Boxing: I'm not skirting Krasniqi issue, says Cleverly

Britain's Nathan Cleverly insists he has not overlooked Saturday's challenger Robin Krasniqi, as he aims to stay on course for a world title unification fight with Bernard Hopkins later this year.

The Welshman makes a fifth defence of his World Boxing Organisation (WBO) light-heavyweight title against Krasniqi at Wembley Arena.

Hopkins and Cleverly, who have both expressed interest in facing each other in 2013, have mandatory challengers to deal with before any talks can begin about a unification clash.

Hopkins, at 48 boxing's oldest ever world champion, is the International Boxing Federation (IBF) title-holder and defends his belt against Krasniqi's fellow German Karo Murat on July 27.

Cleverly, meanwhile, must come through against a confident Krasniqi, who he expects to give him one of the toughest fights of his unbeaten 25-bout career.

"I can't afford to slip up, especially as we are edging towards the big fights now," said Cleverly.

"It's vital that I get through it.

"I am not looking too far ahead. I am thinking only about this guy, but when I am prepared mentally and physically, there is no way to stop me. When I win I will be moving on to bigger and better things. Only then can I start thinking about Hopkins.

"I feel I am on the cusp of something. Bit by bit we have edged towards the big fights, the super fights.

"Krasniqi is dangerous opponent -- he has won his last 38 fights, knocked out his last four. That shows you what I am up against.

"After fighting Krasniqi, I want the unification bouts. I was obliged to take this fight as a mandatory, but that's OK as you become a world champion by fighting all-comers."

Krasniqi, 26, was in a mischievous mood at the pre-fight press conference and presented the champion with a skirt bearing the inscription 'Princess'.

Krasniqi, who is on a 38-fight winning streak, then tried to wind up Cleverly by claiming he lacked the stomach for a fight after crying off sick earlier this year.

"It looked like they didn't want the fight because it was postponed three times," the German said.

"This fight has been on for about a year now but three times Nathan seems to have had a stomach bug, stomach upset or a problem and pulled out.

"I gave him the skirt because the illnesses I have just mentioned are usually what an old woman would complain about. All those complaints are usually made by women and maybe it's better for him to change into women's things.

"Despite all that, I am totally focused on this fight. Cleverly has obviously trained very hard for this fight, but some things smell like an excuse."

Mathematics university graduate Cleverly, 26, laughed off Krasniqi's taunts, but is taking him seriously in the ring so his dream of fighting Hopkins is not wrecked.

"It's all bravado and it's good fun," he told AFP. "I just smiled it off and I didn't fall into his trap of trying to wind me up."

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