Nathan Cleverly is preparing to fight again in Las Vegas almost 10 years after his preparations to do so began.
The WBA light-heavyweight champion makes the first defence of his title against Sweden’s Badou Jack, 33, who after defeating George Groves and drawing with James DeGale, is moving up from 168lbs.
Aged 21, Cleverly fought on the undercard of Joe Calzaghe’s defeat of Bernard Hopkins and shadowed his compatriot throughout that fight’s build-up.
Even then he believed he would return to the fighting capital in a significant match-up, and on Saturday at the T-Mobile Arena is involved in what is likely to be the evening’s most competitive fight.
Floyd Mayweather’s with Conor McGregor remains widely thought of as a mismatch with little more than commercial appeal, but amid the high profile of the event, for Cleverly and Jack it represents a chance to secure perhaps their finest wins.
“It was a great experience,” the Welshman told Press Association Sport. “Joe was fighting Hopkins, just being around the set-up, the exposure, the press conferences, you get a feel for it. It’s put me in good stead for now.
“I always knew in my heart that one day I’d probably be here on the big stage myself. I always felt this is great preparation for the future when I come back as the champ.
“I love this city, I love Vegas, it’s a great fight city. I was here in (March) 2008, boxing in an eight-round (points victory over Antonio Baker at the Thomas & Mack Centre) on the undercard, and it was a great experience. The pressure was off back then.
“Now we’re back here, on the big stage, in a big fight, with massive pressure, and I love it.”
Cleverly was an undefeated fighter when in 2013 he was stopped by Russia’s ruthless Sergey Kovalev in four rounds. After contemplating retirement, he moved up to cruiserweight where he appeared too small to truly excel, narrowly lost a rematch to rival Tony Bellew, and after returning to 175lbs was defeated in a bruising fight by Poland’s Andrzej Fonfara.
His was a difficult run of fights that few British fighters have surpassed during that period, but Cleverly responded to win his title from German Juergen Braehmer last October, and believes that victory has also recovered the confidence he had lost.
The 30-year-old said: “It’s difficult (stepping up in weight). The other fighters, the weight advantage: you can feel that solidness, that strength, that toughness. That’s what Jack will feel.
“This will be my best ever win. The winner goes on to be elite.”