Nathan Cleverly, the WBO light heavyweight champion from Britain, lost his title in devastating fashion over the weekend with a knockout loss to Russia's Sergey Kovalev. In the wake of that loss, fellow British boxer Amir Khan suggested through BBC Sport that Cleverly would be wise to align himself with the trainer he recently split from, Freddie Roach. Is that the best option for Cleverly?
The loss to Kovalev was the first of Cleverly's professional career, and it was a truly devastating loss. Not only did Kovalev knock Cleverly out, but the stoppage was the third knockdown he inflicted on the champion inside four rounds of boxing. To add insult to injury, Cleverly had never even felt the mat on his back prior to this bout.
Following the loss, an understandably emotional Cleverly appeared to be questioning whether he would even return to boxing, stating that he would take a holiday to recover and see if he missed boxing. At the age of 26 and with just one professional loss, even given the manner of the loss, talk of retirement may surprise some people. Cleverly, however, has seemingly planned for his future outside boxing and holds a degree in mathematics.
Time heals wounds, however, and talk of retirement immediately following a loss is something you hear often in combat sports. After taking a break and evaluating his options, I don't anticipate any more retirement talk from Cleverly, but a change in trainer is entirely possible.
Currently trained by his father, there was always the possibility that a day may come in which Cleverly had learned all he can within the family confines. This brings us back to Khan's suggestion that Cleverly should turn to Freddie Roach in a bid to revive his career.
Roach, a five-time Trainer of the Year winner, helped Khan reboot his career following his own harrowing knockout loss at the hands of Breidis Prescott.
Khan's association with Roach led him down the path to world title glory, helped him regain his confidence following his first professional loss and helped turn Khan into a world-recognized figure in boxing. It was not all a one-way street, as Khan's success helped cement Roach's place amongst the elite boxing trainers in the world.
Their professional relationship came to an end following back-to-back losses by Khan, losses that raised questions as to whether Roach had been able to help, or even attempted to help, Khan's defensive deficiencies. Following his knockout loss to Danny Garcia, Khan left Roach's guidance and signed on to train under Virgil Hunter.
It seems that in spite of their professional split, the affinity Khan holds for the man who helped him reshape his career is obvious through his glowing open reference for Cleverly. I don't think it would be a wise choice.
Roach has worked wonders with many boxers over the years, with his prized pupil being Manny Pacquiao. The majority of the success Roach's fighters have, however, is based around his ability to develop their offensive talents and teach them to fight to that strength. Defensively, I don't see any change in those he trains.
This is where my problem with an association on a full-time basis between Roach and Cleverly comes into play. Cleverly was hurt by Kovalev when he dropped his hands, which ironically happened just as he was beginning to find his range with his jab. Did Cleverly see the success he was beginning to have with his jab and allow complacency to creep in?
A fighter like Cleverly, who has great offensive tools at his disposal with his hand speed, ability to throw combination punches, tidy jab and athleticism to move around the ring, would be encouraged by Roach to use those tools to become the ultimate offensive fighter.
The trouble with that fight strategy is that Kovalev is the first fighter to truly give Cleverly's chin a stern test, and it was found wanting. While Cleverly had never hit the deck before as a professional, he also hadn't ever faced a true power puncher.
If Cleverly aligned himself with the master offensive trainer in Roach, he would have some immediate success. Everything Khan said about Roach rebuilding confidence and redirecting, even revitalizing, a mindset and career path is true. However, that success would be short-lived.
When Roach retools a fighter's offensive tools, he masterfully teaches them how to essentially hide their flaws rather than correct them.
Khan was extremely successful in the short term, as his blistering speed and footwork papered over the fact he was incredibly easy to hit with hard, clean shots. Cleverly has been relatively easy to hit in his career to date, and to move forward he needs to figure out a way to improve his defense so he is hit less.
Roach will not teach him this. After the initial success, a fighter will figure out the new puzzle Cleverly provides, and those old defensive issues will be exposed once again.
At the end of the day, we are talking about one loss in 27 professional fights. Whatever the circumstances of the loss are, it is not necessarily time to begin discussing retirement or even changes in trainers. It is time to watch the tape, see where the mistakes came from and work toward a solution to correcting those areas to stop the same mistakes from happening again.
The boxing world has become so obsessed with the perfect, undefeated record, when in reality, it is a rarity that an elite fighter achieve such a thing. How many of the fighters who are in the conversation for best fighter of all time carried an undefeated record? Unless you consider Floyd Mayweather worthy of that discussion, there isn't a single one.
Cleverly needs to evaluate whether he wants to continue in the fight game or not. He has a fall-back option that many fighters do not posses. Changing trainer may not help address any issues, but changing to an offensive trainer who doesn't improve your defense is not a smart move after a knockout loss.