Sergey Kovalev Meets Sullivan Barrera at 180 Pound Catchweight
By: Hans Themistode
The last image of Sergey Kovalev was not a pretty one.
The former three time Light Heavyweight world champion suffered a stoppage loss at the hands of Canelo Alvarez back in November of 2019. The much smaller Canelo moved up two weight divisions in order to take on the much bigger Kovalev. As it turns out, size doesn’t quite matter as Canelo was able to do whatever he pleased before ultimately stopping the former champion in the 11th round.
Now, at 36, and with his best days behind him, Kovalev is looking to reinvent himself. He is no longer interested in taking on the young guns in the Light Heavyweight division. Instead, he’s opted to move up to Cruiserweight. Sort of.
On April 25th, at the Fantasy Springs Resort Casino, in Indio, California, Kovalev will look to jump back into the win column against former Light Heavyweight title challenger Sullivan Barrera. The contest is set to take place at a catchweight of 180 pounds.
With Kovalev opting to face essentially a blown up Light Heavyweight for his Cruiserweight debut, he simply can’t afford a loss.
It’s been a rough few years for Kovalev to say the least. His aura of invincibility was essentially stripped away due to back to back losses to Andre Ward in 2016 and 2017 respectively. He managed to bounce back with two straight wins in the immediate aftermath. The former resulted in his championship status returning. Another speed bump came along the road however. This time in the form of Eleider Alvarez. Kovalev once again bounced back, winning the immediate rematch, while also turning back Anthony Yarde in the following contest.
To call Canelo Alvarez a speed bump on his road would be an understatement. Canelo represented more of a dead end.
So what does a driver do when faced with a dead end? Simple. Head in another direction.
With Kovalev in a completely new division, he has almost no room for error. One more loss could mean the end of his career as a serious contender on any level. With the pressure firmly on his back, Kovalev still finds a way to smile through all of the ups and downs.
“I am happy to get back in the ring and to be on my way back to world championship bouts,” said Sergey Kovalev. “Barrera is a Cuban fighter and, even though I never faced any Cuban fighters as a professional, back in amateur days it was always Russian boxers competing with Cuban boxers, so I’m looking forward to remembering my amateur boxing. I’m very glad to be back and to bring my boxing to my fans on April 25.”
Kovalev may have gone through a few ups and downs, but in the case Sullivan Barrera, it seems as though he has dealt with more down times recently.
For years Barrera was considered a contender at the Light Heavyweight division. But now, at the age of 38 and with losses in two of his past three fights, the word contender and Barrera don’t go hand in hand anymore.
Simply put, Kovalev isn’t the only one who is facing a must win situation.
“This will be the most important fight of my career because I have always pursued a fight with Sergey Kovalev,” said Sullivan Barrera. “I know that he has to win this fight in order to continue with his career, but the case is the same with me. It is very important to win this fight, which for me would be like becoming a world champion. That’s what it means for me to finally face Kovalev. I also want to thank Golden Boy for believing in me and my team, and for giving us the opportunity that we have always wanted, which is to fight Kovalev.”
Adonis Stevenson On Sakio Bika: “I Expect A Really Long Fight”
By Sean Crose
Adonis “Superman” Stevenson may well have been one of the most criticized men in boxing over the last year or so.
Fans and analysts alike (this author included), have taken their shots at the lineal light heavyweight champ’s seeming reluctance to fight an opponent of real note. After all, Sergey Kovalev, Jean Pascal and Bernard Hopkins were all in line to face the Canadian slugger, but none of those bouts came to fruition.
Stevenson has also, unfairly, been criticized for his criminal past. Nothing good comes from that sort of thing, of course. Stevenson – literally – did time for his crimes and has come clean, so why be onforgiving about it?
Boxing, after all, makes for great redemption stories: just take a look at convicted rapist Mike Tyson circa 2015.
With this in mind, it’s worth noting that Stevenson recently took part in serving the homeless at a local soup kitchen in the lead-up to this weekend’s bout with the awkward and challenging Sakio Bika. “In what has become a tradition before his fights at Pepsi Coliseum,” a press release stated, “Stevenson served food at La Maison de Lauberivière, a local shelter and soup kitchen for homeless men and women.”
