Tonight British boxers in a variety of venues will fight for a variety of reasons in search of a strong position in the global jigsaw. Tyson Fury, in New York, and Nathan Cleverly, at Wembley Arena, have the most to gain and the most to lose.
Cleverly will be defending his WBO light-heavyweight title against his mandatory challenger Robin Krasniqi as part of an eight-hour show featuring 14-fights from the old venue. Meanwhile, in the basement at Madison Square Garden, formerly known as the Felt Forum, Fury, the pride of the travelling world, is in a world heavyweight title eliminator against the brilliant American Steve Cunningham.
Krasniqi is an enigma in the modern game with 39 wins spread through the German suburbs in fights that took place under most radars, but he is fresh, big at the weight and confident. He is also standing between Cleverly and an agreed fight with Bernard Hopkins, one of the sport’s cash cows. The Hopkins fight would vanish, and with it a life-changing purse, if Cleverly loses.
“The pressure is on me to win, win well and get the Hopkins fight signed and sealed,” said Cleverly, a Cardiff University graduate who is unbeaten in 25 fights. “It’s been a frustrating period with fights announced, dropped and opponents pulling out.” So far four of Cleverly’s five opponents in world title fights have been switched; the late-replacements have slowed his recognition.
Fury is a baby in the heavyweight business coming in two inches taller but nearly 18 years younger than the division’s towering master Vitali Klitschko, and 13 years younger than Wladimir, the slicker of the fighting brothers. However, Fury has dismissed the two sacred lumps that have ruled the heavyweight sector with class and style for a decade.
“The Klitschko brothers will never fight me and I will keep knocking out other Eastern European stiffs until they have to retire to avoid me,” said Fury. “Nobody cares about Eastern European fighters and I’m here to deliver the glamour – that is why I’m at Madison Square Garden and they fight at beer festivals.”
A witness to the latest and boldest claims from Fury was Cunningham, who has carved out a great career as a cruiserweight world champion and a gentleman in the sport, and, not for the first time, he simply shook his head in disbelief. “He sure does talk a lot,” said Cunningham. “I just hope I get some respect when I whup him.”
Cunningham will be about six inches shorter, more than three stone lighter but has both the skills and the power to beat Fury in a long fight. Their clash is for the IBF’s No 2 position and the winner has to fight Kubrat Pulev for the right to fight Wladimir. It is, make no mistake, a massive night for Fury and British heavyweight boxing.
A Cleverly and Fury double would be a fantastic boost to a short season of fights that includes world champions Ricky Burns and Carl Froch next month, the return of Amir Khan and David Haye back fighting in June.