Cleverly keeps his cool to earn his crown

After the disappointment of seeing his German opponent and world titlist Juergen Brahmer pull out of their showdown at the O2 in London just three days before the fight, Nathan Cleverly awoke to what he thought was a double dose of good news on Thursday morning.

WBO champion Nathan Cleverly

Wales' Nathan Cleverly

Firstly, It was confirmed that the unbeaten Welshman had been handed Brahmer’s WBO light-heavyweight title without throwing a punch after his promoter Frank Warren successully lobbied the WBO for the erratic German to be stripped of his belt.

Secondly, it was confirmed later that day that the unbeaten Commonwealth champion Tony Bellew (15-0, 10 KOs) would be stepping into Brahmer’s shoes for a shot at Cleverly’s world title.

But the second dose of news barely had time to settle before the loudmouthed Bellew – who deserves great credit for signing up to fight at such short notice – was found to be over the weight limit by several pounds and had to be withdrawn. So Cleverly was again without an opponent just days before the showpiece event at London’s O2 Arena, which he was supposed to be headlining.

The all-British match-up was made all the more intriguing by the fact that the 28-year-old Liverpudlian has called out Cleverly several times in the past, only for his pleas to fall on deaf ears as the Welshman moved up the rankings and got himself in line for world title shot.

Bad blood

And then there was the feisty press conference to promote the hastily arranged fight, where the two men almost came to blows and had to be separated by Nathan’s promoter Frank Warren. It seems inevitable that the pair will cross paths again in the not too distant future, but on this occasion, it just wasn’t meant to be.

So after some frantic last minute matchmaking by Warren it was finally confirmed that Cleverly would be taking on the relatively unknown Polish challenger Aleksy Kuziemski, who was actually ranked higher by the WBC than unbeaten Commonwealth belt holder Bellew. Kuziemski deserves even more plaudits for stepping in to the breach to save the main event with just 24 hours notice.

The fight turned out to be an entertaining one for as long as it lasted, with the game Kuziemski being stopped – perhaps a little prematurely- in the fourth round by American referee Danny Nelson. Before the stoppage for cut above his left eye, the 34-year-old Pole had one or two eye-catching moments, rocking Cleverly in the third round before the Welshman’s superior hand speed and power began to tell.

At the end of the contest, Cleverly proudly held his world title aloft after a convincing enough stoppage victory. “Now I’ll say Nathan Cleverly is the light-heavyweight champion of the world,” he told the assembled press.

Kuziemski also received a warm ovation from the raucous O2 crowd, who had appreciated the Pole’s spirited efforts in the ring and made their feelings known about the premature stoppage by greeting the decision with a chorus of boos.

Personal problems

Meanwhile, Brahmer’s (36-2, 29 KOs) career appears to be in jeopardy after he pulled out of the scheduled world title bout with Cleverly at the eleventh hour. The German cited an eye injury that had not been disclosed in his medical report submitted just two days earlier.

But Brahmer has form in this area. He also left Kazakhstan ahead of his unification fight with Beibut Shumenov (11-1, 7 KOs) in January this year without informing Shumenov’s promoter Dan Goossen. He later claimed to be suffering from an “acute gastrointestinal illness,” but few boxing observers believed his explanation. He has now not fought since April 2010, when he stopped the obscure Argentine Mariano Nicolas Plotinsky (16-4, 8 KOs) in five rounds.

Frank Warren was understandably furious with his decision to pull out of the heavily-promoted pay-per-view event and immediately called on the WBO to strip the German of his title.

The WBO’s European chairman Istvan Kovac later confirmed that Brahmer’s title had been awarded to Cleverly.

He said: “This is the third time Braehmer has pulled out of a title defence at short notice.

“He has had some personal problems in the past and I hope he can come back and fight again. But Nathan Cleverly is now the world champion and rightfully so because none of this was his fault.”

Better prepared

For Cleverly, it was the second consecutive fight that he has had to face an opponent at short notice. The Welshman laboured to a narrow points win over the slippery Nadjib Mohammedi (23-2, 12 KOs) last time out after his scheduled opponent, Alejandro Lakatos (31-5-2, 23 KOs) pulled out citing an injury. Cleverly clearly struggled with his opponent’s awkward, hit-and-move style – a stark contrast to Lakatos’ stand-and-trade approach  – and he was apparently distraught in the dressing room after the fight last December.

However, on this occasion, the 24-year-old was much better prepared. Cleverly’s father and trainer Vince told Sky Sports that his son had done some sparring with orthodox fighters, in the event that Brahmer, a southpaw, pulled out.

Although Cleverly left the O2 on 21 May as a world champion, the talented 24-year-old will have to prove he is a worthy titleholder in the coming months when he steps up his level of competition. However, Frank Warren’s calls for a homecoming fight with American legend Bernard Hopkins later this year are ill-advised to say the least, as the Welshman needs to find his feet at world level before he can even consider mixing in such exalted company.

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