image Billy Joe Saunders on his way to the WBO world middleweight title against Andy Lee

Billy Joe Saunders doesn’t believe he’ll be at his ‘career best’ when he makes his maiden WBO world middleweight title defence against Russian Artur Akavov but he is hoping to ‘blow the cobwebs off’ en route to a successful first victory as champion.

The Hatfield fighter steps back into the ring on Saturday, October 22, for the first time since snatching the belt from Irishman Andy Lee in Manchester almost 10 months ago.

Saunders has been added to the ‘Little Less Conversation’ show at Cardiff’s Motorpoint Arena.

The 27-year-old has been hampered by a combination of injuries and fruitless negotiations leading up to his first defence and he’s not taking the prospect of European WBO middleweight champion Akavov, who is on an 11-match winning streak, lightly.

Speaking at a pre-fight press conference in London on Monday, Saunders said: “There was the hand injury which stopped me fighting [Max] Bursak [in April] and from then onwards it’s been very frustrating for me.

“I’ve got a new date now and I’m not overlooking him [Akavov].

“He went to the World Championships with Russia so he has some pedigree, has only lost once and I’ve been out of the ring for nearly 10 months.

“I personally don’t think this will be my career best, I need to blow some of the cobwebs off but I know I’ve got to look good doing it and then we’ll look at a big fight in the new year.”

Should his first defence go to plan, Saunders is open to getting back into the ring in December but says he is aiming for a date in February or March next year – against either feared unified WBA, WBC, IBF and IBO middleweight champion Gennady Golovkin or WBO light middleweight king Saul ‘Canelo’ Alvarez.

He continued: “I’m not overlooking anyone but the next big fight I want after this is one of Canelo or Golovkin. My goal is Golovkin in February or March.

“Am I good enough for Golovkin? There’s only one way to find out.

“I’m 27 now, in my prime. If I can’t beat Golovkin now I’ll never beat him.

“If I don’t rise to the occasion I’ll get sharply found out. I believe I can beat him.”

He added: “He’s not invincible. If he wants to fight in December I’m ready. A unification overrules a mandatory so he can do it if he wants to. I’ll go to America and fight him. Canelo? I’ll beat him seven days a week and twice on a Sunday.”

Promoter Frank Warren added: “We’re not looking past this fight against Akavov.

“Everyone just thinks he’ll turn up on the night and that’s it.

“Providing Bill comes through this fight and comes through it well, doesn’t sustain any hand injuries and nothing goes wrong then we’ll look at either Golovkin or Canelo.”

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For some time now, WBO light heavyweight king Nathan Cleverly has been putting himself on offer as the finest 175lb prizefighter on this planet. On Saturday evening, at Cardiff’s Motorpoint Arena in his native Wales the 26-year-old from Cefn Fforest finally gets his chance to convince others of the veracity of his claim when he makes a sixth defense of his belt against formidable Russian Sergey Kovalev (21-0-1, 19 KOs). When Cleverly spoke with boxing writer Glynn Evans, the champion was adamant that he was physically and psychologically primed to meet the challenge.

Reflecting on your comprehensive points win over mandatory challenger Robin Krasniqi in April, what aspects of the performance pleased you? And what were you not so happy with?

I think it was one on the most complete performances of my career. I’d give myself at least eight out of ten.At times I boxed very nicely, stuck to my game plan and avoided being reckless. Krasniqi was a decent challenger yet I got hit very little. But there’s still a few little things I need to brush up on. I hurt Krasniqi early on, saw his knees dip, but when I opened up, I threw speedy flurries when I might have been better served setting my feet and unloading with power shots. Other times, I left myself a little open to right hands because my left lead got a little lazy. To be fair, Krasniqi was very sharp but I’ll certainly need to correct that against a puncher like Kovalev.

It’s expected for world champions to talk of unification but you actually seem ready now. In what ways do you perceive that you’ve improved as a fighter since you first acquired the WBO (interim) belt two and a half years ago?

