Fireworks were always expected for the highly anticipated WBO Light Heavyweight title fight this past Saturday, as Britain’s own Nathan Cleverly (26-1, 12KO’s) and Russia’s Sergey Kovalev (22-0-1, 20 KO’s) faced off at the Motorpoint Arena in Cardiff.
Both men were heading into the bout unbeaten and neither had taken a backward step to that point in their careers. The winner had the ultimate prize of a potential unification bout with the legendary Bernard Hopkins, so stakes could not really be any higher for the combatants.
The fight itself began with Kovalev taking the fight to the (then) Champion who, to his credit, showed his toughness and threw back landing decent shots of his own.
From early on, though, it was obvious that Kovalev's shots were doing far more damage than Cleverly's, yet the Welshman did manage to cut Kovalev over the right eye in the second round.
That success was short-lived and the third round was when it all began to go seriously wrong for Nathan as Kovalev scored two knockdowns and had Cleverly out on his feet at the end of the round as referee Terry O’ Connor had to guide the badly hurt Welshman back to his corner where his father and trainer Vince Cleverly tried to bring his son back to his senses.
By the end of the minute Cleverly did seem to be getting his senses back, but I feared at the time one minute was not enough time for him to recover and that proved to be the case as the hard punching Russian continued from where he left off at the end of the third round and forced the referee to stop the fight just 21 seconds into the fourth round.
In his post-fight interview, the delighted Kovalev said: “This is my dream. I will add this belt to my collection. There are many people in Russia and around the world who supported me. This is for them.”
Kovalev’s promoter, Kathy Duva of Main Events, was equally delighted, saying: “Sergey did everything we expected him to do tonight and more. There is a reason we call him ‘Crusher’, and he showed why tonight. He is the Russian Wrecking Ball and I will call on HBO Monday to start planning his next fight.”
A clearly distraught Cleverly left the ring before he could be interviewed but had this to say on BBC Wales’ Radio Wales sports programme when asked about his future: "Instinctively I'll know…. I could say to myself, 'get back, that's where you belong, give it another blast, become world champion again.
"Or I could say, 'listen, I've not got the desire anymore'. If I've not got the desire for boxing, it's the last sport I want to be hanging around, scraping around in. I've got that decision to make and I'll know instinctively in a couple of months' time, it'll come to me and I'll go from there.”
Meanwhile Cleverly’s promoter Frank Warren told the Daily Mail: ”We'll see what happens with regards to any rematch. It's early days. We'll let him have a break. It's all a bit raw at the moment so we'll have a chat in a few weeks and see where we go.”
He added: "There isn't a rematch clause but I'm sure we could talk. At this stage I'm not even thinking about a rematch. The most important thing now is for him to go and have a holiday and when he comes back we'll chat and see what is the way forward”.
Cleverly has the intelligence and the quality to learn from this defeat and come back a better fighter, but it remains to be seen whether he has the heart to do that.
He is now on holiday in Cyprus where he must make the most important decision of his career. If he does indeed decide to retire from boxing at just 26, then we are losing a talented fighter but if your heart isn’t in the game then boxing is the last game you want to be in.
Hopefully whatever decision he makes will be the right one.
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