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Cleverly shines brightest

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Ben Dirs | 08:41 UK time, Monday, 20 September 2010

BBC Sport at the LG Arena, Birmingham

If Saturday night in Birmingham was a learning night for British boxing fans, then it was Welshman Nathan Cleverly who taught us most.

There were some experts - including former lightweight world champion and now Sky pundit Jim Watt - who thought Karo Murat, out of Germany via war-torn Iraq, would have too much for the 23-year-old from Cefn Fforest.

But Cleverly demonstrated he possesses the heart, stamina and chin to thrive at world level in winning just about every round against his obdurate, if limited, foe.

We already knew Cleverly had the offensive tools - the long jab, the looping hooks and uppercuts - now all he needs to do is learn how to pace himself and tighten up that defence. Murat is a decent puncher but others will hit harder.

Nathan Cleverly (right) and Karo Murat

Cleverly won almost every round against his rugged, previously unbeaten opponent

Including, one suspects, WBO light-heavyweight champion Jurgen Brahmer, who has an impressive tally of 29 knockouts from 38 professional fights.

Cleverly's match at the LG Arena was an eliminator for the German's title, although he may end up being crowned without throwing a punch if Brahmer's appeal against a 16-month prison sentence for assault is unsuccessful.

Jean Pascal, the WBC title-holder who was involved in a barn-storming fight with Nottingham's Carl Froch at super-middleweight in 2008, is the king-pin of the division.

But we now know that if maths graduate Cleverly were to fight the grim, remorseless Canadian somewhere down the line, he would have most of the angles covered.

Sheffield's Kell Brook pipped Cleverly to the British boxing writers' young boxer of the year award in 2009 but was overshadowed in Birmingham, his eagerly-anticipated fight against the experienced Michael Jennings the evening's biggest anti-climax.

Promoter Frank Warren said beforehand that this was the night we would find out if Brook, the British welterweight champion and number one contender for Manny Pacquiao's WBO crown, was as good as we all thought he was.

Enzo Maccarinelli

Promoter Frank Warren wants Maccarinelli to hang them up after his latest defeat

Meanwhile, Chorley's Jennings predicted the bout, a Yorkshire-Lancashire, War of the Roses affair, would be "better than the Middle Ages".

A 12-round fight for the British welterweight title was always going to struggle to contend with 1,000 years of European history, although it depends on how you choose to define 'better' - there were no wars or plagues or outbreaks of syphilis at the LG Arena, at least as far as I am aware.

But for all the pre-fight hyperbole, it was an awkward, frustrating encounter, for boxers and fans alike, the upshot being we are yet to learn whether Brook is the real deal or not.

And while there has been some talk of putting him in a world title fight later this year - Warren is planning another blockbuster bill in December to celebrate 30 years in the business - a match with European champion Matthew Hatton would seem to make more short-term sense. After all, Brook is only 24.

"Because the head has eyes," was the great Sam Langford's reply when asked why he targeted his opponents' bodies so often, before adding: "Kill the body and the head will die."

Matthew Hall will say "amen" to that following his defeat by Lukas Konecny, who claimed the vacant European light-middleweight crown with a sixth-round stoppage.

Derek Chisora and Sam Sexton

Chisora (left) is calling out David Haye but it's a fight that would do nothing for Haye's credibility

Hall had his ribs tickled by a wicked left in the second and thereafter the writing was on the wall, the Czech fighter flooring his rival with another barge pole to the breadbasket early in the sixth, from which the Mancunian never recovered.

Hall announced afterwards that he was calling it a day - "I'm not going to be second best and scrape around" - and one must hope Enzo Maccarinelli follows him into retirement.

Maccarinelli's defeat at the heavy hands of Germany-based Ukrainian Alexander Frenkel was a sickener and showed how fine the line can be between a boxer relaunching himself on the world stage and falling through the trapdoor into oblivion.

Swansea's Maccarinelli, 30, looked to be controlling the fight and ahead on points when Frenkel swung a left from somewhere down by his knees and detonated it on his rival's chin.

Only referee Erkki Meronen will know why he allowed Maccarinelli, who was unable even to raise his gloves, to continue and for a few anxious minutes it looked as though we might have a tragedy on our hands. Were it not for the speedy reactions of the ringside medics, we might have done.

