Sergey Kovalev became the WBO Light Heavyweight Champion tonight after destroying previously unbeaten Welshman Nathan Cleverly, over four rounds in Cardiff, Wales.
The Russian fighter, who improves to 22-0-1 with 20 KO’s, had caught the eye with an impressive KO of Cornelius White on Friday Night Fights in June, off the back of which HBO picked him up with a multi-fight deal as forums, writers and boxingheads started to buzz about him alongside fellow KO specialists GGG and Lucas Matthysse.
30 year old Kovalev has managed to creep up under the radar, despite mostly fighting in the US, but since signing with Kathy Duva and Main Events his stock has rapidly risen. This win puts him in a prime position for huge unification bouts with the winner of Hopkins/Murat or even more excitingly Cloud/Stevenson. A match up between two power punchers like Stevenson and Kovalev is a mouthwatering prospect, but the relative freshness to the scene of the Russian could mean that it may need to wait until 2014. Of course, that is presuming Stevenson dispenses with Cloud and mandatory challenger Tony Bellew in the meantime.
HBO will I imagine, want to build Kovalev a little more with a fight or two, and there’s even whispers that there may be a rematch clause for Cleverly, but after tonight, one wonders if he’d want to exercise that, so convincing was the Krusher’s victory.
Cleverly had spent his career toughing out contests, had never even tasted the canvas and learned his trade as a teenage sparring partner for Welsh legend Joe Calzaghe. Despite his intelligence (Cleverly holds a Degree in Mathematics), the 26 year old has been drawn into unnecessary wars throughout his career, relying on a solid chin and outstanding conditioning to get him through.
Tonight proved no different – used to bullying his opponents, Cleverly, who is trained by his father Vince, incomprehensibly tried to walk down the hard-hitting Russian from the opening bell, playing right into Kovalevs’ hands. Kovalev was landing hard shots at will throughout the first and Cleverly went back to his corner at the end of the session knowing he was in deeper than he’d ever been before.
The barrage continued throughout the second round, and then in the third, Cleverly’s bravado got the better of him, as he ushered the Russian in, inviting him to throw bombs. Kovalev accepted and did so with painful precision and ferocity forcing Cleverly to the canvas for the first time in his career. Instead of taking a knee and gathering himself properly, Cleverly jumped up as if to prove he wasn’t hurt and, still disorganised, strode forward into another assault from Kovalev that this time left him staggering and bent double with 17 seconds remaining in the round.
Arguably, if this fight had been anywhere else but Cleverly’s hometown, the bout would already have been over, but the referee let the defending champion continue even though he was clearly virtually out on his feet. He struggled to hold on to Kovalev to keep his balance through to the bell when the referee looked like he’d stopped the fight, but confusingly allowed Cleverly to go back to his corner and gather himself.
Urged on by his father, a discombobulated Cleverly tried to look defiant as he came out for the 4th round but lasted only 29 seconds as Kovalev finished the job with ease, forcing Terry O Connor to step in and end Cleverlys’ reign as WBO Champion. The Welshman’s legs and senses had long gone their seperate ways and the Russian celebrated what had been a surprisingly straightforward but impressive victory over a previously tough and durable opponent, proof positive that he packs serious power in his punches at the highest level.
Cleverly is young enough to rebuild and will regret his decision to try to go to war with a puncher of Kovalev’s percussive power, but now that he knows he can be hurt, perhaps he will get back to using some of the boxing skills he’s displayed in the past. There are rumours of a rematch clause , but like Lucien Bute after his Carl Froch nightmare , he may want to take a couple of fights to get back into the groove before placing himself in the line of fire again.
As for Kovalev, he’s yet to go beyond 8 rounds, and his durability and own punch resistance are there to be tested. He likes to get the job done early and a smart fighter could prosper by making him miss and possibly punching himself out, but anyone who stands toe to toe with him is taking a huge risk, making the aforementioned Adonis Stevenson the most explosive, fan friendly matchup available. Bernard Hopkins might fancy his chances of spoiling Kovalev’s work with ring smarts, but whether he fancies the risk/reward of fighting such a big puncher is questionable, particularly at this stage of his career.
On the undercard, former Cruiserweight Champion Enzo Macaranelli won a brutal war with fellow slugger Ovil McKenzie for the Light Heavyweight Commonwealth Title with a stunning 11th round KO which left McKenzie out on his feet after both men had exchanged huge shots in a pick ’em fight. In the main supporting bout, betting underdog Stephen Smith claimed the British Super Featherweight title with the punch of the night and one of the KO’s of the year so far, a perfectly timed right uppercut that sent tough beltholder Gary Buckland to the canvas face first Pac/Marquez IV style in the fourth round of another decent contest.
Smith, who had previously held the British Featherweight belt, was congratulated by his brothers Paul who is the current British Super Middleweight champion, Liam who challenges for the British 154lb strap in October and Calum who is a highly regarded prospect in the 168lb division. Should Liam be successful in October, the brothers will make history as the first family to hold three prestigious Lonsdale belts at the same time.
Tim Vigon – @goldenears