sport

Cleverly relishing title defence

Nathan Cleverly will be proud to follow in the footsteps of countyman Joe Calzaghe when he defends his WBO title in the US for the first time.

The 25-year-old Welshman faces South Dakota's Shawn Hawk at Los Angeles' Staples Centre on Saturday night on the undercard of the WBC super-bantamweight showdown between Anselmo Moreno and unbeaten title holder Abner Mares.

Cleverly is also an undefeated world champion heading into his 25th professional contest, the same position enjoyed by Calzaghe when he brought down the curtain on an unblemished 46-fight career with a landslide points win over ring legend Roy Jones Jr at New York's Madison Square Garden four years ago today.

"It's a really proud moment for me," said Cleverly. "Joe retired, he was looking for a new star to come through and take over the mantle.

"Fortunately and thankfully I've fallen into that category.

"It's a pleasure taking on that role as world champion, keeping the flag flying high and doing the nation proud."

Cleverly is making the move Stateside much earlier than his illustrious compatriot.

Calzaghe stepped up to light-heavyweight to defeat Bernard Hopkins and Jones Jr on the other side of the Atlantic, adding the triumphant final touches to a decade of domination at super-middleweight that never ventured further than a pair of trips to mainland Europe.

A gym-mate of Calzaghe's in his early days, Cleverly fought lower down the bill in April 2008 when Hopkins was beaten in Las Vegas and had Joe's eccentric father Enzo running his corner.

"It was a great experience for me in 2008, my 12th professional fight, I really loved it out there," said Cleverly, who switched trainers to his own father Vince shortly afterwards.

"I was out there for two weeks training and enjoyed the fight night. The atmosphere was great and I think that's good experience to put me in good stead for this opportunity. It was definitely something that I wanted to feel again.

"My opponent Antonio Baker was a tough, real muscle-bound American kid. I won the fight very comfortably, just the guy was tough, he was strong and very gritty.

"I got a taste of what it was like to box in America, I loved it."

A game but unheralded American in the form of Hawk also awaits Cleverly on this occasion.

The 28-year-old was only confirmed as the challenger at the start of this week after Ryan Coyne had his world title ambitions scuppered by contractual issues with promoter Don King.

Hawk - who campaigned at cruiserweight until summer 2010 and has a record of 23 wins, two defeats and a draw - dropped a unanimous decision fighting eight-bout novice Eleider Alvarez for the North American light-heavyweight crown last time out, and Cleverly is not expecting his luck to change.

"I think it's going to be a good fight," he said. "It's going to be exciting because I'm feeling good. I feel I can bring my A-game on Saturday night.

"I think while the fight lasts he's going to be game, he's going to give a real good show, but I can see myself wearing this guy down and hopefully taking him out in the mid-to-late rounds."