Afterwards, Warren, who has seen his fair share of tragedy in the ring, called on Maccarinelli to quit. A former world champion, the Welshman has nothing left to prove.

I might get pilloried for saying this, but surely it is too soon for James DeGale and George Groves to meet?

Former Olympic champion DeGale gave a polished performance in dismantling Carl Dilks in one round and immediately called out Commonwealth champion Groves, who, like DeGale, is from Hammersmith and is an old rival from their amateur days.

Warren says he has offered Groves' team - Hayemaker Promotions - "good money" and that they should expect a written offer on Monday.

However, while I like to see the best in Britain get it on, perhaps it would be better to let this one simmer. While it would be a decent fight in December, it could be an even better one a year or two down the line.

Meanwhile, Warren is seeking to match his British and Commonwealth champion Derek Chisora with WBA heavyweight champion David Haye, who fights Audley Harrison in November.

Chisora gave a decent account of himself in defeating Norwich's Sam Sexton on Saturday - but with Haye's credibility already under scrutiny after he failed to nail down a fight with one of the Klitschko brothers and opted for Harrison instead, one has to hope a bout with Chisora never happens.

Before Saturday's bill, there were some rumblings on the 606 messageboards to the effect that, without a standout, world-level fight, it should never have been anywhere near pay-per-view.

Having sat through five hours of sometimes compelling boxing, I would have to disagree, although, like most fans, I would prefer it if the sport wasn't on pay-per-view at all.

But it is what it is and better the best of Britain crammed onto one bill than some of the cards I have seen down the years, when the headline fight has been over in a jiffy and the supports have been low-grade and few and far between.

And that is what I learnt on Saturday, the night Nathan Cleverly shone brightest and taught us most of all.

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  • Comment number 1.

    What I learnt was that in the 7th round chisora showed us that their maybe a really good boxer under the hood, but were are the likes of roach or mayweather SR in Britain.....Ingle?

  • Comment number 2.

    Hey Ben I usually like your stuff a lot, but this blog purports to be about Cleverly and his very impressive performance, undoubtedly being the brightest performance of the night...

    Instead you wrote about 3 sentences on it before going on with a general overview of the night. This is fine, but I - and perhaps others- were expecting a more in depth look at Clev's fight - it was an extremely good/exciting fight and there seemed to be a few things Cleverly was doing which I dont completely understand as only an "interested" rather than devout boxing fan, and would have appreciated an indepth look at the fight and tactics, especially seeing how it was the stand out fight from the night and seeing how the Title of the blog/article suggested it was going to be about Cleverly!

    Your writing is awesome Ben especially the cricket, but I do get the feeling sometimes that the Beeb could do with a specialist boxing writer who could deliver such an occasionally more detailed analysis. I am usually made to go to Dan Rafael (espn boxing) and his articles, or elsewhere, in order to satisfy my need for detail and technical commentaries on fights.


  • Comment number 3.

    ..and whilst Cleverley may get the plaudits for an exciting fightiong, he wants taking out to the shed and have his rear end tanned for ingnoring his corner's advice round after round.
    "Box behind the jab...get in and out again...move you head!"
    All sensible sound advice that Cleverley, I feel, on occasions, was deliberately, ignored in order to prove his machismo. Sadly, all it showed was he is still quite immature and coming up against a wily verteran, I feel he could easily be dragged into a damaging brawl. Joe Calzaghe was guilty of doing the same thing on occasions and he was rightly criticised for it.
    He's a better boxer than he showed on Saturday night, let's hope he doesn't have any more stupid rushes of blood to the head.

  • Comment number 4.

    BTW Ben, maybe you can tell us why practically every Hatton related article we try and create fails to get past the Moderators. I tried yesterday and, all arrogance aside, failed to see what part of it could be construed as off-topic.

    I merely stated that if Hatton didn't think he had a problem with his liquid intake or susbtance misuse, then he had a longer recovery road ahead of him than he first imagined.

    Admitting you have a problem is surely the first step.

  • Comment number 5.

    Cleverly went up a notch in my estimations, there are still things to improve on but I was impressed. Good grit and patience under fire.