I believe my progress has been very satisfying. My last few fights have been particularly good learning experiences for a future on the top world stage. For a start, I’ve matured with age. I’m more controlled and focussed both in training and in the fight. My attitude is better. I’ve left behind that studenty lifestyle. Big fights beckon and people are gunning for me. Consequently, I’ve become a lot more serious about my boxing. I’m also fitter and I’ve now acquired my man strength. I can really feel that now when I’m in the ring. People go on about my supposed level of opposition but I’ve beaten Bellew who’s mandatory at the WBC. I’ve beaten Murat who’s now mandatory to Hopkins at the IBF. Now I’m facing Kovalev who’s rated second at the WBO after I’ve just dispensed with my mandatory (Krasniqi). I honestly feel I’m now ready for anyone in the division.

What motivates you most; scalps, belts or money?

Probably beating the big names. It depends who holds the belts. I badly want Bernard Hopkins. If his IBF belt was on the line that would be ideal but even if he was stripped I think I’d prefer that fight to a unifier with one of the other champions. But the other belts certainly interest me. I really want to unify all the titles and be recognised as the undisputed number one in the division. When that happens I’ll feel fulfilled, that my time in boxing is complete. If I achieve that, the financial security should follow automatically. Since I was a kid, I’ve worked really hard with the boxing so it’d be nice to reap the material rewards and know that all the graft was worthwhile.

Tony Bellew and Carl Froch have been mooted as potential future opponents. How do you think they’ll fare in their forthcoming world title fights with Adonis Stephenson and George Groves respectively?

I think Bellew beats Stephenson. He’s naturally a lot bigger. Adonis is just coming up from super-middle and is pretty short. Bellew should be able to outbox him. If he does win I’d certainly be interested in a rematch to unify the belts and establish myself as the main man in our division. I’ve already beat him comfortably enough in his home town and, I’ll do him again. Froch-Groves is a very interesting fight. George has the better skills and it wouldn’t surprise me if he starts cagily and frustrates Carl a bit. Carl might try too hard over the first half. But I’d still have Carl as favourite because of the momentum he’ll be bringing. He might just have a bit too much force, aggression and man strength down the stretch. I’d loved the Froch fight, but Carl’s a clever man. He knows I’m bigger, stronger, just as fit and far sharper. I don’t blame him for knocking me back.

Saturday’s fight coincides with your team Cardiff City’s return to the top flight of English soccer. Is that a good thing or bad thing for Nathan Cleverly?

It’s a good thing, definitely. For a start, their match away to West Ham will help occupy my mind on Saturday afternoon. Several of my last few fights have coincided with big City matches or Welsh rugby internationals and it breeds a feeling of togetherness in Wales; a team thing. It’s a big sporting weekend for the nation. Success breeds success. Thus far, touch wood, I’ve been a cog in some very successful sporting weekends for Wales. Hopefully that’ll continue come Saturday.

Saturday certainly represents your highest profile fight to date. HBO, BoxNation and First Channel (Russia) shall all broadcasting and a sizeable US media presence is also expected. Is it something you welcome or an unwanted distraction?

All the interest is good. It’s become a part of my job and I’ve learned to enjoy it more over time. As I’ve matured, I feel more in control, more relaxed about it. It’ll be good preparation for all the superfights I intend to have further down the line. All the hard training is done now. It’s time to relax. The last week is all fun and games. Us boxers can only do so many hours at the gym so we have a lot of free time on our hands. Fulfilling media obligations passes the time, fills spaces in my day.

The bookies have the fight pretty much ‘pick ‘em’. How important do you feel a boisterous Welsh crowd will prove in inspiring you, and unnerving Kovalev?

I don’t expect the home crowd will unduly affect Sergey too much because he comes across as a ‘no nonsense’ sort of character who just comes to fight. Don’t forget, he had a lot of international amateur experience. However, from my end, it’s always more comforting having the fans behind you. They’ll cheer every shot that lands, some that don’t, and it can have an influence. They also help to drive you on when it gets tough, particularly in the later stages. I’ve no doubt they will inspire me.

