By Sean Crose
There are knockouts and then there are acts of sheer destruction. What Sergey Kovalev did to Ismayl Sillakh in Quebec on Saturday night was an act of sheer destruction. Brutal, complete, sheer destruction. Make no mistake about it, Kovalev is now the big man on campus. Linear championship aside, the hard hitting Russian has arisen as the man to beat in the light heavyweight division.
Photo: HBO/Ed Mulholland
What seemed to make Kovalev’s victory so distinctly impressive on Saturday was the fact that Sillakh was arguably ahead after the first round. By employing some serious boxing skills, the Ukrainian actually seemed to have the heavily favored Russian off his game. If that was truly the case, however, then Kovalev got himself back into the zone in no time flat – for he dropped Sillakh hard in the second.
Sillakh, to his credit, bravely got back to his feet. The man was there to fight, after all, not to let a golden opportunity slip away. Yet Sillakh no longer looked good. His face was bloodied and void of confidence. By the time the fight ended a few seconds later, it was worth wondering if Sillakh should have stayed on the floor when he was knocked down the first time.
Sprawled out on the mat, head pressed against canvas, Sillakh looked vulnerable and nearly lifeless. It was one of those sickening moments when fight fans feel like their worst fears may have come true. Fortunately, that moment was fleeting and the man was back on his feet in minutes. Still, the point was made loud and clear: that Kovalev is a force, a big force, to be reckoned with.
Is he big enough to be that rarest of specimens, however, a popular light heavyweight? Leonard and Hearns briefly shone the spotlight on the light heavyweight division back in the day, but both men were by then well past their primes and were simply looking for late career glory. The truth is, one has to be impressive, Roy Jones Junior impressive, if one wishes to make a splash as a light heavyweight.
And the indisputable truth is that Kovalev did indeed look supremely impressive on Saturday night. Besides, an act of destruction can be quite lucrative for the destroyer when it occurs live on HBO. On top of that, another light heavyweight destroyer, one Adonis Stevensen, looked pretty impressive himself later on in the evening. By decimating the feisty Brit Tony Bellew, Stevensen paved the way for a big time showdown with Kovalev.
Yet Stevensen, during his post-fight interview, didn’t seem too interested in seeing a Kovalev fight happen. Sure, he said he’d take the matchup if the circumstances were right. Yet he appeared much more interested in fighting Bernard Hopkins and/or Carl Froch. Perhaps that’s because of some interior need Stevensen has. Or perhaps it has something to do with money. Whatever the reason, Stevensen’s seeming lack of interest in fighting Kovalev most certainly did not make for good television.
For Kovelev is, to put it simply, the most promising prospect on the Canadian’s horizon. To avoid a potential bout with Kovalev for whatever reason would make Stevensen appear weak. And Stevensen’s waited too long for his moment in the spotlight to want to appear weak. What’s more, Kovalev’s thunderous victory on Saturday made it clear that, frightening though he is, Stevensen is no longer the division’s scariest man.
Of course, in the end, Stevensen probably could avoid Kovalev and get away with it – at least for a while. A match with Kovalev isn’t technically required of him, after all. Still, while it’s true Stevensen is the linear champion of his division, the man will be champion in name only to many in the fight world if he doesn’t step into the ring to face what will possibly be his most daunting challenge.