The Pugilist: Cleverly's first defining moment
As David Haye exits stage left, Nathan Cleverly hopes to attract the spotlight: the Welshman matches up against British light-heavyweight champion Tony Bellew on Saturday night in Liverpool.
Cleverly may reflect on how quickly Haye’s career is being reduced to a few moments: his early KOs of Enzo Maccarinelli and Audley Harrison, his wobbling of Nicolai Valuev and the parading of an injured toe after defeat to Wladimir Klitschko.
Cleverly, 24, has come from nowhere to hold the WBO light-heavyweight title. He did not have the chance to face the previous champion Juergen Braehmer - who pulled out with an eye injury and was subsequently stripped of the belt - and there are no big names on his record.
A boxing career is inevitably short - somebody tell Evander Holyfield - and yet it can still stagger us on occasion as to just how short: in his whole career, for all its heat and light, Haye spent less than six hours actually boxing.
So far Cleverly is undefined as a ringster. He is defined only by the accessories he sports outside of the ring: the bandanas which don’t flatter him, the title belt that does.
Within the scheduled 36 minutes on Saturday will come Cleverly’s first defining moment. That is not to say that Tony Bellew is a better fighter than Karo Murat or Nadjib Mohammedi; he may well not be.
What matters is that Bellew is Cleverly’s last remaining domestic rival - and before he can truly challenge the world, Cleverly must prove himself to be the king of his own back yard.
A rivalry has been brewing for some time between the pair and whilst Cleverly is the clear favourite, there is a small but vocal minority who believe that Bellew has the ability to see him off.
Bellew has both the confidence of an unbeaten fighter and the swagger of a man with knockout power. This has helped attract a large fan-base on Merseyside and he will have the majority of the support at the Echo Arena.
Bellew could make for an unpredictable opponent if his last two fights, both against Ovill McKenzie, are anything to go by.
In the first Bellew showed great heart to recover from knockdowns in rounds one and two before forcing a stoppage win. In the second he boxed extremely cautiously to a 12-round decision, an uninspiring performance that he labelled a "boxing masterclass".
It will be much harder for Bellew to outbox Cleverly on the back foot than it was McKenzie, but, as the underdog, Bellew can afford to simply frustrate the champion in the early rounds.
Cleverly was unconvincing against the awkward Mohammedi and Bellew may hope to disrupt his rhythm as a way to open up opportunities for one of his power punches.
Nonetheless, despite his pretentions as both a puncher and a boxer, Bellew is seen as an upstart who is overgenerous in his self-assessment. He has not mixed in as good a company as Cleverly and the hotly-tipped Welshman should be able to utilise his greater experience to secure domestic bragging rights.
"If I lose I would go as far as to say I would retire. I would go out of the sport. There would be no point continuing," he has said.
With such rash talk, Cleverly has acknowledged how embarrassing a defeat would be for him. He has affected the air of being levels above Bellew; a loss would undo all he has achieved in his 22 fights.
Defeat for Cleverly would see him lose his title and the opportunities it presents but, less tangibly, it would create a memory of his shortcomings that would be difficult to escape.
Amir Khan’s first defining moment was defeat to Breidis Prescott, a loss he is not allowed to forget despite subsequent wins over far superior opposition.
Cleverly’s will come against a domestic rival who he knows well, and who has never fought at this level before. In that sense he is lucky. But, were Cleverly to lose, no matter what he goes on to achieve, Bellew would never let him forget it.
By winning, and winning well, Cleverly can prove himself to be well above domestic level, a worthy belt holder, a ready challenger to the world’s best. This is his moment, and he must make the most of it.
Cleverly versus Bellew will be broadcast live on BoxNation, Sky Channel 456, and online at boxnation.tv.