By Mark Baldwin

LESS than two weeks away from perhaps the most important fight of his life, the demands on Frazer Clarke’s time have never been greater. A big domestic heavyweight showdown with Fabio Wardley looms. The British title is on the line. One could soundly argue that his career is on the line too.

Clarke, 8-0 (6), is an Olympic bronze medallist, the pinnacle of an amateur career that saw him regularly roll the dice as he fought – and often defeated – some of the best boxers in the world. Wardley’s route was different, it lacked the strict schooling that being on Team GBA broze  brings. He started out as a white collar fighter and didn’t have any amateur bouts. Yet many expect Wardley, after 17 professional contests, to beat the boxer with the greater education. It seems insulting.

“I understand where people are coming from in a way,” Clarke tells Boxing News “But if I am not ready for him, then he is not ready for me. Yeah, he’s had a few more [pro] fights than me. But if you include the stuff I did in the amateurs and in the World Series of Boxing (WSB), they were like professional fights anyway. We are not that far away from each other in terms of experience. If anything, I have got more experience than him because I have been in with better opposition than him. That’s a fact. But I am not buying into that too much, and I have gone past listening to it. Everyone thinks I am beaten before the fight has even started, so I am just in that headspace to just let the doubters doubt. In training that’s fuelling me, and I am using that to my advantage.”

Clarke has spoken previously about the lack of love he has received since he turned over after winning the bronze medal in Tokyo. “It was probably a bit naive of me. It’s not that I need or want to be loved. But as an amateur, nobody really gives two shits about you if I am being honest,” Clarke explains today. “Even though you are representing your country at a high level, nobody really cares about it. I’m trying to speak to the broadcasters all the time to pay more attention to these guys because that is the real core of the sport. I want to get those guys in the public eye. I’m having those conversations all the time.

“But as a pro, it just opens up the floodgates. I don’t mind the critics and them having an opinion about how I fight. It’s more the daft comments, [about] the way you look, about your family. I don’t put much on social media anymore, but people leave comments on pictures of my grandparents and my kids and stuff like that. That was the thing that I was more shocked about. But on boxing, people can have their opinion about me – it’s all part and parcel of the sport.”

The fight with Wardley has generated opinion, that’s for sure. The much-publicised purse bid debacle from last year, when Clarke was pulled out of the auction at the 11th hour, left the boxer to face the wrath of critics.

“There was bad communication between ourselves, management and promoter included. So that is never a good start. But I still wanted the fight. But I realised that my management company at the time [258 MGT] and my promoter [Boxxer] were on two very different hymn sheets. Nobody called me about the purse bids, and I thought this was a bit unusual. The way it was done, I had a meeting with the guys. I was sort of being told that that was what was going to happen. I was being told that we have got big plans for you and this is not one of them. I felt like let’s play ball and don’t bite the hand that feeds you sort of thing. It was a bit like that, but you live and learn from these situations. Going forward with my career and going through something like that myself, it is something I can now pass on to others.”

The lack of ‘love’ from some boxing fans might be down to the eight professional opponents he has faced so far. Clarke, to his credit, has been critical too and demanded more, both from his promoter, Ben Shalom, and himself. One suspects we will see the best of Frazer Clarke when he is faced with a rival he deems a threat.

“It’s a terrible trait of mine,” Clarke admits. “If you don’t have to get out of first gear, sometimes you can’t. I just haven’t had to yet. Everyone I have boxed so far I could have beaten on my worst day. Kamil Sokolowski, who I think beat David Adeleye, was me at my worst. I had a lot going on at home, and I hardly trained for the fight. I knew I would beat him, I needed the money, and that is always important. I just knew when I got in there that I would beat him, even at my worst. But this one is a bit different. If I go in there and have an off day, Fabio has a chance of winning the fight. It gets you out of bed. Let’s put it that way.”

“One hundred per cent you will see the best version of me in this fight. It is all about your dancing partner, and I think Fabio is a good dance partner. You will definitely see a better version of me, and I am still improving all the time. I feel as though I am still improving as a fighter and as an athlete. So the best of me will probably be in a few fights time, but you will definitely see an improvement against Fabio.”

Should Clarke win the British title in his ninth fight, he will do so in record time. No boxer in history has won the championship after so few contests. “That wasn’t the way I was looking at it, to be honest. I wasn’t in a rush for it,” the heavyweight says. “I just felt after the Mariusz Wach and Dave Allen fights, they were like to gatekeepers as such, so who do I want after that? If I wasn’t ready for a British title after that, then when would I be ready? I just thought it was the natural next fight. I think Fabio is still at British level, I don’t think he is above that, and I am going to prove that. Where would he go from this? I don’t think he is ready to jump up to European or world level.”

Victory over the unbeaten and fast-improving Wardley would prompt many to move Clarke towards even bigger things. But while a win will push Clarke and his career to another plane, he is level-headed enough not to aim too high too soon.

“We are in a time where people can get carried away with a few wins at domestic level,” Clarke replies when asked if a win would propel him to world title contention. “A few domestic wins don’t take you up to world level. I am well aware of myself and my surroundings and the improvements that I need to make. I think it puts me on course for a few more good learning fights and a few more 12-rounders. After that, it gives me a great chance to move up the rankings. It will probably give me an opportunity to pick up an interim title or something like that. I think it will put me there or thereabouts. I don’t believe in rushing or talking about world titles, especially with the fighters that are fighting for world titles at the moment. There are loads of them, and I think they are a little away at the minute.”

Frazer Clarke, stung by the criticism he has so far received, knows he has a point to prove, probably more so to himself. The bookies, rarely wrong, favour his opponent. But this could just be another roll of the dice that falls in his favour.