I've always said as soon as I lose in boxing I will get out of the sport
ON Sunday evening, I called former WBO light-heavyweight champion Nathan Cleverly.
Understandably downbeat and forlorn, Nathan Cleverly had lost his title to Russian Sergey Kovalev less than 24 hours earlier.
Nathan tried to assure me that he was okay, but the despondency in his voice indicated otherwise. His unbeaten record is in bits and his outlook unclear.
"I'm okay mate," he said. "Like I said, at this level in boxing it's only a matter of time. It's pretty much impossible to remain unbeaten. When it does happen it's a bit sickening but I'm in a good place. No worries."
Nathan Cleverly speaks highly of Kovalev, discusses his lack of defensive training, 'soft defences' and the his uncertainty about fighting on in an incredibly candid interview, while heaping praise on Kovalev. "The Russian's exceptional," he explained, a really good guy, really top fighter."
Tell me a bit about what happened?
Well, there was a brilliant atmosphere going into the fight and I was feeling positive. It was a dangerous fight, we all knew that, Kovalev was going into the fight as the favourite and in all fairness, as the bookies' favourite, when you think about it and look at it the bookies they rarely get things wrong. That's what they specialise in and why they do what they do and they rarely get the odds wrong. They predicted a Kovalev win and credit to him. He came over, I gave him the opportunity to fight for the world title, I mentioned this guy and he came over and took a chance and you've got to give him credit for that.
Were you surprised by how hard he hit?
I suppose I wasn't surprised because with his record it was inevitable that he was a banger and every shot he threw was a thudding shot. It was like a hammer. He wasn't rapid fast, he had good timing, good distance and his punches were just so hard... His jab, his right hand. Just when he caught you on the shoulder he would have an impact and he was just clubbing me. He just clubs you with his heavy hands and he's the type to just club you into submission. That's his aim. To club you until he puts you down. I just kept it tight early but I knew, after taking a few of his punches, I knew I couldn't afford to be caught with a shot on the chin. I knew that. I remember thinking in the first round, if he catches me clean, I'm gone. I remember thinking that. Obviously then I kept it tight, I didn't let my hands go myself because I was concentrating on defence. First round, second round were quite similar. I started letting my hands go more in the second round, quite an even-ish round and at the start of the third round I felt good. My double jabs were starting to land, I thought Kovalev was there to be hit and two-thirds of the way through the round I just remember getting caught on the back of the head by a right hand and I kind of dipped down low and it knocked my co-ordination out and I went down on one knee and from that point, from that first knockdown, I didn't recover 100 per cent. I got up but at that point I didn't feel all clear, I was still a bit dazed and it was a downward spiral from then on.
After the first, despite saying you could feel his power, did you still think it was all to play for?
Yes. I thought I'd just let Kovalev have the first round and I thought I edged the second and had started to win the third round and then I got caught and once he hurt me he sensed that and he just went for the kill. He's got a good killer instinct on him and he took his chance. It's a shame really. It's a shame I didn't get to take him into my part of the fight, the second half, but once he hurt me he just didn't let me off the hook.
You said you were prepared for his power but your chin has always held firm before, it's one thing him punching hard, another thing thinking you would be able to take it. Is that fair to say?
Yeah. I did think I would be able to take it but I knew, I knew – and especially from the first round – I knew if he caught me clean it was highly likely I would go. Even the shots on the gloves and the shoulder, the impact was really heavy. It was clear to me from the first couple of punches that when this guy landed I would be in trouble. But, I felt providing I kept it tight, I could perhaps absorb it for a lot of rounds. I could do that. But when I got caught cleanly on the back of the head there was no recovering from that.
How good is Kovalev, you described him as a monster and that is what he looked like last night...
Yup. He's very good. His timing is excellent, he cuts the ring off very well and his power in both hands is exceptional. Do I think he can be beaten? Yes, he possibly can be beaten by a slick boxer but it's going to be very very hard for them. This guy is on a mission, he's unbeaten, he's knocking everybody over, he's going to be a hard guy to stop. It's just like a tank coming towards you and he just bulldozes his way through you. He's very good. And I felt if there was someone to beat him it would be me. I thought I was the guy who would possibly beat Kovalev because of my speed and my chin and my stamina I thought I had the style to beat him, but I didn't get the chance. He caught me in the third round. It's a shame.