The more cynical of boxing fans may take this as a publicity stunt, but then again, when NBA players make much out of such community service, no one questions it. Sometimes it’s good to take such things at face value. Stevenson, like so many boxers, came from humble origins, after all. Sometimes it’s just nice to see people give back.
That being said, Stevenson can’t be so kind this coming Saturday in Montreal. Bika, 35, may be moving up in weight, but the guy has a very nice 32-6-3 (21 KOs) resume for himself. In fact, Bika’s only lost to top level competition. In today’s record-obsessed fight scene, six loses may seem like a lot. When those losses come to names Like Ward, Dirrell, Calzaghe, and Bute, however, they seem a lot more understandable.
“I expect a really long fight,” Stevenson admitted. “Bika has never been stopped and when he lost, it was always against world champions. He is tough and he has heart. He was also a world champion. I will have to be patient, fast and move out of range to win,” says the graduate of the Kronk gym in Detroit and pupil of the late, great Hall of Fame trainer, Emanuel Steward.
If there’s ever been an indicator of Stevenson’s toned down lifestyle, it’s his training period. Speaking of his new gym, Stevenson claims there’s more to like than just its convenient location. “It will also allow me to spend more time with my kids and family,” he says. “I want to help the kids in the gym, too.”
“After training, we go back to his home,” says Stevenson’s new trainer, Javan “Sugar” Hill, “which is only a couple of minutes from the gym, where he stays relaxed and enjoys playing on his computer.”
The best way for “Superman” to endear himself to fans once again, however, will be for Stevenson to finally get it on with the ferocious Kovalev. Stevenson says he wants the fight, which has now more or less been ordered by the WBC. By putting his name on a contract to fight fellow champ Kovalev, Stevenson may quickly find all animosity forgotten.
First, though, the Haitian-Canadian has to get past Bika, which may not be as easy as everyone and his brother seems to think it is.
Bika throws hard, with all his weight. Indeed, to watch the man fight is kind of like watching someone chop down a tree. This bout, simply put, has the potential to be exciting.
This can prove good for Stevenson in more ways than one, as the fight will be the main event of Premiere Boxing Champion’s maiden voyage on CBS. It’s been a long time since the network has regularly shown boxing on Saturday afternoons.
Stevenson has the potential here to earn himself a bevy new fans if he not only wins, but does so in thrilling fashion.
Adonis “Superman” Stevenson vs. Sakio Bika: Can Bika Ruin the Best Laid Plans?
by Tyson Bruce
When lineal light-heavyweight champion Adonis Stevenson, (25-1-0, 21 KOs), announced that his first bout of 2015 was going to be against former super middleweight champ Sakio Bika, (32-6-3, 21 KOs), the vast majority of the boxing public cringed. After all, Bika has never fought at 175, and after losing his most recent bout against Anthony Dirrell, is considered by many to be past his prime.
So why is the fight happening?
The reason is pretty simple: both men are represented by boxing mystery mogul Al Haymon, so the match was easy and very likely inexpensive to make.
Bika is a fighter that never gives anything but his most sincere effort in the ring and has made a career out of giving top fighters hell, so completely counting him out would be foolish. That being said, Stevenson will enter the fight as the prohibitive favorite, in a match-up that doesn’t exactly whet one’s appetite.
It became much easier to be less cynical about the match-up (and Stevenson in general) when it was announced by the WBC (the title held by Stevenson) that it was enforcing WBO/IBF champion Sergey Kovalev, as its mandatory challenger. A sanctioning body announcing a rival alphabet champion as a mandatory challenger is a highly unconventional move, and a breath of fresh air from their usual nefarious behavior.
Stevenson–who is widely perceived to have avoided Kovalev since joining Al Haymon–and his promoter Yvon Michel of GYM Promotions have responded positively to the challenge. If Stevenson can defeat Bika and Kovalev can defeat his next mandatory challenger, Nadjib Mohammedi, the fight that looked like it would never happen should be a go. Issues with managerial rivalries and exclusive network contracts will almost guarantee that the fight will go to a purse bid, but it still paves the way to one of the most stylistically explosive matches in all of boxing.
