FORMER world champion Nathan Cleverly says every fight is like a world title contest for him now – and he knows another defeat could end his hopes of a return to the top of the sport.
The Cefn Fforest boxer is rebuilding his career at cruiserweight after losing his WBO world light-heavyweight belt in devastating fashion to Sergey Kovalev last August.
Cleverly easily won his debut at the new weight in May when he stopped experienced Trinidadian Shawn Corbin in the second round in Cardiff.
Now he’s preparing to take on Argentinian Alejandro Emilio Valori in Liverpool on Saturday, July 12, when hometown hero Tony Bellew faces Brazil’s Julio Cesar Dos Santos on the same bill.
Bitter rivals Cleverly and Bellew are being lined up for a rematch in Liverpool later this year and the Gwent fighter knows he can’t afford another defeat at this stage.
“At the moment every fight is like a world title fight for me,” said Cleverly.
“I trained for Shawn Corbin as if it was a world title fight and I’m preparing the same for Valori.
“Every fight is crucial for me now. I need to win and I need to keep winning. If I do that then the big fights will come again.”
Cleverly is convinced that cruiserweight is his ideal division after years of struggling to make light-heavy.
“I was at light-heavyweight for five years and I was still maturing and even when I was winning I felt there was something wrong,” said the 27-year-old.
“While you’re winning you just keep going but the loss was the trigger to go up in weight and I’m loving it.
“Mentally and physically I feel great and I’m excited by this whole new chapter.
“Valori will be a slight step up and that’s what I need now; a gradual step up with me being new at the weight division.
“He will come to fight. He’ll come swinging early on and he’s quite strong and ruggedly tough but if I’m going to push on I need to beat this guy and win in emphatic fashion.”
Then, providing both Bellew and Cleverly are successful next week, comes the rematch and the Gwent star is confident he can improve on his points win from their first meeting in 2011.
“The grudge match – me against Tony Bellew – is going to be a big fight,” he said.
“And then the winner of that potentially fights for a world title so every fight is crucial.
“When it does happen I’m going to win and I’m going to win emphatically this time.
“I have no issue with fighting in Liverpool again because of the size of the arena,” he added.
“I’d prefer home advantage because that does make a difference to your morale but we’re struggling for the right size arena in Cardiff.”