Nathan Cleverly eyes Bernard Hopkins unification fight after Wembley win

No sooner had Nathan Cleverly schooled the limited but game Robin Krasniqi on Saturday night than he began lobbying for an examination by the craftiest boxing professor of them all, Bernard Hopkins – and pledged to begin unifying the light-heavyweight division in 2013.

Cleverly is due to make a mandatory defence of his WBO title against the German challenger Jürgen Brähmer next but he wants to start ripping the belts off the other world champions, including the IBF's Hopkins – who at 48 is the oldest world champion in boxing history – before the year is out.

"Although I'm due to face Brähmer I don't think he really wants to fight me," Cleverly said after his unanimous points victory over Krasniqi. "I'm still learning but I'm winning and winning quite well now, so I want fights that test me and that's the elite fights now – Hopkins and those guys.

"Maybe [the WBA light-heavyweight champion] Beibut Shumenov will be a good option and the winner maybe gets Hopkins."

Cleverly's camp believes that an elite-level opponent will bring out the best of his talents but Krasniqi was certainly not that man. Perhaps that should have been expected: the Germany-based Kosovan arrived in London with a decent 39-2 record but only 15 of his victories had been against fighters with winning records.

Class and experience told. Apart from decent sixth and seventh rounds, during which he landed a right hand that was probably the best punch in the fight, he found Cleverly too sharp and cute.

The 34-year-old Brähmer, the former WBO champion, would be expected to provide Cleverly with a sterner test. But the fight has fallen through before. The German, who has won 38 of his 40 fights – 30 of them by knockout – was due to defend his title against Cleverly in 2011 before pulling out with an eye injury.

Cleverly, who has since made five defences of his title, is tired of bobbing under the radar. He is 26 now, has served his apprenticeship and made his fair share of easy defences. Now, like his good friend Joe Calzaghe at a similar point in his career, he craves the biggest names and the brightest lights. As a maths graduate, he can do the numbers and knows the money that potentially awaits.

When it was put to him that Hopkins would never leave America, Cleverly replied: "If he doesn't want to come out of America I will make sure I go there and take that belt off him."

Now words have to be matched by deeds. To that end, Cleverly's promoter, Frank Warren, is hoping to put the wheels in motion for a reunification fight by getting the Welshman on the same bill as Hopkins's fight against Germany's Karo Murat in New York on 27 July.

Warren, who praised Cleverly's performance as "a boxing masterclass" – which is overdoing it somewhat – said: "He was in the comfort zone at all times and showed he had a good chin. These mandatory defences are a bit of a pain and he [Cleverly] needs a challenge and needs to step up and fight the elite fighters, the other world champions.

"Nathan will rise to the occasion when he is in these fights, which is why I want to do them now. We are looking at Nathan fighting on the same show as Bernard Hopkins's next fight, and if that doesn't happen he will fight in Cardiff in July. I don't know if the Brähmer fight will happen next. He has pulled out three times."

Powered by article was written by Sean Ingle at Wembley Arena, for The Guardian on Sunday 21st April 2013 22.00 Europe/London © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010


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