Nathan Cleverly isn't quite sure if he plans to continue his boxing career or stick to his old claim that he'd retire when he lost a fight, as he tells Boxing News' Tris Dixon in a revealing interview following this past Saturday's crushing loss to Sergey Kovalev.
"What's my gut instinct now? Just live a bit. Live a bit for a couple of months with friends, with family, have a few drinks, have a bit of junk food, have a few nights out, go on holiday. You know, your instinct will guide you. I've always said as soon as I lose in boxing I will get out of the sport. Do I stick to that? Who knows. We'll see."
Cleverly (26-1, 12 KO) is still only 26 years old, and as he says, his loss to Kovalev (22-0-1, 20 KO) isn't exactly devastating, in that it doesn't mean he can't fight. He didn't lose to a journeyman or one of his soft touches -- he didn't lose to Shawn Hawk, in other words, he lost to a top fighter.
Cleverly adds that he believes some of the criticism of his previous fights is owed in part to the fact that he's tied to Frank Warren, the crusty old dean that he is:
"You look at The Ring magazine top 10 and Kovalev's the third top 10 guy I've fought in The Ring magazine rankings and that takes all the rankings in order, that's Kovalev, Bellew and Murat and I've fought three of them and I'm one of the top 10, too. That's not bad going. In fairness, a lot of people tar me because I'm a Frank Warren fighter, I think I get tarred with that brush and obviously there may have been a few soft defences in there which are no fault of my own. If I had my way, I would have been straight to the unification fights."
"Obviously there may have been"? There obviously, absolutely, without any question were. Krasniqi wasn't Cleverly's fault; that was a mandatory. Frankly, I don't believe any of them were Cleverly's fault. But he was handled with kid gloves following the scare against Tony Bellew, and there's no defending Tommy Karpency and Shawn Hawk (or Ryan Coyne, the guy Hawk replaced) as world title challengers if you're looking at this as a sport, analytically. The given excuse here that those fights are some nice, easy money is not an excuse, even, it's a rationalization, and that's fine. Fair play.
But it's not just that Frank Warren is the promoter, it's that the fights were lousy and never for a second seemed competitive on paper, which followed up in the ring. For as nice a little relaxing payday they may have been for Cleverly, they were also fights that just didn't mean much of anything, and resulted in Cleverly being totally out of his depth against Kovalev. He was absolutely exposed in this fight. There's no getting around it.
Would Clev have fought Shumenov or Cloud or anyone else? I'm sure he would have. I've got no reason to believe that Nathan Cleverly didn't want those big fights straight away. He didn't shy away from signing up to fight Kovalev. No one ordered him to do it. It wasn't a mandatory. But the fact is that what came before gave him no useful experience for a step-up fight. There's a big gulf between Krasniqi, Hawk, Karpency and Kovalev. And there's a big gulf from the fights Cleverly says he wanted -- Shumenov, Cloud, Hopkins, Dawson, whatever -- and the fights he actually wound up taking. There was room in the middle there.
But that's neither here nor there at this point, either. I don't think there's any reason to dislike Nathan Cleverly. He's an honest guy, a great interview as we can see here, and he was an incredibly gracious loser this weekend. If he fights on, there's no reason he can't get back into the title mix at 175. If he doesn't, then he doesn't. That's his decision.