    It was a real shame about the cut in Brook/Jennings because it looked like Jennings was just beginning to ask some questions of Brook. He looked workmanlike, nothing to get the pulse racing...don't think he'll have this fight in his scrapbook.

    And definitely neither will Maccarinelli. Even for a guy that's had some nasty knockout losses in his career, this was the most frightening one of all for Enzo. After looking way too tight to begin with, committing everything to huge single shots which mostly missed, Enzo seemed to loosen up and was starting to impose himself thanks in part to remembering how to jab. But my worry with this whole comeback, with everything since the Haye loss, was how the same technical problems were still there; he never seemed to want to fully admit to being beaten there and so never learned the proper lessons. And so it was again, as he left his right hand low after throwing it and swung in a left hook that Frenkel beat him to. No way it should've been allowed to continue after the first knockdown, very poor performance from the ref. Retirement is surely clear now, he sounds by all accounts a decent guy and Warren has offered to employ him in helping to promote cards.

    Chisora/Sexton was a fun scrap, two big tree stumps planting their feet and biff bang whallop. Chisora seemed to be running out of gas, and was too exhausted to properly celebrate at the end, but when he had Sexton stunned he dug deep and found that barrage of punches he needed to finish it. I don't think he's world class but he's a fun guy to watch...Warren is rumoured to be thinking about setting up Chisora/Valuev, that would be quite a sight!

  • Comment number 6.

    Saturday night, for me, was a mix of pluses and minuses as far as Cleverly's concerned.

    But, far more pluses without a doubt.

    We already knew that Cleverly has fast hands, throws excellent combinations with a variety of classy shots. He also has a very high workrate and fights at a very quick pace.

    He has been getting noticeably stronger (physically) and his power looks to improve with every fight.

    At 23 and now with full time to concentrate in the gym, he can get stronger and his power with training and natural development with age should come on as he starts to reach his peak years, over the next three.

    However, there were still question marks over him as there is with any prospect at this stage to be answered.

    Does he have a good chin? Yes.

    Does he have stamina? Yes.

    Every tick in the box needed to go on to be World Champion.

    And with Nathan's natural attributes of height and reach advantage over most LH's, he's a shoo-in for unifying the divison, right?

    Hopefully, but this is where the reality check is needed.

    It's one thing having a good chin but, you don't have to be so reckless and have it tested as often to prove you have one.

    It'll be found and tested often enough anyway throughout your career.

    Nobody doubts Mayweather or Hopkins's chins - they've gotten caught with big shots right throughout their careers and their chins stand upto it, but, they limit how often they get hit.

    For career longevity and to face and beat the elite, it's essential.

    Tactically, Nathan got it spot on as far as keeping Murat bombarded and on the back foot but, once he'd thrown, why did he not spin off and have a walk around the ring, or tie Murat up, instead of just standing in the pocket in front of him and letting him get his own shots off.

    Every article I've read on Cleverly says the same - great talent, needs to learn how to pace himself and work on his defence.

    The main time in the gym needs to be understanding how to fight defencively now.

    Because - if he can set a pace like that, with the speed and increasing power and avoid getting tagged too often, but has the chin to stand upto it when he does, then we could be looking at a very special fighter.

    If he doesn't improve his defence - and continues to make rookie errors, such as lunging forward with a right hand, falling short and leading with his face, it's going to end badly.

    Look at Enzo on Saturday for example.

    He doesn't do it all the time - I think about 4 times in the fight but these are things that have to get drilled out of him.

    If he wants to unify the division, he needs to show major impovements e.g. - being a bit more composed and patient, using his footwork, head and body movement as his defence.

    He needs to be shooting out of the pocket once he's landed and not staying there to be countered.

    His trainers - Vince (Dad) and Alan have done a fantastic job with his progression and his improvement in 3/4's of his game has been exponential.

    But we really need to see an exponential improvement in Nathan's tactical and defensive nous from here on out, otherwise people may start to question whether their success with Nathan is only on the physical aspects of his game but not on the understanding of sweet science.

    I don't think it is, and hopefully a significant improvement in these areas from Nathan will prove as much over the coming year.

    Little disapointed with Kell Brook but he still looks to be a top talent. I think he loads up a bit too much on every shot, a bit like Naz.

