Boxing needs entertaining fights to thrive. Thirty-two-year-old Sergey Kovalev is an entertaining fighter.
Kovalev (28-0-1, 25 KOs) is the best light-heavyweight in the world. He won his first title with a fourth-round knockout of Nathan Cleverly in Cardiff on August 17, 2013, and has successfully defended the throne six times. His most notable defense was a twelve-round shutout of Bernard Hopkins on November 8, 2014. Before that bout, Kovalev observed, “Bernard talks and fights. I just fight.” Afterward, there was mutual respect between them.
“Bernard Hopkins is the best fighter I’ve fought,” Kovalev said.
“It’s not hype. Sergey is for real,” Hopkins acknowledged.
Kovalev now holds three championship belts (WBA, WBO, and IBF) and needs only the WBC strap to complete his collection. Many fighters say they’d like to fight the best available opposition. Unlike many of them, Sergey means it.
To date, WBC beltholder Adonis Stevenson has ducked Kovalev. “I’m not interested in Adonis Stevenson as a fighter,” Sergey says. “I’m interested in his belt.” Andre Ward may, or may not, move up to 175-pounds and challenge Kovalev later this year. Meanwhile, Sergey is slated to fight a rematch against Jean Pascal in a bout that will be televised by BoxNation on 30 January.
Pascal (30-3-1, 17 KOs) is one year older than Kovalev. He won the WBC 175-pound title in 2009 with a tenth-round stoppage of Silvio Branco and has fought competitively at a world-class level against the likes of Carl Froch, Chad Dawson, Bernard Hopkins, and Lucian Bute.
Kovalev was the aggressor in the first Kovalev-Pascal encounter, which was fought at a brisk pace. In round three, Pascal decided to fight with Sergey and wound up being saved by the bell after a hard right hand draped him over the ropes.
Pascal rallied to win rounds five and six, but tired noticeably in round seven. In round eight, Kovalev unloaded, leaving Jean on wobbly legs. Referee Luis Pablon stopped the bout at the 1:03 mark with Pascal pinned in a corner but still standing. It was the first stoppage loss in Pascal’s career. After the bout, Jean told television viewers and the crowd at the Bell Centre in Montreal, “I don’t know why the referee stopped the fight. It’s not hockey.”
Meanwhile, for someone who only recently learned English, Kovalev has an impressive way with words.
“Sergey couldn’t speak English when he came to America,” Ellen Haley of Main Events (Kovalev’s promoter) says. “It’s remarkable how much he has learned. If we say something he doesn’t understand, he’ll ask what it means and repeat it with us several times.”
Answering a question on a media conference call prior to fighting Bernard Hopkins, Kovalev acknowledged the possibility that he could lose. When pressed by a reporter who followed up with, “Are you not one hundred percent certain that you're going to beat Hopkins?” Sergey answered, “This is boxing. I can repeat for you, special for you, this is boxing and everything in boxing can happen. This is not swimming. This is not cycling. This is not running. This is boxing.”
More recently, when asked about Roy Jones’s embrace of Vladimir Putin and acceptance of Russian citizenship, Kovalev (who is from Russia but now lives in Florida) opined, “It’s like a comedy show. He’s a legend as a boxer, but he’s like a clown in Russia. My question is ‘Why? Because everybody in America forgot who he was?’ He was a great champion, but no more.”
Some of other notable Sergey Kovalev quotes are:
* “I like to disappoint my opponent and his fans.”
* “Say and do are two different things, especially in boxing.”
* “The fans, the media; they don’t know what it is to be a fighter because they have never been punched in the face by a fighter. I feel fear. I am not a target. I don’t like to get hit. In boxing, any punch from your opponent can be the last for you. It is very dangerous. I knew Magomed Abdusalamov from the national team in Russia. He was a friend; not my best friend, but a friend. I don’t ever want to be like he is today.”
Kovalev lacks only the inquisitors to solidify the claim that he’s a great fighter. In that regard, Sergey states, “Other people should say you’re the best. You don’t need to say it yourself.”
Terence Crawford will fight Hank Lundy on BoxNation on 27 February. That’s Crawford’s consolation prize for losing the Manny Pacquiao sweepstakes to Tim Bradley (who will fight Pacquiao in Las Vegas for the third time on 9 April).
Asked recently why he hadn’t been more vocal in calling out Pacquiao, Crawford responded, “I can call out a million people, but that doesn’t mean the fight gets made. It’s not up to me.”
Crawford also said he was happy for Bradley, who he considers a friend. And he predicted that Bradley will win his rubber match against Pacquiao.
“I thought Tim won the first fight too,” Terence added. “Watch that fight again with the sound off. Tim beat him no matter what people think.”
For the record, I was one of the few people at ringside on fight night who scored Pacquiao-Bradley I for Bradley. My card read 115-114. Much of the dialogue in the days that followed focused on round seven, which was labeled “the smoking gun.” The CompuBox “punch-stats” had Pacquiao outlanding Bradley in round seven by a 27-to-11 margin. Yet all three judges scored the round for Bradley.
A smoking gun?
I watched videos of round seven in its entirety from multiple camera angles . . . Several times . . . In slow motion . . . I think that Bradley outlanded Pacquiao 16-to-12 in round seven.
I won’t quarrel with those who say that Pacquiao deserved the decision. But it was a close fight, and I’ve been at ringside for many decisions that were worse.
Thomas Hauser can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org. His most recent book – A Hurting Sport - was published by the University of Arkansas Press.