By Tyson Bruce
Last Saturday in Montreal Sergey “Krusher” Kovalev, 27-0-1-(24 Ko’s), reminded the boxing world that he’s one of the most ferocious, violent and talented fighters on Earth. In front of a partisan Jean Pascal crowd, where Pascal is revered as something of a sporting God, Kovalev overcame some mild adversity to do what he does best: destroy his opponent.
With every passing bout Kovalev is stating his case that he, and not lineal champion Adonis Stevenson, is the best light heavyweight in the division. More than that, he is becoming the division’s real star.
The aforementioned Stevenson is the probably the French-Canadian fighter most of the boxing world wanted to see in the ring with Kovalev. The two fighters came out of virtual obscurity in 2014 to simultaneously take the boxing community by storm. Among the very elite knockout artists in the sport, the two men appeared to be on an inevitable collision course, until Stevenson reneged on a proposed deal to fight Kovalev on HBO and jumped aboard the Al Haymon gravy train.
Since that moment, Stevenson has become a pariah among hard-core fight fans because he has received million-plus paychecks to defend the lineal title (that he legitimately claimed by knocking out Chad Dawson) against fringe contenders and washed up super middleweights, as he will do against Sakio Bika later this year.
It’s Kovalev that is behaving like the real champion by defending his alphabet titles against top contenders like Bernard Hopkins and Jean Pascal. Stevenson seems poised to profit even more from his relationship with Haymon by entering the lucrative field of network TV with the PBC boxing series.
As much good as the PBC and the return of boxing to mainstream TV will do for boxing, it also has some potentially negative consequences. Like middleweight Gennady Golovkin, Kovalev is stuck with the mantra of being the best fighter in his division without having the historical linage of the lineal title to lay claim to. They are uncrowned, people’s champions. One can envision the PBC broadcasts trying to propose the idea that the winner of Andy Lee- Peter Quillen and Stevenson-Bika are the best fighters in their divisions, while pretending that Golovkin and Kovalev don’t exist.
The separation between the Haymon side of boxing and the HBO (and everyone else that remains independent) is a real problem and will only further spread the notion that boxing is a fractured sport.
The question then becomes: where does Kovalev go from here?
Pascal was arguably the best fighter in the division willing to fight him. Stevenson told the HBO crew covering the Kovalev-Pascal fight that he is ready to throw down with Kovalev this year. But if “The Krusher” is unable to lure Stevenson into the ring, then he may be forced to go the Golovkin road and simply beat the best man willing to face him. There are worse things a fight fan could do on a Saturday night than watch Kovalev make human borscht soup of Isaac Chilemba, Andrzej Fonfara or Eledier Alvarez. It’s not ideal, but Kovalev is just one of those rare breed of fighters that are entertaining and captivating to watch against anyone.
Another interesting fight that no one seems to be even discussing is the potential of a meeting with super middleweight titlist Carl Froch. Froch has tried to escape Joe Calzaghe’s shadow his entire professional career, and what better way to do that than equal Calzaghe’s feat of becoming a two-weight division world champion? It certainly is the easiest major payday Froch could get, but it is the fight and the risk that would do the most to enhance his legacy. Also, can you imagine the potential slugfest that could be? With Kovalev’s punch and killer instinct and Froch’s heart and iron chin, it would be a virtual shoo-in for fight of the year potential.
Another match-up that sits more distantly on the horizon is a potential summit meeting of talent between Kovalev and Andre Ward, if and when he decides to vacate the supper middleweight division. It’s been so long since the “Son of God” laced up a pair of gloves that it’s difficult to imagine him fighting anyone these days. Other realistic possibilities is a grudge match a few years down the line with rising prospect Beibut Shumenov, who holds two amateur victories over Kovalev. That would be a fascinating storyline and would have the added edge of patriotic rivalry. It’s sort of the Russian equivalent to the first Shane Mosley-Vernon Forrest fight, with less flash and more brute Russian badassery.
Wherever Kovalev goes from here, it will be impossible to separate his name from the late Emanuel Steward protege Adonis “Superman” Stevenson. The two fighters are once-in-a-generation punchers and are logical rivals. If this were the 1960s or 80s, they probably would have fought each other several times by now. Kovalev would be a prohibitive favorite, but its fascinating to think what would have happened last Saturday if Stevenson had landed the haymakers that Pascal was able to. That fight would be pure dramatic savagery at its best.
One note of clarity that Saturday night provided was that Kovalev is certainly one of the very best fighters in all of boxing. His fight against Hopkins answered many questions, but not all. Hopkins was still beating top fighters but many people have conveniently forgotten about his wide points loss to Dawson just two years prior. When Hopkins realized he couldn’t beat Kovalev, he went dormant and simply tried to survive.
We still didn’t know how “the Krusher” would react when a top ranked fighter really tried to push him. Credit Pascal and his bravery for doing so. Kovalev passed the test with flying colors and destroyed a former lineal champion who had never even been knocked down, let alone stopped. It was a powerful statement.
The Kovalev express is in full motion now and watching a fighter with his high skill level and awesome punching power should be a fascinating journey. Enjoy him while he’s here because you just don’t see fighters like him very often.