Nathan Cleverly 25-0 (12KOs) will be headlining a bumper Wembly bill in London this Saturday, when he defends his WBO World Light-Heavyweight Championship against mandatory challenger Robin Krasniqi 39-2 (15 KOs). Promoted by Frank Warren, the fight card has been dubbed ‘Rule Britannia’ and will also feature the return of controversial Heavyweight Dereck Chisora, and an interesting match up between Liam Walsh and Scott Harrison at Lightweight. This is a very important fight for top of the bill Cleverly, as he stands on the threshold of a possible unification fight with boxing legend Bernard Hopkins, who became boxing’s oldest ever world champion recently, by defeating Tavoris Cloud for the IBF Light-Heavyweight title at the ripe ole age of 48.
Krasniqi has been waiting for his shot at Cleverly since last year, and finally gets his chance after various delays and postponements, which gives the impression that the Welshman’s camp were none too keen for this fight to go ahead. The German Challenger has won 38 fights in a row since losing two of his first three professional contests, and looks to be a difficult opponent, with well-schooled boxing skills and fast hands, which he utilizes with a very useful jab.
Cleverly is trying to emulate the past success enjoyed by Welsh compatriot Joe Calzaghe, who retired undefeated WBO Super-Middleweight Champion, in 2008 after 46 fights and 21 world title defenses. However Cleverly (who was at one point trained by Calzaghe’s father Enzo) has recently found his career somewhat stalled, and like Calzaghe before him, faced criticism of being over protected by Promoter Warren (who also promoted Calzaghe). Warren has faced a difficult time of late with a number of high profile boxers leaving his stable, amid concerns that he is unable to secure them the fights which they need to stay active and take their careers forward. Amid the recent exodus, which included George Groves, James Degale, and Ricky Burns in recent months, Cleverly chose to declare his loyalty to Warren, partly based on his belief that the veteran promoter will be able to secure a big fight with Bernard Hopkins.
If Cleverly is able to get Bernard Hopkins into same ring, then it would be an ideal opportunity for him to enter the select membership of boxing’s elite fighters. That is if he manages to defeat Hopkins, which would be no easy thing, despite the twenty-two years difference in age between them in Cleverly’s favour.
In his most recent fight Cleverly went to America and defended his title against Shaun Hawk, at Staples Centre, Los Angeles, stopping Hawk in the 8th round after flooring him three times. The fight gave Cleverly some much-needed exposure in what had been a quiet year with just one other contest that having been in February, against lightly regarded Tommy Karpency.
Despite all the talk of fighting Hopkins, and even a possible domestic showdown with IBF World Super-middleweight champion Carl Froch, Cleverly may well have his hands full with Krasniqi, and knows that a poor performance, even a winning one, could cost him any proposed big fights. Frank Warren will certainly be hoping that Cleverly comes through this defence an impressive winner, as he is one of Warren few remaining world-class fighters.
Chief support to Cleverly vs. Krasniqi, is Heavyweight Dereck Chisora’s 15-4 (9 KOs) comeback fight against Argentine veteran Hector Alfredo Avila 20-12-1 (13 KOs). This is Chisora’s first appearance since he was stopped in the 5th round by David Haye in their now notorious clash at London’s Upton Park last July, which was preceded and largely promoted by a shambolic press conference brawl in Germany. Chisora, or ‘Del Boy’ as he likes to be called, was suspended by the British Boxing Board of Control, after his little German fracas with Haye, but like Haye, simply fought under the Luxemburg banner when the two met a few months later in Upton Park.
After regaining his license from the ever-forgiving British Boxing Board of Control in March, Chisora is looking to put the Haye fight behind him and gain another shot at the World Heavyweight title. Despite his often erratic behaviour in and out of the ring, ’Del Boy’ can fight when the mood is with him, and he is properly fit. Although he has lost four of his last five fights, he gave a good account of himself when challenging Vitali Klitschko for the WBC World Heavyweight title, going the distance and giving Vitali some uncomfortable moments. Chisora’s point’s loss to Tyson Fury, who is now highly ranked in the world’s ratings, was close, despite Chisora being about a stone overweight. When he was stopped by Haye last year, Chisora again didn’t look in top shape. Chisora seems to be a talented fighter who is prone to erratic mood swings, which can often be seen, in his fluctuating fighting weight. ’Del Boy’ certainly needs to look good against Avila, who seems to be a typically tough but limited Argentine Heavyweight. With eight of his defeats coming inside the distance and at the age of 38, it doubtful that the Argentine will last long against Chisora. The plan seems to be for ’Del Boy’ to score a early knockout win, as a warm up for a hoped for big fight in the Summer, perhaps against domestic rival David Price, who he has already started calling out.
The British Heavyweight scene is very busy and exciting at the moment, with David Haye returning in July, Tyson Fury on verge of a title shot, and David Price still a factor despite his recent defeat, there are many possible big fights out there for Chisora if he can get back on track this Saturday.
Also amongst the main attractions is an interesting clash between Liam Walsh 13-0 (10 KOs) and Scott Harrison 27-2-2 (15 KOs) for Walsh’s rather spurious WBO European Lightweight Championship. The fight itself is intriguing, as it could be described as an old-fashioned crossroads match, with Harrison the battle worn ex world champion, facing the fresh rising star in Walsh. With Harrison, the story runs much deeper though, as few world champions in recent years have fallen so far and so fast, as he has done. At one time Harrison was considered a National hero in Scotland and one of the brightest world champions in the lighter divisions. Between 2002 and 2006, Harrison had two reigns as WBO World Featherweight Champion, including ten title fights, winning nine of them, but saw his life and career go spectacularly off the rails in 2006. After successfully defending his title in late 2005, Harrison’s life descended into a mire of chaos, fuelled by alcohol, drugs and depression, culminating in him being stripped of his title in late 2006, and going on into repeated trouble with the law. Harrison was out of the ring from 2005 to 2012 as his life became a kind of dark soap opera, and he spent time in both Scottish and Spanish jails.
Following his release from a Spanish prison last year, Harrison finally made a comeback to the ring, winning two low-key fights, but such was the opposition, it was difficult to really see how much the Scot has left at 35, and after almost a decade of self-abuse. Despite his efforts to get his life back in order, Harrison has been dogged since his comeback by rumours of him falling off the wagon, and getting involved in various episodes of erratic behaviour. He is also still facing a further four year jail term in Spain, on charges dating back some years, which he is appealing.
This is certainly the last throw of the dice for Harrison and Walsh is far and away the first serious opponent that the Scot has faced in the ring for eight years. Despite his relative inexperience compared to Harrison, Walsh is a clever southpaw boxer with good speed and an entertaining fighting style. One of three fighting brothers, Walsh at 26 should be far too fresh and mobile for the much slower former Featherweight Champion. Harrisons only chance may be if Walsh gets careless, or elects to slug it out with the still strong Scot. Having said that, this looks like being a painful night for Scott Harrison, with Walsh just being too young and too fast for him.
Sadly once it’s gone it’s gone for good.
Frank Warren will be looking for his fighters to come through the ‘Rule Britannia’ bill unscathed, as they may well be headlining a big Summer promotion.