It’s not been a particularly great year for British boxing, let’s be honest.
2012 was pretty good for domestic hopes, even great for some of them. World title wins, Olympic glory, an emotional but prideful retirement for Ricky Hatton… even the unsavoury incidents involving Dereck Chisora, David Haye and the Klitschkos in Germany were turned into a summer sizzler at Upton Park, won by ‘The Hayemaker’.
It looked as though the momentum would continue at first, starting with Kell Brook’s welterweight title challenge of Devon Alexander and the announcement of a finger-licking Wembley Arena supercard put on by Frank Warren for March.
Unfortunately, both of those concepts fell by the wayside. As did David Price as a legitimate world heavyweight championship contender.
Amir Khan came back over, to mostly criticism and contempt. Many of Warren’s charges for the aforementioned ‘Rule Britannia’ card upped sticks and left his promotion. Audley Harrison, meanwhile… well. The less said, the better.
In fact, perhaps only Carl Froch can put forth a legitimate claim to having a great 2013, from the British pugilistic standpoint.
That could drastically change on Saturday, when two talented and respected Brits attempt to join ‘The Cobra’ in the calendar year’s winners’ circle.
Their names are Nathan Cleverly and Darren Barker. And their stories quite interestingly contrast.
Cleverly is the WBO light-heavyweight champion, and has entered the third year of his reign. When the likes of George Groves and Ricky Burns jumped ship from Warren to Matchroom Boxing, the Welshman stayed loyal to the veteran matchmaker.
One would assume it is the challenger with the most to prove in a title fight, not the titlist. One would be wrong when it comes to Cleverly’s fifth defence against dangerous Russian Sergey Kovalev.
Cleverly has not had a particularly-electrifying run as champ, especially not since his thrilling domestic tear-up with Tony Bellew almost two whole years ago. A convincing display against a foe more formidable than a Tommy Karpency, Shawn Hawk or Robin Krasniqi would be a welcome boost.
Also unbeaten, the 30-year-old has wiped out eight of his last 10 opponents inside three rounds, with another stopped after seven and a technical draw rounding things out.
Furthermore, his seven-rounder against compatriot Roman Simakov unfortunately put the defeated boxer into a coma, in which he passed away three days later.
In a nutshell, if Kovalev gets close enough, he is more than capable of handing Cleverly his first defeat in emphatic fashion.
Nathan should have the class and the gameplan to keep his challenger at bay and outbox him, but either way it’s refreshing to see him chomping at the bit for a bout for the first time since the Bellew win.
“It is going to be a great fight,” he explained. “We like to fight on the front foot and it is going to be explosive.
“It is the most important fight of my career, potentially the best fight of my career as well. Potentially the best opponent I have faced so this is a tremendous fight.”
Like Froch, Cleverly has demanded a huge test. He wants the validation as much as Kovalev wants the title.
As a result, Cardiff’s Motorpoint Arena should bear witness to a fantastic main event.
While Eddie Hearn’s ranks at Matchroom have inflated with Cleverly’s former stablemates and Olympians turned pro, long-time client Barker has patiently worked his way back up to the fore.
Like Cleverly, Barker has not been completely pleased with the last two years-ish of his career. His first world title opportunity came in Atlantic City and ended in a late stoppage to Sergio Martinez – the man who was somehow deemed the winner in his hometown against Englishman Martin Murray in April.
After over a year on the sidelines since then, Barker has stopped Kerry Hope and Simone Rotolo in four apiece to earn his second crack at glory – again in Atlantic City, where this year Gavin Rees and Lee Purdy have been lambs to the slaughter for Adrien Broner and Devon Alexander.
Purdy’s loss to ‘The Great’, in particular, was a tough one for Barker in a sea of British disappointments. He ran the corner for his close friend that night, and withdrew the Colchester man after a torrent of one-sided abuse from a one-armed Alexander.
But while ‘challenger having the point to prove’ does not apply to Cleverly, it fits ‘Dazzling’ Darren like a glove.
Daniel Geale, IBF middleweight champion, will also want to prove his worth in a division currently brimming with superb talent. The Australian and the Londoner are extremely well matched, that’s for sure – and because of that, it possesses as much promise as Cleverly-Kovalev.
When it comes to having something to cheer about on these shores, boxing fans could do with a shot in the arm. Froch-Groves, Haye-Fury and the early progress of the Team GB crew should improve on a woeful 2013 when autumn arrives, but until then it’s Cleverly and Barker’s turn to shine, both for themselves and for their fans.
Here's hoping both emerge from Saturday night with world titles around their waist, and their reputations back up where they belong.
Liam Happe | Follow on Twitter
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