    Not sure Brook will struggle with a good world class mover. He's younga and has all the attributes needed to be World Champ.

    Gutted for Enzo - one of the nicest and most accessable Sports Men you could ever meet. He's was World Champion that a great thing.

    Got careless and paid the price. He has to retire now that knockout was brutal. Please retire Enzo.

    That referee needs to be banned, that was an appalling decision.

    Frank has offered to work work you on promtions, build yourself another career and bring the future Welsh fighters exposure.

    From one extreme to the other - DeGale's was stopped too early, however, it was only going one way. It may have lasted another round or two though. Another very impressive performance from him. I'd think I'd rather see him and Groves get it on at World level tbh.

    Far more hype, money and everything else.

    Macklin seemed to be going through the motions a bit, good win all the same. Shame about Hall but gave it his all :-)

    Chisora suprised me, he's cetainly come on a lot recently. Don't need to be rushing him too much though.

    Gavin won as well, his progression continues.

    Anybody know how young Craig Evans got on, he was supposed to be on the bill but when I checked boxrec yesterday, it didn't have a result.

    A top bill from frank and the future of British boxing looks very promising indeed.

  • Comment number 7.

    100% agree that it is a little early to have DeGale and Groves immediatly. After seeing every single round of both their professional career's, I think it's highly realistic to have these two finally lock horns at world level...could be a massive fight along the lines of Eubank v Benn...though I do not want to tempt fate!

    The one thing that really did suprise me about Cleverly on Saturday was his chin...its becoming clear that his durability and power are developing as shown by his ever improving KO record but he took some well placed shots from Murat who had a decent KO ratio himself so that was good to see...i bet it will only be 2 or 3 years before Cleverly moves up to Cruiser-weight though...he looks like he could get heavier and keep his speed.

    On the Enzo fight, it was desperatly sad to see him flat out like that. He has been superb for the sport and for welsh boxing...a huge puncher with a suspect chin will always be involved in dust-ups people want to see...but from his KO loss to Haye onwards...his defeats have been strong KO's and Saturday was the culmination of these previous fights...why the hell the referee decided he was OK to continue when he was swaying all over the place, looking everywhere apart from at the ref and not being able to keep his gloves up is beyond me...his opponent even looked pensive about planting another left on him. Give up Enzo...not many can say they were a World Champion and a fan favourite.

  • Comment number 8.

    Yeah, Frenkel's lack of celebration spoke well of his character and respect for Enzo. It was really sickening, I didn't care a jot about Macklin's fight because I was still too concerned.

  • Comment number 9.

    TeniPurist, I feel you missed the point of the article... however, far be it from me to defend Ben, as I'm sure he's more than capable.

    The inclusion of Cleverly's name in the title may well have been misconstrued by some as a focused analysis of his performance, but the fact is the evening was intended to be a showcase for british talent. Cleverly was one of several fighters who are currently building or trying to restore reputations in the public domain and it just so happens that he was deemed by Ben to be the outstanding performer. Having unfortunatley missed the actual event on the night, I for one was keen to digest a general overview of the proceedings.

  • Comment number 10.

    Hi all and thanks for your comments so far...

    TeniPurist - Sorry you don't think I concentrated enough on Cleverly, although I'm slightly confused by your comment that I wrote "three sentences" about him - I just read it back and there are actually eight paragraphs devoted to him.

    Ryushinku - Agree with your assessment of Chisora - fun guy, in and out of the ring, although not sure he can make the leap - although in the current environment, who knows? I actually thought Sexton was pretty much level with him at the time of the stoppage.

    SteviebeeJ - Agree about Brook, he did look to be loading up a little too much, making him appear a little bit tense and not as loose as he usually does. Little disappointing and I just hope he's not progressed too soon.

  • Comment number 11.

    Hi Ben,

    I think it is slightly pushing it calling those paragraphs? :P There were only three "paragraphs" actually speaking about the fight itself, which is what I meant. Actually, having read it back, there were only two.

    I didn't mean to cause a fuss however, as was suggested, I may have just misread the point of the article as it more than served its purpose as a blog on the nights events, I was just hoping for a more cleverly-focused piece!

    Its funny that I feel bad for 'criticising' you Ben, but being a regular on these boards Im thinking you are used to much worse...

    keep it up

  • Comment number 12.