The one man that can make this entire plan fall on its head is Sakio Bika. Everything about Bika’s career from his fighting style, record and origins is unconventional. Bika is a native of Cameroon, but chose to fight professionally in Australia: a strange move for a guy with ambitions of making a living from prize fighting. Bika fought in a twelve round contest in just his twelfth pro fight.
Bika is one of those rare fighters who managed to become a champion despite his obvious limitations. Bika doesn’t have the skills, speed or athleticism that is usually required to have the kind of career that he’s had, but he made up for it through his determination, awkward style and his unique ability to successful bend the Queensberry Rules. Bika’s head essentially operates as a third fist and his supreme physical strength allows him to bully almost every opponent he faces.
Just ask Joe Calazghe and Andre Ward, two of the greatest super middleweights of all time, about how tough Bika is. He arguably gave both men their toughest fights.
Bika clearly isn’t the same fighter he was a couple years ago, as was proven in the second Anthony Dirrell fight, which was dramatically more one- sided than their first encounter. If he is to have any chance against Stevenson, who has a significant speed and skills advantage, Bika will have to drag Stevenson into a gutter brawl where he can expose the Haitian-Canadian champ’s questionable stamina and toughness. Mentally speaking, Bika is in the enviable position of having nothing to lose and everything to gain.
The fighter with a hell of a lot more to lose on Saturday is unquestionably Adonis Stevenson. Stevenson, who will making the fifth defense of his lineal title, is expected to dominate and anything less than a stellar performance will be widely scorned by fans and media alike. It is paramount that Stevenson stay focused on the task at hand—not an easy challenge considering the massive fight that lies ahead for him. Other than getting Stevenson from point A to point B, a victory over Bika will do literally nothing other than earn him a sizable paycheck. Those are not enviable conditions to enter a fight with.
It, however, is the first step in repairing Stevenson’s reputation with the boxing community. After bursting onto the scene in 2013 with a string of vicious knockouts over reigning champion Chad Dawson and top contenders Tony Bellew and Tavoris Cloud, Stevenson was one of the hottest new properties in boxing. Stevenson, like many Haymon fighters, had his reputation massacred in 2014 by dramatically lowering his quality of opposition and turning down big fights.
While some of the brutal criticism thrown at Stevenson is warranted, however, some of it is simply preposterous.
Stevenson deserved the public wrath for backing out of a fight with Kovalev that was basically all but signed. However, the flack he took for fighting Andrzej Fonfara, a fighter that earned a title shot on merit, was ridiculous. Many boxing “experts” merely compared the match to Kovalev’s fight against Blake Caparello, which was simply wrong and unfair.
Fonfara was a worthy contender because he beat solid fighters like Gabriel Campillo and Caparello was not because he doesn’t have a single victory over a ranked opponent. The same can be said of Tony Bellew, another perfectly feasible opponent that Stevenson was ripped for fighting.
In fact, Stevenson’s opposition as champion has actually been quite solid. It’s only when you compare what he has done recently to what Kovalev has done that one can question his merit as the lineal champion. Kovalev has made Stevenson look like a paper tiger because virtually no one seems to believe that Stevenson is still the division’s best fighter.
This writer will wait for the actual fight before leaping to any dramatic conclusions. After all, Stevenson’s straight left hand, an absolute cannon of a punch that was enough to convince his late Hall of Fame trainer Emanuel Steward of “Superman’s” championship caliber, can win any fight on earth for him at any time if it lands right.
If Stevenson is to find a silver lining in his fight against Bika, it will also come courtesy of his power.
Despite his fighting some of the top fighters of his generation, no one has managed to stop Bika—or even really come close.
If Stevenson can knock Bika out in dominant fashion, then some of the many critics now chasing him with pitchforks make again call themselves fans.
Talking with Sergey Kovalev, Boxing’s Next Bright Star
By Jeremy Herriges
Saturday, March 14th on HBO, Sergey Kovalev (26-0-1, 23 KOs) will defend his share of the light heavyweight title against Haitian-Canadian Jean Pascal (29-2-1, 19 KOs) at the Bell Centre in Montreal, Canada.
