By Alex Beard (@alex_beard17)
It didn’t happen the way he would’ve wanted, but Nathan Cleverly became a two-time world champion last night after Juergen Braehmer withdrew from their bout at the halfway stage.
With the German two rounds up on all three judge’s scorecards, he was forced to retire before round seven due to a dislocated elbow. Cleverly seemed to be the only man in the arena who knew what was going on as he strapped the WBA ‘regular’ light-heavyweight world title around his waist.
The Welshman (30-3-KO16) set a ferocious pace from the start, claiming the centre of the ring and hammering away at his opponent. His game plan was clearly to draw Braehmer into a war of attrition and despite being second best for much of the early goings, there was a sense that the tide was turning right before Braehmer pulled out.
Braehmer produced much the cleaner work for the majority of the fight, picking Cleverly off with slick combinations. Cleverly was never deterred, though, and continued to tuck his chin down and plod forwards. He had plenty of success himself too, finding Braehmer’s body continually while stinging the German with a heavy uppercut in the second.
With the judging of the rounds presumably decided by a preference for either work rate or accuracy it would have been interesting to see how the fight unfolded over the second half of the contest. Even without the injury it is very possible that Cleverly would’ve wore his man down anyway, but the fight was unfolding into a fascinating clash of styles.
Cleverly must be applauded for dictating the pace and for making Braehmer fight his kind of fight, and also for going over to Germany and taking the title – never an easy thing to do whatever the circumstances.
The 29-year-old told Sky Sports afterwards: “I’m just so very grateful to be world champion for a second time. I won the world title when I was 24 and I was loving it, living the dream.
“I lost my belt in my sixth defence and I needed this belt back in my life. I came back for it, I’ve worked hard, dedicated myself and now I’m a two-time champion of the world.
“I’m grateful to Braehmer for giving me the shot at the title. He’s been a great champion but he’s 37 years of age now and it’s time for a younger man to take the title now. It’s time for a new champion. If he wants the rematch we’ve got a clause if he really wants it.
“Ultimately I broke Braehmer up in the first six rounds. It was only going one way but if he wants a rematch, we’ll do it.”
Certainly Cleverly has several options after this win. Chief amongst those, of course, is a potential rematch with Braehmer. At 37 years of age Cleverly may feel that Braehmer will only be worse if they fought again, while the former champion will argue that he was ahead on the scorecards and therefore could beat Cleverly next time.
Alternatively, rising Columbian Eleider Alvarez (20-0-KO10) is searching for a marquee opponent with his best win thus far being a majority decision against the tough Isaac Chilemba. This is the sort of high-risk high-reward contest that Cleverly has never shied away from, and it would outline where exactly each man stands in the light-heavyweight division.
Chilemba (24-4-2-KO10) himself is also an intriguing option. Last seen giving Sergey Kovalev real problems in July, the Malawian is nevertheless riding a two-fight losing streak and would represent a credible yet winnable first defence for Cleverly.
American Joe Smith Jr. (22-1-KO18) is coming off the biggest win of his career, having knocked out former Cleverly opponent Andrzej Fonfara in the first round in June. Smith Jr. was fighting in relative obscurity prior to that stunning upset and the only way to know how good he really is is to put him in with another top light heavyweight.
Finally there is the most daunting and also possibly the most realistic proposition. Prior to Cleverly’s win the WBA had ordered their ‘regular’ champion to face their ‘super’ champion, one Sergey Kovalev (30-0-1-KO26). Presumably that still stands and if so Cleverly will be forced to face the toughest outing of his career against either the man who ripped his world title away in 2013 (Kovalev) or arguably the best pure boxer in the sport today in Andre Ward (30-0-KO15).
Whatever happens, Cleverly has a multitude of interesting options having reignited his career with a world title win in Germany, no mean feat.by