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Saturday, 17 August 2013 00:00

Nathan Cleverly and Darren Barker set for career-defining bouts

Expect the British duo to leave everything in the ring on Saturday evening as they face huge tests on either side of the Atlantic
by John Wight

Boxing comment: On Saturday night two British fighters embark on the most important fights of their respective careers — fights that will determine their status in the sport and future prospects.

At Cardiff’s Motorpoint Arena, Wales’s current WBO light heavyweight world champion Nathan Cleverly faces a gruelling defence of his title against Russia’s hard-punching Sergey Kovalev, who comes with an unbeaten record of 21 wins from 22 fights and 1 draw.

The key stat where the Russian is concerned, and which has many British pundits worried, is that 19 of Kovalev’s victories have come by way of KO.

Cleverly views this fight as an opportunity to gain the respect he feels he hasn’t received as a world champion up to this point.

A pround warrior, he has revealed in various interviews during the build-up that going in as the bookies’ underdog has motivated him to train harder than he has for any fight.

Critics point to a record that lacks big-name opponents, even though promoter Frank Warren attempted unsuccessfully to match him with Carl Froch and Bernard Hopkins prior to making the Kovalev fight.

Kovalev is in many ways a more dangerous opponent than either Froch or Hopkins at this stage of the Welshman’s career, however.

He remains something of an unknown quantity on these shores and possesses a KO record which means that Cleverly cannot afford to make any mistakes.

Cleverly is known to occasionally let his heart rule his head in the ring, so the importance of a disciplined and measured approach cannot be overstated.

The danger is that driven on by a sell-out partisan crowd, the Welshman will get sucked into a gunfight without first breaking his opponent down, utilising his undoubted ability to box long and pick his shots.

For this reason an intriguing and explosive contest is assured. While there are times when boxing fans are entitled to feel short-changed when it comes to fights that are long on hype and short on quality, this is not one of them.

Warren deserves credit for believing in his fighter to the extent that he’s willing to match him against such a dangerous opponent in a fight which has echoes of the great nights when Joe Calzaghe was in his pomp and Welsh boxing was riding high.

Meanwhile across the Atlantic, at the Revel Casino Hotel in Atlantic City, Darren Barker challenges for the IBF middleweight title against current world champion Daniel Geale.

Barker — a former British, Commonwealth, and European champion — has had his fair share of bad luck and personal tragedy to deal with during his career.

The death of his brother Gary in a car accident back in 2006 led to him taking time out from the sport, while the recurrence of a hip injury during sparring for the defence of his British and European titles against Matthew Macklin in 2010 meant he had to vacate both titles.

In 2011 the popular Londoner challenged Argentina’s formidable Sergio Martinez for the WBC Diamond Middleweight title in Atlantic City.

Despite a brave performance, Barker went down in an 11th-round KO to suffer the first loss of his professional career.

Promoted by Eddie Hearns’s Matchroom stable, the 2002 Commonwealth Games gold medallist goes into his second attempt to bag a world title confident that he combines the experience and ability to succeed this time round.

Geale, his opponent, is a worthy champion. Like Barker, the Australian has only lost once in a career so far consisting of 30 fights. Notable names on his record are Felix Sturm and Anthony Mundine.

The added motivation for Barker in what on paper is a 50-50 fight is the knowledge that a loss will make it unlikely that he will challenge for a major world title again anytime soon.

At 31, Barker knows it’s a case of now or never, guaranteeing that he will leave nothing in the ring in his attempt to claim the IBF middleweight strap.

Whatever happens, both contests mark the beginning of an exciting period in British boxing.

On September 7 Scotland’s Ricky Burns defends his WBO lightweight title against Mexico’s Raymundo Beltran in Glasgow, while on September 28 the most eagerly anticipated domestic heavyweight clash since Lennox Lewis fought Frank Bruno back in 1996 sees David Haye take on Tyson Fury at the MEN Arena in Manchester.

As if this isn’t enough there is also the small matter of Carl Froch v George Groves to look forward to, scheduled to happen in either late November or early December.

Fans of the sport in Britain have never had it so good.

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