For the last two years, Sergey Kovalev has dominated the light heavyweight division. In 2013, an unknown Kovalev made the most of his title shot against then undefeated Welshman Nathan Cleverly. Kovalev was supposed to be just a contender, even though he entered the fight with 19 wins by knockout and no losses on his record.
Cleverly was supposed to be the new golden boy of the light heavyweight division, but Kovalev had other plans. He massacred Cleverly, knocking him down twice in the third round and forcing a referee stoppage in the fourth. The rest is history as they say.
Since the Cleverly fight, Kovalev has gone on to display masterful knockout power, knocking out three of his last four opponents. The only fighter in this group to sustain a full 12-round beating was the legendary Bernard Hopkins. It should also be noted that Kovalev put Hopkins down in round one and arguably gave Hopkins the worst loss of his career.
Now, Sergey Kovalev is a boxing superstar. His dominance makes him part of most boxing experts’ pound-for-pound best list.
Recently, I had a chance to talk to Sergey Kovalev and his manager Egis Klimas. It would be easy to see how a boxer with the meteoric success that Kovalev has been blessed with over the last couple of years could develop an inflated ego, but that’s not the case with Kovalev. He doesn’t see himself as a superstar.
“I’m doing my job,” said Kovalev. “If people think that I’m becoming a star, then that’s just a big complement for me.”
In a sport and time where showmanship has become the centerpiece of self-promotion, it is refreshing to see that one of boxing’s biggest and brightest is humble and selfless. Kovalev’s demeanor and attitude speak volumes about his focus going into his fight with Jean Pascal.
When asked about his opinion of Pascal’s boxing ability, Kovalev displayed respect for his opponent.
“He’s a dangerous boxer,” said Kovalev. “He’s got [a] hard punch. For me this will be a very interesting fight. It will be a good test.”
Even though Kovalev is a heavy betting favorite, he is not overlooking Jean Pascal’s ability. He seems to show a level of humility that is becoming a rare commodity in the sport of boxing.
On a humorous note, while talking about Pascal, Egis Klimas (Kovalev’s manager) reminded me that Pascal is the putting his WBC Diamond belt on the line, which was news to Kovalev.
“I didn’t know that Pascal [was] bringing the WBC Diamond belt. That means I will kick his ass even more,” exclaimed Kovalev in laughter.
While most don’t see Pascal as a threat to Kovalev, he does have the home field advantage. The fight is taking place in Montreal, Quebec, which is where Pascal lives. Kovalev will be facing a hostile audience in addition to his opponent, but doesn’t seem fazed.
“For me it doesn’t matter where I’m fighting,” said Kovalev. “If he wants to fight at home I’m ready. Kick his ass at home, for all his fans.”
While Kovalev has shown Jean Pascal respect, an area of contention between the two camps has revolved around drug testing. Pascal’s camp asked for additional drug testing from a company of their choice. Kovalev and his camp were put off by this request. He sees this as theatrics on Pascal’s part.
“I think Pascal is scared and he’s looking for any opportunity to get annoyed with me,” said Kovalev. “We will give a drug test before the fight and after the fight. I think it’s enough.”
Egis Klimas echoed Kovalev’s sentiments: “He [Pascal] cannot dictate what we are going to do,” said Klimas. “Sergey is a champion. He is bringing in three titles. He is coming to Canada and now he is going to tell him what to do? It’s unfair.”
Outside of his upcoming fight with Pascal, former Russian amateur boxing teammate and rising prospect Artur Beterbiev, has been vocal in the media attempting to talk his way into a future fight with Kovalev. Beterbiev has only fought in seven professional fights, so it seems unlikely that he will be in line for a title shot anytime soon. Both Kovalev and Klimas confirmed that this is the case.
In regards to Beterbiev, Kovalev said, “Right now he’s nobody. And he will be nobody for later.”
Klimas quickly added, “He will need to go a long way to reach where Sergey is at now.”
Before planning begins for his next fight, Kovalev still has to dispatch Pascal. Former champion Roy Jones Jr., who also works as an assistant coach for Jean Pascal, has told numerous media outlets that he thinks that Pascal can beat Kovalev.
