Boxing: Homecoming is first step to greatness for Cleverly if he boxes clever
The last time Nathan Cleverly fought in Wales, in 2007, the best part of 50,000 people were still wandering the Cardiff streets making their way to the Millennium stadium to watch a Joe Calzaghe masterclass.
The crowd will finally be there for Cleverly tonight when he returns to Wales and this time he is the main attraction at the Motorpoint Arena for his third defence of his WBO light-heavyweight title against American Tommy Karpency.
"It's been a long and winding journey to get the world title and to get back to Wales for this fight," said Cleverly, who has topped the bill in nearly a dozen cities since he last fought in Cardiff. "This is the start of what will be a great year for me in Wales."
It is an ideal selection for a homecoming because Karpency, who has lost twice in 24 fights, has enough form to not fall over and enough pride to make it entertaining until about round nine.
There is a convoluted form line that suggests Karpency is a bit tougher than I think: he lost on points to a guy who narrowly beat a guy who in turn easily beat but never got the decision over Tavoris Cloud, another of the world champions at Cleverly's weight. During the last three years Karpency has supplemented his ring earnings by touring America and being hired as a sparring partner for different world champions.
"Could I have been in world-title contention before now?" wondered Karpency. "Absolutely, but I had to make a few bucks and keep busy. Waiting for the phone to ring never made anybody rich."
Cleverly will need to keep the pace high tonight and not let Karpency get comfortable because a natural pre-requisite of sparring for a living is the ability to survive; Cleverly needs Karpency to fight, take a risk and leave himself exposed.
There is bold talk of a return to Cardiff and a fight at the Millennium Stadium for Cleverly at some point this year and there is, it has to be said, no shortage of opponents in America. There are even one or two on the domestic front.
Frank Warren, who promotes Cleverly and put on that Calzaghe fight in 2007, said:"Right now Nathan is in a very good position. A quality win will move him closer to the type of fights that all champions want."
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