Nathan Cleverly faces IIlunga Makabu for interim WBA cruiserweight title on February 1st
By Scott Gilfoid: Former WBO light heavyweight champion Nathan Cleverly (26-1, 12 KO’s) will be looking to put himself in position for a quick world title shot on February 1st in his fight against #3 WBA Illunga “Junior” Makabu (15-1, 14 KO’s) for the interim WBA cruiserweight title on the undercard of the Gennady Golovkin vs. Osumanu Odama on February 1st at the Salle des etoiles, in Monte Carlo, Monaco. The winner of the Cleverly-Makabu fight will be in line to get an eventual fight against WBA cruiserweight champion Denis Lebedev.
Makabu, 5’10”, is short for a cruiserweight and not nearly as powerful as his resume would have you believe. He’s actually not a huge puncher at all, but he’s faced such incredibly poor opposition that it’s given the impression that he’s a huge puncher. I mean, Makabu can punch better than CLeverly, but probably not a whole lot more than him. Makabu doesn’t throw a lot of punches and the main things he has going for him is his southpaw stance and his fast hands. He’s definitely faster than Cleverly, which isn’t saying a whole lot because Cleverly isn’t known for his hand speed.
Cleverly is fighting for the first time since his 4th round TKO loss to Sergey Kovalev from last August. Cleverly never stood a chance against the hard hitting Kovalev and was mowed down quickly by him after being knocked down twice in the 3rd round. You can make a strong argument that the fight should have been halted in the 3rd round, because that was the round in which British referee Terry O’Connor half-carried a badly hurt Cleverly back to his corner following a knockdown. Why wasn’t stopped at that point is anyone’s guess, but it didn’t really matter at the end of the day. Kovalev tore into defenseless Cleverly at the start of the 4th round and the fight was then halted.
If Cleverly gets whipped by Makabu on February 1st then he’s going to need to make a big decision about whether he should retire or continue on as just a gatekeeper type of fighter. There are much better cruiserweights in the division than Makabu, believe me. If Cleverly can’t even beat him to pick up the paper WBA interim cruiserweight strap then it’s probably best that Cleverly retire. As it is, Cleverly will be dissected if he ever fights Lebedev for the full WBA cruiserweight title, so a win over Makabu is really just putting off the inevitable for Cleverly for a little while. I think it would be better if Makabu beats Cleverly and puts him out of his misery quicker so that he doesn’t have to waste time in the sport any longer than necessary.
Cleverly could probably find success if he move back down to 175 and waited to get a chance at fighting against the WBA light heavyweight champion. He could get a shot at either Bernard Hopkins or Beibut Shumenov. I think Cleverly is young enough to wait out Hopkins until he retires, and face someone like Shumenov or Eleider Alvarez for the WBA title. This obviously will be after Shumenov loses his WBA title to Hopkins next years.