Cleverly claims stoppage win
Nathan Cleverly retained his WBO light-heavyweight title with an eighth-round stoppage of Shawn Hawk in Los Angeles.
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Defending the belt for the fourth time, Cleverly floored a game challenger three times in an eye-catching showing that keeps him on track for high-profile unification showdowns in 2013.
The Welshman's superior skills and hand speed bamboozled Hawk throughout, although the champion carelessly took some heavy shots in return.
He stepped up the pace in round seven and superb attacks to the body lay at root of Hawk being knocked down twice.
The challenger was on the floor again in the next session and, when a sickening left hook to the kidneys left Hawk sagging, referee Tony Crebs called a halt after one minute and 53 seconds of the round.
Cleverly moves to an unblemished 25-fight record with his 12th victory inside the distance, while Hawk slips to 23-3-1 after failing to hear the final bell for the first time as a professional.
"This proves I'm ready for the States, I just hope their best fighters are ready to fight me,'' Cleverly told BBC Sport Wales.
"I had a late replacement opponent and that can be dangerous as he came in with nothing to lose. He was quite a big puncher with a good knockout record.
"But I felt great early on and thought the writing was on the wall for him - I felt unstoppable in there.
"I've enjoyed the experience and feel I made the most of a great opportunity of fighting in the States.''
The challenger from South Dakota was a heavy betting underdog having failed in a shot at the North American crown last time out and the gulf in class was soon apparent.
Cleverly's hand speed caught the eye during an opening round when Hawk's lack of lateral movement made him a prime candidate for the left uppercut to the head.
Hawk began the second with a meaty left hook to the body, displaying the power of a man who has campaigned for the majority of his career at cruiserweight, but Cleverly responded by sending home flurries of sharp head shots on the ropes.
The champion was caught flush by a firm straight right in the next session before the already familiar barrage of attacks to head and body resumed.
Combinations flashing from right uppercut to left hook were testing Hawk's chin and a touch of complacency seemed to be the main cause of Cleverly shipping some return fire while on the offensive in four.
Moving into the middle rounds the Cefn Fforest man started to operate at range more often, setting up crisp attacks effectively off the jab before a left-right assault to Hawk's body closed six.
That success prompted a decisive return to close quarters in round seven and solid shots downstairs took the wind out of Hawk before a pair of right hooks sent him gasping to the canvas.
Cleverly sensed blood - a further flurry had the challenger down once more before the end of the round and more of the same followed as he clinically ended matters in the eighth.
Another left hook to the body left Hawk exposed to a chopping right that decked him for a third time, leaving Cleverly to close the show with aplomb.
Oscar De La Hoya professed himself to be a member of the Cleverly fan club and the six-weight world champion turned promoter touted an enticing match-up with 47-year-old ring veteran Bernard Hopkins next year.
The other champions in Cleverly's division - American duo Chad Dawson and Tavoris Cloud and US-based Kazak Beibut Shumenov - are also potential opponents in 2013, which must surpass a quiet past 12 months for the Welshman.
Cleverly also ensured there was a touch of Hollywood glamour added to proceedings as Sir Tom Jones and actor Mickey Rourke accompanied him to the ring.
"Mickey is a cracking guy and Tom is a Welsh legend who is known and respected around the world,'' he added.
"It was honour to have them both in my team and I can't thank them enough for wanting to help me make a name for myself in America.
"Although it was quite surreal - my mum loves Tom Jones and she's well chuffed.''