Nathan Cleverly, one of the brightest young talents in British boxing, takes another step toward a world title shot when he meets Italian veteran Antonio Brancalion for the vacant European light-heavyweight championship at the Wembley Arena this Saturday.
Cleverly tops a Frank Warren bill that also features prospects Derek Chisora, Kevin Mitchell, James DeGale and Frankie Gavin.
The Welshman has captured the imagination of UK fight fans over the last ten months with a string of impressive stoppage victory´s. He is a heavy favorite to score another spectacular win this weekend.
34 year old Brancalion (32-7-2, 8 ko´s) is a 13 year veteran and former European light-heavyweight champion. Saturday´s fight will be his first appearance in a UK ring. He has boxed almost exclusively in his native Italy, venturing occasionally with mixed success into Germany, and boxing once in the Czech Republic.
He began his pro career as a super-middleweight, and was unbeaten in his first 12 fights (5 ko´s). There then followed a three year hot-and-cold period where Brancalion went 6-4-2, at one point not winning in five consecutive outings. Included in this stretch was a 2003 decision loss to two-time Joe Calzaghe victim Mario Veit in Germany.
Things improved dramatically for Brancalion when he stepped up to light-heavyweight. He scored seven straight wins, gaining both his national title and the IBF International title in the process.
In January 2006, Brancalion failed in his first crack at the European light-heavyweight crown, losing on points to 6´5´´ Croatian Stipe Drews, a future WBA light-heavyweight champion, in Munich.
But Brancalion bounced back in March 2007 and won the European crown with a majority decision over Germany´s Kai Kurzawa in Hamburg.
In June 2007 he defeated Tomas Adamek on points in a European title defense. It should be stated that this Tomas Adamek is not the former WBC light-heavyweight and IBF cruiser-weight champion and current heavyweight contender.
That´s Tomasz Adamek.
Tomas Adamek is a decent light-heavyweight from the Czech Republic.
After another successful defense against fellow Italian Dario Cichello in December 2008, Brancalion came unstuck spectacularly against powerful German southpaw Juergen Braehmer in June of last year. Braehmer, a former WBC international champion at super-middleweight and a former European light-heavyweight champion, came into the fight with 26 knockouts in his 32 victories against two defeats. Within seconds of the opening bell, he stepped inside the Italian´s jab and caught him under the chin with a powerful left, flooring him. Brancalion got to his feet, and although not visibly hurt, looked dazed and confused. Braehmer couldn’t miss and sent the Italian down three more times, leaving referee Terry O´Connor no option but to stop the contest at just 1:23 of the first round.
It was more of an embarrassing defeat for Brancalion than a damaging one. Braehmer clearly can punch, and has since gone on to win the WBO light-heavyweight title, although he has just been sentenced to sixteen months in prison due to two assault charges dating back to 2008.
The knockout loss to Braehmer was Brancalion´s last contest prior to Saturday´s encounter with Cleverly.
Nathan Cleverly was born in Caerphilly, Wales 22 years ago. An outstanding footballer and cross-country runner as a boy, Cleverly took up boxing at 14 and trained at Joe Clazaghe´s father Enzo´s Newbridge Boxing Club, winning 32 out of 36 amateur fights.
Not one to sacrifice his education for his sport, Cleverly lived up to his name by leaving school with 10 GCSE´s and then gaining 3 A Level´s. He is currently in his final year of a maths degree at Cardiff university.
Turning pro in July 2005 at 18, Cleverly made rapid progress. After just six fights, he was matched with another undefeated prospect, Liverpool´s future British super-middleweight champion, Tony Quigley in October 2006.
Cleverly served notice of his burgeoning potential by stopping Quigley in five rounds.
Five wins later, and he was challenging Tony Oakey for his Britsh light-heavyweight title. At just 21 years old, Cleverly out-boxed the vastly more experienced Oakey, winning the title by unanimous decision.
At this point in career, Cleverly was unbeaten in 13 bouts, but with just three knockouts, he wasn’t considered to be much of a puncher.
Things were about to change.
In his next fight, in December 2008, Cleverly claimed the British Commonwealth title with a fourth round TKO of Kenyan Douglas Otieno.
In February 2009, Samson Onyango was dispatched in one round, and three months later, Billy Boyle was put away in two. Both bouts were Commonwealth title defenses.
Undefeated Danny McIntosh was taken apart in seven rounds in July 2009 in a British and Commonwealth title defense, and three months later one time prospect Courtney Fry was brushed aside unceremoniously in eight rounds.
Five straight stoppages in ten months indicated that Cleverly has added more leverage to his punches. Always a sound technical boxer, Cleverly´s added punching power has turned him into one of the most exciting young prospects in British boxing. Where once he was content to pile up points, now he goes looking for the knockout win.
Cleverly (18-0, 8 ko´s) is already ranked no.5 by the WBC, 2nd by the WBO and no.3 by the IBF, who´s first and second spots are vacant, so Cleverly could soon find himself no.1 contender to IBF champion unbeaten American Tavoris Cloud.
On a cautionary note; Fightnews.com, one of the more respected boxing websites has Cleverly nowhere in its top sixteen fighters, and Boxrec.com has Nathan way down in 11th spot.
Cleverly is one of the UK´s hottest stars, but the light-heavyweight division is ultra-competitive at the moment, with a mixture of seasoned veterans and young Turks, one of those being Cleverly. At just 22 years old time is on his side. He is still maturing, and at almost 6´4´´, may soon be forced to move up to the cruiser-weight division.
He should have way too much confidence and momentum for Brancalion to handle. The Italian is an experienced campaigner at European level, but his own confidence must be shot after the Braehmer disaster.
Look for Cleverly to start fast and pile on the pressure as he chases an early stoppage. If the Italian gets past the first two rounds, he might get some rhythm going and survive for a while, but I will be very surprised if he is still there by the eighth.
Big Fight Odds; Cleverly 1/12, Brancalion 6/1