The Welsh professional boxer, and holder of the British, European and Commonwealth light-heavyweight titles, reveals how he balanced training with achieving a mathematics degree as well as his aspiration to be World Champion.
Raise Your Game: How did you first get involved in boxing?
Nathan Cleverly: When I was about 10 or 11-years-old I was very competitive and I got into a few street fights. I wanted to channel all my aggression in a controlled environment so I asked my dad to take me to the local boxing gym, and I've never looked back.
RYG: Do you think boxing can teach people not to be violent?
NC: Since I stepped into the boxing gym, I've never found myself involved in any trouble as my aggression was channelled purely into the boxing. It makes you a more disciplined person and it made me an all-round better person, too.
17 February 1987
New Tredegar, Wales
- European light-heavyweight champion (2010)
- British champion (2009)
- Commonwealth champion (2008)
Record to Nov 2009:
Won: 18(KO 8), Drew: 0, Lost: 0
RYG: Apart from discipline, what other skills can boxing teach you?
NC: Boxing teaches you to focus mentally. You need to train hard and you need to work hard. You're also interacting with other people who are working just as hard. From them you learn boxing skills, but you also learn to be a better person. For me it has also helped with my education as well. I have learnt to focus on my boxing, which has then helped me to focus on my studies.
RYG: Many young athletes don't understand the link between sports, education or employment. What are the skills that you can transfer from boxing?
NC: They all require mental focus and hard work. An element of dedication is needed with boxing, but I also think if you put too much effort into one area of your life you can become stale just doing one thing all the time. For me, the sport helped break up the boredom of the studies sometimes and vice versa. It's nice to have a break from hard physical training and getting your head into some books sometimes.
RYG: How important is your education to you?
NC: It's very important! It gives me that plan B in life and it keeps me mentally ticking over. I don't have the chance to get bored because if I'm not doing my sport then I'm concentrating on my university work.
RYG: Many people would not associate boxing with a mathematics degree! Can you tell us why you went into mathematics?
NC: It's definitely not the stereotypical boxer image, I know. When I was in college, I had good A level results and I could have studied science or maths in university, but in the end I took the mathematics route, it's what I enjoy. A good degree also keeps a lot of options open for me in the future in terms of job opportunities. I think for now my career lies purely in boxing, but that university degree is always there with me.
RYG: How important is it for young people to make sure they have a back-up plan?
NC: Very important, especially being involved in professional sport. Anything can happen. Sportspeople often have short careers, sometimes a span of 10 good years, and once that's over where do you turn?
You can't sit around and dwell on old successes. You'll soon become bored and find yourself in a rut. I'm glad I've always got that opportunity to use my degree, put it to some good and put something back into the community.
RYG : How do you manage your time between your sport and your education?
NC: It is difficult, but I think that's the advantage of training with my dad now, we're quite flexible. I can always ring him up and organise training around my lectures or exams. There's no getting away from the fact that it's really difficult sometimes when I've got to put in the hours for revision as well as training for a fight. It can be especially demanding around exam time, but the rewards outweigh the hard work and the self-assurance from achieving both of them is great.
RYG: You've mentioned that you work closely in training with your dad. How important is it to have the support of a team behind you?
NC: It's nice to have that solid back row behind you, to give you that support when times are getting tough and to pick you up a little and boost your morale. I've always had that from the beginning and I'd say it's vital.
RYG: You've maintained a very successful boxing career with 18 wins so far. What has boxing given you?
NC: Boxing has given me that direction in life. If I wasn't a boxer, then who knows where I could have ended up. It has given me that focus in life, something I could dedicate myself to and it has paid off. Now my life really is boxing and I'm making the most of my talent. It's hard work but it's rewarding.
RYG: What are your goals and aspirations for the future?
NC: To do the best I can in boxing really and to achieve as many titles as I can. Hopefully I can retire with enough money that I've earned from boxing, but who knows, only the future will decide. But I'm going to work hard for it, and the future is going to be boxing. I want to be World Champion.
RYG: Finally, if you could give a message to young people looking up at you to get into boxing or sports generally, what would you say?
NC: Just give it your best and enjoy it! Then if you're getting the results and you feel you've got the talent, you can take it a notch further, really push for it and give it the best shot you can.
You have to have a goal and never lose sight of it.
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