You've been criticised before for being too brave, in the third round you dropped your hands and beckoned him in didn't you?
To be honest, when I get caught sometimes I lose my style, my form. I've never really executed my defence in the gym too much, I've always been an attacking fighter and I've always just instinctively gone on my defence and when he caught me I think I showed some inexperience, I didn't cover up too well, left openings for the follow up shots and he's very accurate and he found the openings with his accuracy and credit to him for that. But I think I showed a bit of inexperience when I got caught, I tried to hold, he kind of denied me that and his leg movement... He kept his range so it allowed him to tee-off on me. He was setting me up for the big shots. It was very difficult. He's a class fighter who's got the distance, got that timing and when he's got you going he knows how to finish you and he was good. It was good killer instinct from him and partly bad defensive work from me.
But I'd say more credit should go to Kovalev for his finishing instincts.
You sound incredibly downbeat, have you spoken to many people today?
Yes, I've been with my girlfriend mostly. Obviously she's there for me and it's nice to be out. We did some shopping this morning, went for a bit of food somewhere where there was a bit of atmosphere. It's just a matter of getting back to normal life as soon as I can, really, and getting back to normality again. This is boxing at the top level. It's a tough sport, you know, and I know how tough this sport is and you could say it was only a matter of time before something like this happened. In boxing, if you're fighting at the top level, it's only a matter of time before someone gets beat and that day came for me yesterday. Some people have two defences of their world title, some people have three, some people have 10 and I've lost my title in my sixth defence. So every world champion has their timescale and the ending came for me in my sixth defence. There's no shame in that. It's a pity the journey came to an end then but that's life. That's professional sport. That's boxing. You pick yourself up and get on with it.
So what happens next for you?
I've had two fights in a row now and I haven't really had a break and bounced straight back into this one – and it's been a long training camp. So it's just time to have a normal life for a bit, maybe just have a couple of months just resting and enjoying myself and leaving it to my inclinations to guide me, really. See what my desire is, if I want to continue. Am I going to stay at light-heavy? Will I continue boxing? Do I want to find something else to do in life? It's a matter of having a break and letting my inclinations guide me.
What's your gut instinct, or is it too raw?
Well, I don't feel too devastated, in all fairness, because when you're fighting someone like Kovalev, in preparation you're always telling yourself and setting yourself up for the worst, to an extent. 'What if you do lose? What if he does catch me and I can't recover and he beats me? Then what would I do in life? Would I continue? Or do I find another career path?' What's my gut instinct now? Just live a bit. Live a bit for a couple of months with friends, with family, have a few drinks, have a bit of junk food, have a few nights out, go on holiday. You know, your instinct will guide you. I've always said as soon as I lose in boxing I will get out of the sport. Do I stick to that? Who knows. We'll see.
After the event, there are some saying you've had easy fights and now you've stepped up you've been exposed. That's harsh, isn't it? You've got those wins over Bellew and Murat...
That's it. You look at The Ring magazine top 10 and Kovalev's the third top 10 guy I've fought in The Ring magazine rankings and that takes all the rankings in order, that's Kovalev, Bellew and Murat and I've fought three of them and I'm one of the top 10, too. That's not bad going. In fairness, a lot of people tar me because I'm a Frank Warren fighter, I think I get tarred with that brush and obviously there may have been a few soft defences in there which are no fault of my own. If I had my way, I would have been straight to the unification fights. I wanted Shumenov and Tavoris Cloud as soon as I became world champion but boxing never happens like that. The politics doesn't allow you to make fights like that straight away. It's unfortunate.
Those so-called 'soft defences' do allow you to make a bit more of a living, though?
Yes, it does. You get a bit of money in the bank. It's not great money but it keeps you ticking over and it builds you up ready for that big fight. This was a big fight but like I said, Kovalev was relatively an unknown but we know who he is now because he's exceptional, that guy.
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