    And that last post was a reference to some of the nutty/agressive/one eyed posters one sees on here, not to the quality of your writing!

  • Comment number 13.

    Enjoyed your article for the most part but I have to disagree with the way you described Enzo's loss to Frenkel. If you watch the footage again, you can clearly see Frenkel had worked out Enzo's pattern. Frenkel actually countered with a left hook after Enzo telegraphed a left and then missed with the big right hand. But by wording it "Frenkel swung a left from somewhere...", you made it sound as if Frenkel simply landed a lucky punch!? Agree with the sentiments of the piece mind and I really hope Enzo retires now. He is extremely lucky to still be walking and relatively healthy after that sickening loss.

  • Comment number 14.

    Great night's boxing and to deal with Enzo Mac first agreed the ref made a right ricket, but what about his corner? I was watching live and yet to see any of the TV footage so not sure how they reacted but Enzo was only a few feet away, v unsteady on his feet and unable to raise his arms when the ref let him fight on so if they didn't act there must be questions to ask there also. A shame it happened to such a good bloke but you couldn't help sense an underlying nervousness in the performance, understandable after the previous knock outs.

    Along with Ben et al i made Nathan C the stand out performer (closely followed by Frankie Gavin and his mesmerising footwork 'try and hit me and i'll be gone and you won't quite know how etc'), he could have won it at a canter on the outside and avoided a few digs but then again it made for an exciting fight.

    The flip side of having so many good fights on the bill was that only on one occasion (in the middle rounds of the Cleverly fight) did the crowd seem to cheer on a fighter as one, otherwise the atmosphere was good if not great, but it seems a bit churlish to moan about that when served up with such a feast. Also the universal (almost) support of Cleverly was a good 'up yours' to the fans (a hard core from Birmingham given the chants about the Villa) who seemed intent on baiting the welsh fans during the evening, and caused a punch up to boot when they continued as Enzo lay spark out. Depressing to witness but fortunately it didn't take the shine off the evening.

    As to De Gale v Groves, I say get it on! Yes it could simmer but assuming they are as good as predicted in a couple of years who is to say boxing politics won't frustrate the fight everyone wants to see.... It's a great match up now and i doubt a loss for either at this stage of career (unless crushing) would be too detrimental to long term prospects. Trilogy springs to mind.

  • Comment number 15.

    As to De Gale v Groves, I say get it on! Yes it could simmer but assuming they are as good as predicted in a couple of years who is to say boxing politics won't frustrate the fight everyone wants to see.... It's a great match up now and i doubt a loss for either at this stage of career (unless crushing) would be too detrimental to long term prospects. Trilogy springs to mind.
    Only way there's a trilogy is if Groves wins the first one. My belief is that DeGale, should he win, would automatically proclaim himself beyond domestic class and looking for World titles (sounds like a former Warren fighter who had fought no-one of note, ducked a couple of decent domestic fighters and then did a swerve to a World strap) and refuse to give Groves a rematch.

  • Comment number 16.

    I hope for his own sake Jim Watt does not bet on his predictions. For as long as I can remember he has predicted [insert British boxer here] will lose to [non bum opponent].

    It's great to see some British sporting punditry following non partisan lines - especially given the editorial skew of his current employers' football coverage. But his constant negativity both before and during a fight is starting to grate. It would be slightly more palatable if he held his hand up afterwards and said "gee - I got that one completely wrong (again)".

  • Comment number 17.

    TeniPurist - Haha, yes, used to much worse and no worries, I'm not averse to some constructive criticism.

    MarlonZ - Fair point, when I wrote the piece I'd only seen the punch live and on a reply on the big screen - having seen it again you're right, Enzo was loading up with the left at the time. What a punch though!

    Pastymeister - I should point out that I wasn't having a dig at Jim Watt, rather saying that even someone of his experience and knowledge was saying Cleverly could be in trouble. To be fair to Watt, I was sat in front of Gary Lockett on the night and he thought Clev might be in trouble as well.

  • Comment number 18.

    He's got no special knockout punch or speed. He's also naive. He will be one of those middle of the range world champions. If he's the best young british boxer out there.. it doesn't look too good for us.


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