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Is Cleverly the new Calzaghe?

By Sean Davies

"Let's not burden Welsh wonder Nathan Cleverly with the label of the new Calzaghe," said Barry McGuigan last week, ahead of the British light-heavyweight clash between Cleverly and Danny McIntosh.

Nathan Cleverly and Enzo Calzaghe
Cleverly was trained with Joe in the Enzo Calzaghe gym until 2008

Then ITV's coverage of the bout - with McGuigan giving his usual excellent punditry - proceeded to eulogise the 22-year-old Welshman as the greatest thing to come out of the valleys since, well, Joe Calzaghe!

Asked after an intense and thrilling seven-round stoppage win whether the comparisons were fair, Cleverly's father, Vince, said that his son was going to be better, having won the British crown at a younger age (Calzaghe was 23 when he claimed his British belt).

Calzaghe's retirement after a remarkable, undefeated, 46-fight career coincided with the rapid disappearance from the title stage of the other stars of Welsh boxing, Enzo Maccarinelli, Gary Lockett, Gavin Rees and Bradley Pryce.

That left Cleverly to fly the flag alone, and it has taken until now for him to really hit the radar of anyone but the true pugilist afficionado.

It is not difficult to see why Calzaghe and Cleverly are compared.


For a start, both were trained from their formative boxing days by Joe's father, Enzo, with Cleverly painfully learning his trade as a sparring partner to Joe, who was already established as a long-reigning world champion when the youngster was taking his first steps in the ring.

Cleverly is now trained by his father, with both Vince and Enzo old comrades from their younger days as entertainers on the pub-singing circuit.

Both sons are rangy, athletic fighters, with formidable boxing skills, a smothering volume of punches and remarkable hand speed.

But, watching Cleverly's early career, I would have suggested that the comparisons ended there.

It was clear from Calzaghe's earliest days that he was destined to be a star, the Newbridge man following an outstanding amateur career with a dramatic introduction to the professional ring, claiming 21 knock-outs from his first 22 fights.

In contrast, Cefn Fforest man Cleverly often looked classy, but - with just three stoppages in his first 10 fights - he seemed to lack punch power.

Then, in perhaps his worst performance, he was somewhat fortunate to claim a points victory over Joey Vegas, where he was dropped for the first time in his career.

He followed that up by becoming the first Welshman in 25 years to fight in Las Vegas - beating Calzaghe to the record by about two hours!

Cleverly outclassed blown-up middleweight Antonio Baker, but his non-stop, full-blown punching rarely troubled the American, who easily survived the full, eight-round distance.

Tony Oakey and Nathan Cleverly
Cleverly's hard-fought win over the rugged Tony Oakey was a landmark

It is since then that Cleverly has really come into his own, convincing me and - some might say more significantly - the likes of McGuigan that he is destined for a world title.

The youngster battled to the Commonwealth light-heavyweight title with a landmark win over Tony Oakey, confounding the critics by taking on the bruising veteran at his own game in a 12-round brawl.

Three early stoppage victories followed, Cleverly convincing the critics that he had grown into his weight division and could now boast formidable punch power.

Then came McIntosh, a brash, unbeaten, muscle-bound 29-year-old knock-out expert who did everything in his power - both before and during the fight - to unnerve the young prospect.

Now the Calzaghe comparisons were back on.

After three years and 16 fights as a professional, a 24-year-old Calzaghe entered the lions den to face fellow unbeaten prospect Mark Delaney.

The West Ham man's promoter had won the purse bid and the bout was staged in front of 2,000 of Delaney's fervent fans in the International Centre in Brentwood, Essex.

Calzaghe warns Welsh duo

The anti-Welsh jibes merely pumped up Calzaghe, who dropped Delaney for the first time in his career after 20 seconds, proceeding to break his nose and batter the Englishman to the canvas three more times before the slaughter was ended in the fifth.

So how would Cleverly react to the bear-pit atmosphere of the York Hall, where McIntosh's fired-up Norfolk followers packed the lower tier surrounding the ring?

The Welshman stormed into a thrilling toe-to-toe slugfest, quickly establishing his superiority with vicious hooks to the body followed by dizzying rights to the head.

The experts fretted, suggesting that Cleverly was being drawn into McIntosh's sort of fight, as the Englishman landed a heavy four-punch combination in the second.

But Cleverly came out from that shaking his head, and McIntosh's confidence could visibly be seen to be draining as his opponent immediately landed a hurtful body punch.

He hasn't fought anyone who can really hit him back yet

Joe Calzaghe on Cleverly

An accurate head shot in the following attack sent McIntosh to the canvas for the first of four occasions, and - although he bravely battled on until the seventh - the result was never in doubt.

A world title shot may still be some way away for Cleverly, who has a year to go to complete his maths degree at Cardiff University.

Few doubt he will reach that level, but in the age of alphabet champions the question is how far up the ladder of boxing greatness can Cleverly climb?

Let's hear from the man who is certainly well up on those rungs.

"[Cleverly's] doing really well, he's intelligent, he's got his feet on the ground and I believe that he's going to go to the top," said Calzaghe after the McIntosh fight.

"But it's early days, you can't get carried away. He's not ready to jump into a world title fight at the moment and he doesn't need it - he's still young.

"He hasn't fought anyone who can really hit him back yet.

"I didn't know until I fought [Chris] Eubank. When someone takes your best punches and just stands there and hits you back on the chin - then you can see what you've got."

see also
Cleverly targets world title tilt
20 Jul 09 |  Boxing
Cleverly stops McIntosh for title
18 Jul 09 |  Boxing
Calzaghe makes Maccarinelli plea
22 Jul 09 |  Boxing
McGuigan backs Cleverly for title
16 Jul 09 |  Boxing
Cleverly leaves Calzaghe stable
05 Sep 08 |  Boxing
I'm on Calzaghe trail - Cleverly
04 Nov 07 |  Boxing
Undefeated Calzaghe quits boxing
05 Feb 09 |  Boxing
Calzaghe's 10 career highs
05 Feb 09 |  Boxing
Wales' boxing world champions
25 Mar 08 |  Boxing
Wales' pugilist princes
15 May 09 |  Boxing
Wales' boxing history in photos
24 May 09 |  Boxing
BBC Sport Wales coverage
03 Oct 11 |  Wales

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