Cleverly vs. Kovalev: Is Nathan clever enough to deal with the pressure?

By Chris Carlson - 08/16/2013 - Comments

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This Saturday on HBO Nathan Cleverly and Sergey Kovalev will get their biggest test to date when they collide in the ring live from Cardiff, Wales. The stage is set, both men unbeaten and fell ready to take the next step up the ladder at the light heavyweight division.

Can Cleverly step up to the challenge of facing a dangerous fighter who will thrown combination punches and with major power in both hands? Will Kovalev be able to handle the pressure of being under the bright lights of HBO, in the Welshman’s backyard, and if the fight makes it to the championship rounds will stamina play a role having only had 57 rounds in 22 fights?

The winner almost certainly will get future HBO options, a pay increase, and will be one step closer to taking on the king of the division.

After collecting another win in April Nathan Cleverly had is eye’s set on a big fight. A name not just U.K. fans would recognize, but one that would draw enough interest from HBO or Showtime.

He called out the legend of longevity Bernard Hopkins, to which Bhop obliged stating several times he was willing to travel across the pond to make the fight happen. HBO was clearly interested in Cleverly just not so keen on him facing Hopkins.

Hopkins ties to Golden Boy promotions/Showtime has created yet another casualty in the ongoing cold war with HBO/Top Rank, after HBO turned down what would have been a huge fight in Canada between Bernard Hopkins and the new king at 175 Adonis Stevenson.

Showtime wanted to buy the Hopkins/Cleverly fight attempting to stifle any future plans HBO had for the unbeaten fighter from Wales. After Bhop’s fight with Karo Murat was canceled due to visa issues, Showtime showed no interest in Murat’s replacement, the newly named IBF mandatory challenger Sergey Kovalev.

Maybe they saw Kovalev being more of a threat to Hopkins than Cleverly. There excuse makes one think that was the case, stating the reason for not being interested in the fight is the fear of Kovalev possible winning only to walk down the road to HBO and join the unofficial light heavyweight tourney. If that’s the case Nathan Cleverly could have done the same thing with Showtime having no invested interest in either fighter.

Kathy Duva saw the writing on the wall. Instead of her client being left out of a fight on a major network she decided to close the deal that was being negotiated with Nathan Cleverly.

Now Bhop will be the odd man out and seemly not being able to compete in the HBO tourney. I refer to it as a tournament with no press release. With fights signed like Stevenson vs. Cloud, Jean Pascal vs. Lucian Bute, Cleverly vs. Kovalev, not to mention Andre Ward is just a weight class below, it’s safe to say the next 2 years of round robin matchmaking by HBO will decide who the king of a weight 175 pound weight class.

The division is reloaded. Stevenson’s shocking 1st round knockout of Chad Dawson, ushers in a few new names to what has been an already active round robin division of top tier fighters facing other top opponents the last few years which in turn brought big fights and upsets.

Not that we know how we got to this place let’s get into some details for this fight that will headline a very solid tripleheader on HBO.

Nathan Cleverly became world champion at light heavyweight when he won the interim version WBO belt on December 11, 2010. Since then he’s made 5 defenses of his title, making a name for himself in the U.K. All of that accomplished at the tender age of 26.

But some critics wonder after going 26-0 if the Welshman and his promoter have really challenged him considering he has held a world title for over 2 ½ years.

Those same critics point to his fight with Tony Bellow back in October 2011, his toughest test to date, for being a prime example of the media overrating his worth as a fighter. Some fans in the western hemisphere don’t consider Cleverly to be a true contender at 175 world title or not, solely based off his performance that fall night in Liverpool.

Cleverly has good hand speed, likes to establish his jab to set up accurate punches to the head and body. He seems most comfortable throwing lead left hooks, overhand rights and uppercuts all behind a jab.

When it comes to infighting, Nathan has shown both positives and negatives when battling deep inside the pocket. He has the ability to duck a punch and counter back with a short right hand. Some flaws in the phone booth are a tendency to lean in and leaving himself open when he punches. In his fight with Bellow, Cleverly was getting countered after or over his jab constantly. As a result his activity dropped on the inside.