Enlighten us about your preparation. Have you needed to step up the intensity or experiment with anything new?

It’s gone really, really well and it’s a relief knowing that I’m going into such an important fight in such fantastic physical and mental health. Now it’s all about applying all that and executing my game plan under the spotlight and pressure of the big stage. For this camp, I’ve stayed local and stuck with the basics. My house and gym are close by and I got into a nice routine. For sparring, I’ve had Ovill McKenzie – a very dangerous puncher – plus a couple of strong powerful cruiserweights so nothing Kovalev brings should shock me unduly. One thing I’ve tweaked is I’ve heightened my attention to the tactics and game plan. It’s all been very specific whereas, previously, I’d just turn up and rely on my instincts on the night.

With 19 stoppages in 21 wins as a pro, Kovalev certainly arrives with a reputation as a formidable puncher. Will that make you more apprehensive than normal?

Not really, I don’t think. Knowing he’s so dangerous has certainly kept me on my toes in training but a bit of fear is great for motivation. Back in the amateurs, as a kid, I’d always seek out opponents with reputations for being bangers. I always wanted to prove myself and I always came out on top. When I started to become aware of the commotion building over Kovalev in the US, I said to Frank (Warren): ‘Go and get him for me.’ Knowing that he’s almost certainly going to come looking for me is a good thing; for me, for TV, for the fans at the venue. It’s going to be a proper fight. Him unloading will leave openings for me to exploit.

You appear to have a technical edge over Kovalev. However, you do like to get involved and excite the paying punters. Can you trust yourself to remain disciplined before a fanatical home crowd?

In preparation, we’ve focussed a lot on not going ‘gung ho’. However, now it’s up to me to prove I can stay calm and deliver on the night, under the roars. A few fights back, I might have struggled but now I believe I can keep my focus and do what’s right.

It’s a cracking, competitive match-up that’s split the trade on both sides of The Pond. How do you envisage the fight panning out and what gives you confidence that it’ll be your hand that get’s raised at the end?

I think it’s inevitable that there’ll be a lot of exchanges because we both like to let our hands go. It’s probable that we’ll both land frequently and it’ll be interesting to see how each of us react when the other lands. Will they withdraw into a shell or will they look to strike back? We both like to operate on the front foot so I doubt that this will be a cagey affair. I envisage an action packed, long fight. I’ll win because I bring the better all round package. Kovalev’s a banger who’s accurate and a decent boxer but, it terms of skill, speed, sharpness, fitness, speed chin, I beat this guy. I expect to stop him mid way to late.

And if you prevail, what do you hope that it will lead to?

Hopkins is definitely the way forward for me. An impressive victory on Saturday will open a heck of a lot of doors. Hopefully I’ll secure the US TV deal I need to make the biggest fights happen.


By Nick Parkinson, courtesy of The Daily Star –

NATHAN CLEVERLY sees victory on Saturday as the gateway to global fame and fortune – but admits he starts as the underdog.

The Welshman’s sixth WBO world ­light-heavyweight title defence is his most dangerous yet against unbeaten Russian Sergey Kovalev, who has knocked out 19 of his 22 opponents.

Some even make Kovalev, 30, the favourite but Cleverly has likened the fight to his former sparring partner Joe Calzaghe’s 2006 points win over American Jeff Lacy.

Beating Lacy catapulted Calzaghe into the big time and big money.

Unbeaten Cleverly, now 26, believes claiming US-based Kovalev’s scalp at Cardiff’s Motorpoint Arena will earn him worldwide respect.

And he believes it will increase his profile as he strives to set up a clash with a rival world champion.

He said: “Joe’s fight with Lacy and mine with Kovalev, they’re both very similar scenarios. Joe just said to me, ‘It was the same with me and Lacy – and look what happened then’.

“It’s a big challenge for me and one I’m taking very seriously.

“It’s the breakthrough fight for me in the US and will hopefully bring the big fights against the likes of Bernard Hopkins.

