Ranking the Best Opponents for Nathan Cleverly's Next Big Fight
Nathan Cleverly turned in a brave display in losing on points to Andrzej Fonfara in Chicago.
The Welshman played his part in a light heavyweight bout that has to be considered a strong contender for fight of the year honours.
Over 12 absorbing rounds, Clev stood in front of Fonfara and traded shots. The pair combined to throw 2,524 punches, a new record according to CompuBox stats.
Cleverly suffered a broken nose in the middle rounds but still made it through to the final bell, though Fonfara was awarded the win by scores of 116-112 (twice) and 115-113.
However, the 28-year-old (29-3, 15 KOs) can take great heart from his performance in defeat.
He proved to still have the stomach for the fight and, despite now being beaten in three of his last six contests, Cleverly's future in the ring looks a little brighter.
Here Bleacher Report picks out five potential names for Cleverly to face in the future, ranking them in order of most likely to happen.
There are a number of intriguing names at light heavyweight who did not make it into the top five, for reasons that shall now be explained.
Eleider Alvarez and Isaac Chilemba are both highly ranked in the division, but the duo are due to face each other at the end of November in a final eliminator for the WBC title.
Artur Beterbiev, meanwhile, is scheduled to fight on the same card in Quebec, Canada.
The Russian has only had nine professional fights but enjoyed a long amateur career that included winning a gold medal at the 2009 World Amateur Boxing Championships.
Jean Pascal is already booked to face Sergey Kovalev, while Bernard Hopkins has yet to make his future plans known.
The 50-year-old Hopkins is looking for one final fight, telling Andreas Hale of Yahoo Sports, "I’m looking to go somewhere in January, I guess before the Super Bowl at the Barclays Center, which has set aside a date for me and do my last one."
Finally, while a third showdown between Cleverly and Tony Bellew may appeal to some, it seems highly unlikely to happen.
Bellew is now settled at cruiserweight, and Cleverly is not likely to make a move back up after losing to his long-time rival at the 200-pound limit last year.
5. Julio Cesar Chavez Jr.
Julio Cesar Chavez Jr. and Cleverly have one thing in common—they have both lost to Andrzej Fonfara.
Mexican Chavez (49-2-1, 32 KOs) quit on his stool after nine rounds against Fonfara in April.
He has since returned to winning ways, recording a comfortable points triumph over compatriot Marcos Reyes.
That 10-round bout had been due to be at the super-middleweight limit. However, Chavez failed to make the weight, according to Dan Rafael of ESPN.
Both he and Cleverly have faced questions over their long-term futures, so a fight between the pair would be an intriguing clash that could spell curtains for the loser at 170 pounds.
Cleverly has never been afraid to travel, so what chance of a bout on American soil? Slim, probably.
4. Sergey Kovalev
Cleverly has made clear his desire to have a second crack at Sergey Kovalev.
The first fight between the pair did not go well for the Welshman—he lost the WBO light heavyweight title when he was stopped in the fourth round.
However, Cleverly is determined to get his revenge against Krusher, who has since added the WBA and IBF belts to his collection.
He told BBC Sport Wales, "I'll try my best to get it [a rematch], I'll go to America for it. It's not about the money for me - it's not about the pay-day - it's about having that chance to get my title back."
Kovalev (28-0-1, 25 KOs) is scheduled to take on Jean Pascal at the start of next year.
3. Adonis Stevenson
Adonis Stevenson—the reigning WBC champion—was an interested spectator when Cleverly fought Andrzej Fonfara.
Superman has already beaten Fonfara, but he took to Twitter to announce how he would "KO" Cleverly if the pair were to ever meet in the ring.
Born in Haiti but now based in Canada, Stevenson (27-1, 22 KOs) successfully defended his belt against Tommy Karpency in September.
Per Sky Sports, Stevenson called out Sergey Kovalev after the quick victory in Toronto.
However, with his Russian rival tied up until early next year, Stevenson will have to look elsewhere for an opponent.
That is where Cleverly could come in, giving the Welshman the chance to succeed where his great rival, Tony Bellew, failed. Bellew was stopped inside six rounds when he took on Stevenson in 2013.
2. Juergen Braehmer
Cleverly was given the opportunity to take on current WBA champion Juergen Braehmer, but he opted to face Andrzej Fonfara instead.
Clev admitted he was close to signing a deal with Braehmer, only to change his mind when he felt he had received a better offer.
Prior to the bout with Fonfara on American soil, the Welshman told Sky Sports:
Suddenly I was presented with this fantastic opportunity to come to America and showcase in a big fight against Fonfara.
So ultimately, I just feel fighting here in America on this big stage, I just feel it was too much of a big opportunity to turn away.
I declined the world title fight and I believe this is a bigger fight. It's probably a more difficult fight but it's on a bigger platform. It's in the States and I like fighting here, so let's do it.
Braehmer (47-2, 35 KOs) will now defend his crown against Thomas Oosthuizen in Monaco next month.
A bout with Cleverly could be next up, though the pair have a little bit of history.
They were meant to go toe-to-toe back in 2011, only for Braehmer to pull out at short notice due to injury. He was subsequently stripped of the WBO title, with the belt being awarded to Cleverly.
1. Andrzej Fonfara
Seen as it was so good first time around, why not do it all over again?
Cleverly is keen to have a second crack at Andrzej Fonfara, per BBC Sport: "Would I do it again? Why not—it's what we are here to do, put on entertaining fights for great fans, and I am sure there will be the demand for it."
Their epic encounter at the UIC Pavilion in Chicago saw both men refuse to take a backward step.
Fonfara was defending the lightly regarded WBC International title, but the belt really didn't matter in the grand scheme of things.
Both fighters have been in with current world champions before (Fonfara lost to Adonis Stevenson on points), and they will have their eyes on claiming a major belt in the light heavyweight division.
However, sometimes a title doesn't need to be on the line to make a fight an attractive, and profitable, proposition.
A rematch, potentially somewhere in Britain, would be a must-watch fight for all boxing fans.
First, though, the two warriors deserve a little time to recover from their bruising first meeting.
Would you like to see a Fonfara-Cleverly rematch? Tell us your thoughts by using the comments section.