The light heavyweight division is not one of boxing's best. Although most fans respect and marvel at Bernard Hopkins' accomplishments, having a 48-year-old champion only demonstrates how weak the weight class is.
Among the young fighters at 175 pounds hoping to hush such criticism is 26-year-old WBO champion Nathan Cleverly (25-0, 12 KO). Cleverly will defend his title against Robin Krasniqi (39-2, 15 KO) on Saturday at Wembley Arena in London.
The undefeated Cleverly has long been regarded as a strong young prospect, but he has been brought along slowly. He hasn't fought top competition yet, although both Hopkins and Cleverly have expressed an interest in making a unification bout happen.
For now, Cleverly must take care of business with Krasniqi.
In his last fight, Cleverly stopped Shawn Hawk in the eighth round at the Staples Center in Los Angeles. It was only the second time in his career that Cleverly had fought outside of the United Kingdom.
Krasniqi is two months younger than Cleverly but has 16 more fights. He has stopped four straight opponents, including a third-round TKO of Max Heyman in November 2012.
The German hasn't lost a fight in seven years, but his record isn't littered with tough opposition. This will be a proving grounds of sorts for both men, but Cleverly is the main attraction here.
Will he be derailed from his path toward bigger fights, or will he stay unbeaten?
Here's how you can catch this bout and some deeper analysis into the matchup.
When: Saturday, April 20, at 5 p.m. ET
Where: Wembley Arena in London
TV: Box Nation (Sky Sports)
Live Stream: EPIX HD (Pay service)
The Book on Cleverly
Will Cleverly Make Krasniqi Pay for Insult at Press Conference?
These two men had agreed to meet on multiple occasions before, but Cleverly pulled out each time. The cancellations caused Krasniqi to make disparaging remarks about the champion at the press conference.
He's obviously attempting to get under Cleverly's skin. The Welshman is usually very calm and initially seemed to take it in stride. But as he began to speak, a hint of irritation was evident.
In a fight many believe could lack spice, this bit of gamesmanship may have added the seasoning.
Strengths: Punching Accuracy, Reach and Athleticism
Weaknesses: Unproven, May Lack Killer Instinct
Cleverly is a squeaky clean boxing technician. He doesn't pack a significant punch, but he is a solid puncher who sets up combinations well with a good jab.
Take a look at him here against Aleksy Kuziemski:
At times, Cleverly is too clean and calculated. Some of his wins lack luster because he doesn't always look to finish opponents. He coasts at times, and that can be dangerous against top-level competition.
The Book on Krasniqi
Krasniqi is Looking to Make a Name for Himself
Krasniqi may have taken an odd path to grab some attention for the pre-fight buildup, but as crude as it may have been, he accomplished his goal.
Many, such as Yardbarker's Guy Michels, predict that Cleverly will win in style. So you wonder if Krasniqi's tactics are an attempt to give himself some hope for an upset.
Only boxing savants will recognize the names of any of his past opponents, so his sparkling record isn't quite what meets the eye.
Here he is dismantling Heyman in his last bout.
If you take a look at footage of Krasniqi against most of his opponents, it is clear that Cleverly is a major step up in competition.
He may be better off drawing as much attention as he can now, because he could be in for a short night on Saturday.
In the Ring
Strengths: Decent Power, Constantly Comes Forward
Weaknesses: Very Much a Plodder, Slow Hands and Feet
How long will Krasniqi last against Cleverly?
I've never seen Krasniqi fight live, but after taking a look at three fights on YouTube, he is a bit out of his league in this one.
His feet are too slow for Cleverly. He does have some power, but he throws one shot at a time and isn't all that accurate.
I would be shocked if Cleverly loses this fight. It seems like a clear example of a C-class fighter taking on a much more talented opponent.
Even though Cleverly isn't a big puncher, the rate at which he'll likely land on Krasniqi's face should cause a stoppage by the fifth round.
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