Kovalev doesn’t see much merit in Jones’s words. “He’s [Jones] saying [sic] press. He’s promoting the fight,” said Kovalev.
Even though he is very confident in his abilities and training, Kovalev is making sure to not look past Pascal. When asked to offer up a fight prediction and if he thought he would be victorious Kovalev told me, “I don’t know because it’s boxing. Who will win? We don’t know. Nobody will know. Only God knows.”
During my time talking to Kovalev, I would say that he is focused, determined and ready for anything that Pascal has to throw at him. I wouldn’t be surprised if Sergey Kovalev handed Jean Pascal the first knockout loss of his career.
The real question that should be on fight fans’ minds is if there is anybody in the light heavyweight division that can defeat Kovalev. There might be, but I doubt that it is Jean Pascal. Look for a motivated Kovalev to show the world why he is boxing’s next great superstar.
Sergey Kovalev and Jean Pascal Final Presser Gets Physical
Jean Pascal vs. Sergey “Krusher” Kovalev by the Numbers
by Tyson Bruce
What’s At Stake?
This weekend in the boxing hotbed of Montreal, Canada hometown hero Jean Pascal will try and make his comeback go full circle when he takes on the division’s most feared fighter in Sergey “Krusher” Kovalev.
It’s the latest attempt by Kovalev to encircle the division’s true lineal champion, Adonis Stevenson, by defeating yet another of the weight class’s elite boxers. If he’s successful, it will be virtually impossible to justify Stevenson as the best fighter in the division, lineal champion or not.
This was a point acknowledged by Kovalev at the most recent press conference:
“For me, this fight is very interesting because it is next step in my career, the next test in my career. For myself I want to prove who I am on this level, in front in this huge arena, in my first time fighting in huge arena like this. I am very happy and waiting for Saturday. Thank you so much.”
Very few fighters ever change their reputation in one fight the way Sergey Kovalev did when he defeated Bernard Hopkins last year.
Going into the bout, Kovalev was regarded as a terrifying but technically a basic knockout artist. In fact, many top experts believed the forty-nine year old Hopkins had enough boxing acumen to upset the Russian puncher.
Kovalev completely flipped conventional wisdom on its head by administering one of the finest displays of technically precise boxing in recent memory. Almost instantly, Kovalev has become viewed as a more complete “boxer-puncher”.
Pascal has had a remarkable career resurgence considering that just four years ago he looked like the latest in a long line of talented young fighters to be neutered by the aforementioned Hopkins. Pascal’s win over the faded Lucian Bute may not have been a critically acclaimed performance, but it did ensure that he took sole possession as “king-pin” of Montreal’s lucrative boxing market.
For Pascal, the fight with Kovalev is not only a chance to put the Hopkins embarrassment behind him, but would actually take his career to a higher level than it was before the two Hopkins bouts.
How many other Hopkins victims have recovered to score a career best win? Just one. That was Glen Johnson, who seven-years (and eight losses) after being stopped by the “Executioner” in 1997 would defeat Antonio Tarver for the lineal 175-pound title in 2004.
Kovalev’s Transformation Was Gradual, Not Sudden:
In boxing, it can be very easy to fall in love with conventional wisdom. Most people felt that Kovalev was a one-dimensional wrecking machine until he out-boxed Hopkins. In fact, his transition towards becoming a more complete boxer has come on gradually over his last several fights, at least according to the numbers.
During his rise up the ranks, Kovalev was a freight train moving downhill and obliterating whatever was in front of him. According to compubox, Kovalev averaged an astonishing 81.6 punches per round against Darnell Boone, Lionel Thompson, Gabriel Campillo, Cornelius White and Nathan Cleverly.
One of Kovalev’s greatest strengths as a fighter lies in his ability to quickly assess what’s in front of him. When he sees immediate weakness, as he did with the previously mentioned fighters, his killer instinct is tremendous and none of them lasted more than four rounds.
