleverly (25-0, 12 KO) and/or promoter Frank Warren are truly keen on a fight with the 48-year-old Hopkins (53-6-2, 32 KO) remains to be seen. By simply accepting two straight mandatory defenses, and not even trying to work around it -- which is done all the time in boxing to allow bigger money fights to take place -- they would be giving the impression that either they're not as interested as they say, or that they want to let Bernard get as old as possible.

Hopkins will turn 49 next January. Cleverly fights April 20, could face Braehmer in July or August, and then could, conceivably, face Bernard late this year, or early in 2014. It's as interesting a fight as there is for Bernard at 175, sparing Andre Ward or the Carl Froch-Mikkel Kessler II winner moving up in weight, and we know that Hopkins isn't interested in fighting Ward for any amount of money. It's certainly not a bad fight by any means; Hopkins-Cleverly has a lot of the same dynamic that Hopkins-Cloud had on paper, but Cleverly is a bit more polished and adaptable than Cloud, too, so maybe youth would be served finally. Maybe.

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