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Cleverly and Kovalev discuss their fighting roots and inspirations

Nathan Cleverly and Sergey Kovalev will meet on Saturday in Cardiff, Wales, for Cleverly's WBO light heavyweight title. Here, they discuss their backgrounds, and how they got started in the sport.

Matthew Horwood

Nathan Cleverly is preparing to make what figures to be the toughest defense to date of his WBO light heavyweight title, but he'll have home field advantage on Saturday in Cardiff, Wales, when he faces unbeaten Sergey "Krusher" Kovalev. HBO will have tape delayed coverage in the States at 9:45 pm EDT, but BLH will have live coverage in the afternoon of the full BoxNation bill as it happens.


How did you get stared in boxing & who inspired you?

I started boxing at the age of 11 in Chelyabinsk. A classmate invited me to his gym right behind our school and I loved it, so I joined. I trained under Sergey Novikov. In the beginning I did not even understand what I was doing, but the trainer spotted something in me that the others did not have. He started giving me his personal attention, and that was when I really started liking this sport. Even though I was doing well, the first couple of years I just went into the ring and fought like I was on the streets. A few years later I started to understand what the sport was about and that I needed to get points and use my brain to get better.

I made my amateur debut in 1995. In1997 I went to the Russian Boxing Junior Championships where I won the gold medal in the junior middleweight division. I was just 14 years old so I felt like I was unbeatable, like I became some big star. But during the next region championship few months later, I got beaten badly by some local kid, and I immediately understood that I was no longer a big star. It was humbling.

In 2001, I fought for the first time in the Russian Boxing Senior Championships, but did not have good results. In 2004 I reached the finals and won a silver medal. The next year, 2005, was the best of my amateur career. I won gold medals at the Russian Boxing Senior Championships and the World Military Championship. The politics and competition in amateur boxing in Russia are very tough. In 2008, I decided to leave the Russian national team and turn pro.

I moved to America in 2009 to make it big as a professional fighter. My wife Natalia joined me in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, in 2012. It's hard to be away from our families and friends in Chelyabinsk but we've found a nice group of friends here. We have a dog named "Picasso". We like to travel and spend time at the beach. We visited Thailand and had a really great time. For this fight I did my conditioning training in Big Bear, California, which was great because we got to travel around California and the Pacific Northwest.


How did you get stared in boxing & who inspired you?

I was 11 years old when I became a boxer. It was in 1997 when I sat on the sofa with my Dad and we watched Joe Calzaghe become world champion, that's when I knew it was for me. My parents took some persuading but they understood that it was what's best for me, I was an ultra-competitive child and it led to a few scrapes and scraps on the streets.

I was brought up in an area called Phillipstown, it's known by the locals as Monkey's Island and it's in the South Wales valleys. There were few facilities and even fewer opportunities, that's why we produce so many fighters - nine world champion boxers have been born and bred in the valleys.

My upbringing was good, I have a strong family behind me and good set of values that kept me out of trouble, most of the time! From an early age, sport was the main focus in my life. When I was 15 I became Welsh cross county running champion and I've always been a good footballer, I'm active in other sports but it was boxing that took over my life.

I started my amateur career at 86lbs and finished at 152lbs, winning six consecutive Welsh amateur titles in a row and taking gold at the Four Nation Championships competing against the best of England, Scotland and Ireland. My amateur record consists of 32 wins from 36 fights and I was undefeated in my own country.

When I was 18 in 2005, I decided that I'd turn professional, I'd explored all options open to me in the amateurs so it was a step of natural progression and my style suited the pros. Education has always been important to me and my family, it was at this time that I started studying a degree in Pure Mathematics at Cardiff University. I knew a degree and boxing professionally at the same time wouldn't be easy, nothing worth doing is but I've always loved a challenge.

Joe Calzaghe was local and our Dads knew each other from the music circuit, it was a natural link up. For a short period the gym had three world champions and a few more domestic title holders; it was a great grounding in what professional boxing is all about.

My Dad has always been by my side and in 2008 we made the decision for him to train me with assistance from one of my old amateur trainers, Alan Davies. It started a brilliant run of form, after winning the Commonwealth title I scored seven stoppages in a row, picking up a British and European title on the way. By this time I'd put myself on the brink of a world title and it was only then that I graduated from university and could be a full time fighter.

At this point, my game had made great improvements and everything was falling in to place but the only piece missing was the world champion. It had taken a year to get Juergen Braehmer in the ring with me and when we thought we had him, he pulled out and I was awarded the title outside of the ring.

Since then I've defended my title five times; fighting in my opponents back yard, coming home to a sold out arena and going out to fight in America. We've tried making the big fights but the names have avoided me.

It's been frustrating but this is a massive breakthrough fight me. I'm fighting the most dangerous in the division - Sergey Kovalev. The Russian is building a big reputation in America and his punch is even bigger. Nobody else wants to say Kovalev's name, let alone fight him but I will beat him to show I am the best light-heavyweight in the world and I will force the big names to fight me.

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