“A stoppage or a late stoppage would make a massive statement.

“I’m not surprised Kovalev is the favourite – naturally, a lot of these guys come over from America with a lot of hype.

“In a lot of my fights I’ve been massively expected to win, this one I’m expected to lose and get taken out, so that’s inspired me in training, kept me on my toes and working hard.”–68555


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By:  Random Hits –

WBO World Light-Heavyweight Champion Nathan Cleverly says he’ll leave KO machine Sergey Kovalev “shaken and stirred” when they clash on Saturday 17th August at Cardiff’s Motorpoint Arena.

The Welsh hero met with the media today at the Grosvenor Casino in Cardiff Bay looking debonaire in a tuxedo in the role of James Bond as he counts down to his own Russian roulette showdown with the unbeaten Kovalev.

Cleverly, 26, is relishing his East versus West super-fight against the iron-fisted “Krusher” who has anniahlated 19 of 21 victims with a staggering 18 coming inside three rounds and is confident he’ll finish off the seemingly invincible Kovalev.

“His record is scary reading, it’s just KO after KO, but the more I look at it the more I’m motivated to really take this guy out and prove that I’m not afraid to meet anybody, no matter what their reputation is because that is what a champion does, he faces his challenges,” Said Cleverly.

“It’s not an easy fight by any stretch of the imagination, I’ve picked the hardest puncher in the division and I can’t get reckless against him.  He’s a massive massive puncher, but when he loads up for these big punches he’ll leave me openings and then I’ll take this guy apart,”

“He’s never been in with someone like me who’ll throw six, seven, eight punch combinations and fight at a relentless pace from the first to the last round.  He’ll be left shaken and stirred after he’s been in with me, that’s for sure,”

“This is the biggest fight to come to Cardiff in the last few years and it’s going to be a boiling cauldron in there with fight fans witnessing one of the best fights they’ll ever see.”

Cleverly v Kovalev headlines an action-packed that also features Gary Buckland’s British Super-Featherweight title defence against Stephen Smith, Enzo Maccarinelli’s challenge for the Commonwealth Light-Heavyweight title against champion Ovill McKenzie, and Lewis Rees v Stephen Haughian for the Vacant Celtic Welterweight title.

On the undercard top Welsh prospects Craig Evans and Liam Williams aim to maintain their unbeaten records, plus Danni Griffiths, Aled Cook and Rhys Evans all look to put on sparkling performances in their professional debuts.

An exciting clash sees Edinburgh’s unbeaten John Thain take on Oldham’s Ronnie Heffron over ten rounds at light-middleweight.

Remaining tickets, priced at £40, £50, £70, £100 & £150 are available from:

Cardiff Motorpoint Arena Box Office

02920 224 488


0844 249 1000

Cleverly v Kovalev is live and exclusive in the UK on BoxNation (Sky Ch. 437/Virgin Ch. 546).  Join–68011

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WBO light heavyweight champion Nathan Cleverly (26-0, 12 KOs) spoke to the press today about his showdown against Sergey Kovalev (21-0-1, 19 KOs) at Cardiff’s Motorpoint Arena. “August 17th can’t come quick enough for me,” said Cleverly. “Kovalev has built this reputation of fear for his devastating knockouts, which to anybody looks pretty impressive. When I saw the KOs it excited me and I said ‘I’ve got to have this guy.’ I’m actually looking forward to getting in the ring with him and seeing what he’s got. He’ll be looking to take my head clean off and I Iove that feeling of having the adrenalin surging around my body. I’ll have the fans watching in the arena and the viewers watching live on BoxNation in the UK and on HBO in America, it’s a lot of pressure, but I thrive off it and the better I’ll perform. He won’t be able to hit what he can’t see and I’ll be throwing five, six, seven punches to every one punch he throws. One things for sure this will be an exciting fight and I’ll have a new army of fans on both sides of the Atlantic after it.”

Cleverly defends his title for the sixth time against Kovalev.