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In other fights Nathan has let his hands go standing right in front of his opponents. In the Bellow fight he was throwing one punch at a time something he will have to change versus Kovalev.

Defensive liabilities could ultimately be Cleverly’s saving grace or his undoing this Saturday night. As previously mentions he can move his upper body, on the outside his hands are down by his waist choosing to rely on reflex alone. When the opponent is close the hands go up, in the fight with Bellow his hands were high but it wasn’t a tight guard allowing Bellow to land to the head and body on the inside.

The Bellow fight could have gone either way. I’m not the only fan or scribe that saw a draw or Tony Bellow winning. The blueprint to slow down Cleverly, take his length and work rate away, was laid out for Kovalev to copy or improve on from Bellow’s performance.

Sergey Kovalev has been billed as a fighter that possess true one punch knockout power a trait that is very valuable to a boxer. It can build your fan base rapidly and just as important, keeps you alive with a chance to change to momentum in a fight with one flush shot.

Just like Cleverly with Bellow, Kovalev has been tested and pushed to the limit in his fight with Darnell Boone. Boone’s record is very deceiving with more losses than wins but a deeper look into his resume is very impressive with the who’s who in or around the middle and light heavyweight division. For starters he beat current king at 175 Adonis Stevenson by technical knockout. Dropped Andre Ward in a loss, went the distance or pushed the likes of Jean Pascal, Erislandy Lara, Curtis Stevens, Edwin Rodriguez, Brandon Gonzales, Brian Vera, Craig McEwan, and the list goes on.
Not making excuses but it was a stiff test for a fighter in his 10th fight and he past it by split decision. Kovalev was dropped for the first time in his career but was able to get up and survive.

Power punching is what Kovalev is known for yet he doesn’t rely on landing one perfect punch. His has a decent jab, it’s usually the only time you will see him throw just one punch. Sergey can throw fluid combination punches without being overly aggressive, even when he has a fighter hurt.

Kovalev uses distance while measuring with faints adjusting to his opponent’s movements, even pulling back a punch taking a beat before he times his next flurry.

Those flurries usually consist of hooks and overhand rights but like Cleverly can be too wide to land as effect on the inside.

He keeps his hands too low on the outside, can move his head and upper body well but also has a habit of keeping his head in the center when throwing punches. The most glaring weakness is a product of being a knockout artist, having only boxed 57 rounds so far. That issue could rear its ugly head the way it did midway through a fight that ended in the seventh round. Tragically days later Roman Simakov never regaining consciousness and pasted away. In that fight you could see Kovalev was gassed and started to arm punch a bit, only to catch his wind an finish strong.

That might be Nathan Cleverly’s only major advantage, that fact that he has 171 rounds boxed and had gone 12 rounds on five separate occasions in his career. If Cleverly can survive the early rounds without getting hurt, keep a steady workrate, Kovalev’s lack of rounds could play a role both mentally and physically for the second half of the fight.
Can Cleverly handle the pressure that Kovalev will bring with intelligence? Does Cleverly even have that skill at a high enough level to fight on the move from the outside defending himself against a big puncher?

He has shown the ability to stick and move but I can’t help to think that his heart as a fighter will beat to a different drum. If Cleverly does have early success who will win out his heart or his mind? He may be too tempted to please his home crowd and the HBO viewing audience.

Sometimes when a fighter gets fed solid guys but not enough step up fights, the fighter naturally becomes comfortable only to be brought back to reality smack dab in the middle of a fight. And that’s exactly what this scribe thinks may happen.

He was getting beat early in the Tony Bellow fight and he responded by wiggling his hips and shoulders with his arms up in the air acting like the punches didn’t bother him at all. This time he will be in with someone who can punch with both hands.

Cleverly has good offensive skill but his flaws defensively coupled with the lack of power necessary to keep Kovalev off him for a full 12 rounds make it to hard for me to pick him to win the fight.

My official prediction is a mid to late knockout by Sergey Kovalev.

Whatever Cleverly lacks in top level skill he has already shown enough heart in previous fights to assume that he will make it a 2 way fight for as long as it last.

Written by Chris Carlson Owner and Host of Rope A Dope Radio
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Last Updated on 08/16/2013