Since Kovalev has been a champion, however, his tactics and pace seem to have changed. The knockouts have continued (except in the case of Hopkins) but the way he goes about it has changed. Against Ismayl Sillakh, Cedric Agnew and Blake Caparello his pace slowed dramatically, as he threw just 43.6 punches per round, which is below the division average of approximately 53 per round. Conversely, Kovalev’s defensive numbers have improved across the board. Hopkins managed to land just sixty-five total punches in twelve rounds against Kovalev.
Pascal Needs To Do More:
In the biggest victory of Pascal’s career against then champion Chad Dawson, his unpredictable and highly unorthodox style was on full display. It’s a style he patterned after his hero (and current trainer) Roy Jones Jr., and it caused the technically astute but often lackadaisical Dawson nightmares. In Pascal’s ensuing fights, however, we saw the faults of his mimicry.
Jones was a fighter that would save energy by baiting fighters and setting traps for his highly unconventional but deadly counterpunches. In his last four fights, Pascal has made the sometimes-cautious Jones look like Henry Armstrong by throwing a cringe-worthily low 33.9 punches per round. Pascal, unlike Jones, is also very often times an arm puncher and as a result possesses just a 51% knockout ratio, as compared to Kovalev’s 85% knockout rate.
Pascal’s punches are very flashy and if he can slow the pace they very often steal him rounds because they register on such a visual level. Against a more passive opponent like Dawson or Bute, this worked wonders, but against a murderous puncher with a spear of a jab like Kovalev, it could be disastrous.
In the lead up to their second bout, Hopkins ridiculed Pascal for being a four-round fighter because of his notoriously poor stamina. Pascal’s tendency to throw wild punches has often left his gas tank on empty in the later rounds of big fights. Even in his two biggest victories against Dawson and Bute he showed intense vulnerability late in the fights.
Against a fighter that starts as quickly as Kovalev (who has 21 KOs inside of four rounds), Pascal’s usual strategy of early aggression could be suicidal. In order to achieve victory, it will be incumbent upon Pascal to be more productive in the later rounds. Despite his victory over Hopkins, Kovalev has gone past seven rounds just once in his entire career.
Pascal seems mentally up to the challenge.
“I said the best scenario is to give the fans 12 good rounds and then try to knock him out in the last 15 seconds of the fight,” says the Haitain-born Canadian.
That would certainly end any claims about Pascal’s lack of gas mileage.
Kovalev’s Punch vs. Pascal’s Chin:
One of the more prevalent stylistic storylines going into the bout has been whether Kovalev can dent Pascal’s up to now iron chin (the Canadian has never even been knocked down) and what will happen if he cannot.
Since Kovalev burst onto the boxing scene with a string of violent, hip thrusting knockout victories, there have always been quiet rumors floating under the surface about the Russian’s ability to take a punch. Kovalev has suffered just two knockdowns in his career, and one of those was a complete flash knockdown against Blake Caperello.
So maybe it’s that all knockout artists have a question mark on their jaw until some one of equal measure takes aim at it? Or maybe its all those rumours that middleweight title-holder Gennady Golovkin put him over in a sparring session?
While those claims lie completely within the realm of innuendo, Kovalev was knocked out in the unpaid ranks against amateur rival Abbos Attoev. Kovalev, to his credit, has taken very little return fire as a professional and a good trainer will always tell you that the best chin is the one that never gets hit. However, this is pro boxing, and at some point Kovalev’s jaw will get tested by a big shot.
Pascal, on the other hand, is perceived to have an iron jaw by the vast majority of the media. He has never been down as a professional and stood toe-to-toe with the hard-punching Carl Froch in a twelve round war. Yet, could the claims of Pascal’s George Chuvalo-esque chin be slightly overblown?
Pascal proved in the Froch bout that he could handle a big shot from a 168-pounder, but Pascal has yet to show that he can take a big shot from a legitimate light heavyweight. Both Hopkins and Dawson (who had Pascal badly hurt in the eleventh round) are not considered big punchers for the division. Conversely, Kovalev is arguably the division’s best puncher since Mathew Saad Mohamed.
In other words, if Pascal believes that his best chance to win the fight is because he takes a superior punch, then he is doing his sincere best to justify the 4-1 odds in favor of the “Krusher”.