Fear Sergey Kovalev
By: Brandon Bernica
As cold as a Siberian winter and as menacing as a Scandinavian Viking, Sergey Kovalev is the epitome of intimidation. There’s a chill to everything the man does. From mocking Adonis Stevenson in broken English to taunting opponents as he’s beating them down, vitriol underscores his motives. Don’t get me wrong, there’s a charming and playful side to Kovalev, but when you encroach upon his pride, his “Krusher” persona morphs him into one of the sport’s deadliest champions.
For whatever inexplicable reason, however, fans don’t endear Kovalev with the respect he deserves. His rise to undefeated dominance featured a cavalcade of opponents being wiped out in a fashion analogous to how wipers smack bugs off a windshield in one swipe. When he outboxed Bernard Hopkins with intelligence and patience, many quickly wrote off the win as a result of Hopkins’ age. Even after beating staunch contender Jean Pascal in a one-sided fight, Pascal’s promoters negotiated a rematch because, apparently, middle-round knockouts aren’t decisive enough as victories. There’s always an excuse to justify Kovalev as “overrated.”
Much of the discredit heading towards Kovalev’s career stems from contextualizing him with Adonis Stevenson and Andre Ward. The lineal light-heavyweight championship belongs to Adonis Stevenson, yet most pundits regard Kovalev as the better fighter. Still, the question lingers for a subsection of fans as to which fighter would win a hypothetical fight. Posturing turns into requisites – some won’t give Sergey his due until he defeats Stevenson, even though TV alliances strike doubt that the fight will ever be made.
As for a matchup with Andre Ward, that will happen later this year. Ward will be the greatest challenge of Kovalev’s career, a mixture of physical talent and superb ring IQ. Yet the same train of thought circulates between a few boxing fans – will Kovalev finally prove himself against a name opponent? Some will go as far as to diminish his track record simply because they believe he will lose against Ward – not has lost – but WILL LOSE.
Kovalev suffers from the same disease as Gennady Golovkin – that of the conqueror. They will always be stuck inside a box, forced to live out narratives favoring the underdogs facing them. Chatter centers less on Kovalev’s accomplishments and more on the man daring enough to challenge him. Once he demolishes those foes with ease, it’s categorized as “what he was supposed to do” – which is true, but it misses the point. We’d marvel at Hopkins or Floyd Mayweather for consistency; is there a double standard with foreign fighters whom we may connect less with?
In the story of the light-heavyweight division, you can’t capture the scope of its competition without mentioning Kovalev, Stevenson, and Ward in the same breath. But Kovalev doesn’t have to be defined by his peers. Look at his resumé for what it is, not what it can be. That mindset may prohibit you from seeing him as s truly special fighter with life-altering power in his bones. He fights Isaac Chilemba on Monday night on HBO. Do yourself a favor and watch this man at work. Feel the same chill his opponents feel. Embrace the fear.