Cleverly totally focused on mandatory defence

WORLD CHAMPION: Nathan Cleverly

WORLD CHAMPION: Nathan Cleverly

First published in Sport

CEFN Fforest's Nathan Cleverly will not underestimate Robin Krasniqi as he knows defeat against the little-known Serbian is likely to put a big dent in his dream of facing Bernard Hopkins and becoming the undisputed light heavyweight world champion.

WBO light-heavyweight world champion Cleverly was named yesterday as the joint-headliner of Frank Warren's 'Rule Britannia' show, which will feature some of the country's best boxers at Wembley Arena on March 16.

The Gwent star's meteoric rise meant he had managed to agree a fight with former multi-weight champion Hopkins, who is the top-ranked fighter in the division, but the WBO ordered Cleverly take on mandatory challenger Krasniqi at Wembley Arena instead.

Germany-based Krasniqi should pose little threat to Cleverly, who has lived up to his promise in recent years by claiming the British, Commonwealth and European belts before becoming world champion in 2010.

But Warren offered a reminder to Cleverly yesterday that Hopkins will only consider fighting world champions, and for that reason Cleverly is adamant he will not take his next opponent lightly.

"If I mess up against this guy, I've got to start again, so I want to win this fight and keep those big fights alive,’’ Cleverly said.

"That makes me more focused and determined.

"It puts a lot of motivation in to you knowing that the big super-fights are there lurking in the background.

"In an ideal world you would go for the unification fights but I have been ordered to fight Krasniqi so I will do it.

"No path to a world title is easy. I'm here now and it's important for me to stay.’’

Hopkins dominated the middleweight division for almost six years before moving up to 175 pounds in 2006.

Cleverly was disappointed at seeing a fight against the former champion fall through, but he hopes the deal will be resurrected later this year.

"It was gutting,’’ Cleverly said.

"The deal was in place. Everything had been agreed and we were ordered to fight Krasniqi instead.

"It would be a great fight. Hopkins fights Tavoris Cloud for the IBF and provided he wins that, and I get through mine, I am sure it can be made and it would be a great unification fight.’’ A potential fight against Hopkins could be the start of what promises to be a key year for Cleverly.

Having quietly climbed the rankings, the Welshman is keen to make 2013 the year where he emerges from Joe Calzaghe's shadow to write a new chapter in Welsh boxing history as the undisputed light heavyweight champion.

"This is a massive year for me,’’ Cleverly said.

"It's the year in which I could become unified light-heavyweight champion. That for me is the ultimate ambition and I am looking to do that.

"This is the year where I can create my own legacy and win the remaining belts. If I do that, I will automatically create a legacy of my own.’’

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