HBO’s Jim Lampley sees Saturday’s clash between WBO light heavyweight titleholder Nathan Cleverly and hard-hitting Sergey Kovalev as one between a volume puncher in the home-standing Cleverly and “a destroyer of the highest order who is a danger to knock anybody out.”
A 26-year-old Welshman who will be fighting before partisan fans at the Motorpoint Arena in Cardiff, Wales, Cleverly (26-0, 12 knockouts) was last in the ring for a unanimous decision over Robin Krasniqui.
“Obviously, Cleverly has gone to a high-volume style in his most recent fights,” said Lampley. “He throws a volume of punches which is almost unheard of in the light heavyweight division. He averages 87 punches a round. You just don’t see anybody in the light heavyweight division who fights at that pace. It’s my judgement from a distance that he has made a choice do to this to make up for an absence of world-class power.
“He only has 12 knockouts in 26 fights. From the opponents that he has fought, that suggests that he does not have the big knockout punch. Cleverly is banking on the expectation that the home turf and the home crowd advantage combined with perhaps his greater skill-level and the high volume of punches is going to give him a chance to out-last Kovelev’s early power and wear him down and win the fight over the distance.”
Meanwhile, Kovalev (21-0-1, 19 KOs), who is promoted by Kathy Duva of Main Events, is 9-0-1, with nine knockouts in his past 10 fights.
“Kathy Duva, who has the guts of burglar, and, who is, in my view, a great promoter, is in a fascinating position, taking relatively short money to go across the ocean to fight a Welsh fighter on his home turf to fight for a world title. She turned down a mandatory position to fight [IBF beltholder] Bernard Hopkins in order to do this. She’s banking on the notion that Kovalev is, in this circumstance, on solid ground,” said Lampley.
“Kovalev is a destroyer of the highest order who is a danger to knock anybody out. I have gone on record on my show, The Fight Game, singing the praises of Kovalev. I’m impressed with him. I am far more familiar with Kovalev than I am with Cleverly, but, frankly, it’s hard for me to imagine that a guy without world-class power is going to be able to keep Kovalev off of him long enough to win the fight.”
RingTV.com sought the opinions of 17 boxing insiders as to their thoughts on what will transpire in Cleverly-Kovalev, which airs at 9:45 p.m. ET/PT, with their answers below.
Nathan Cleverly UD 12 Sergey Kovalev: Nathan Cleverly will be too fast and too tough for the Russian banger. I also believe that Cleverly is too busy, fluid and mobile for Sergey Kovalev to crowd and overwhelm.
I think Cleverly will weather an early storm, soften Kovalev up with body shots and combinations in the middle rounds and then pressure the Russian during a strong late-rounds rally to win by close, hard-earned decision.
Record: 10-4 [Last pick: Thurman UD 12 Chaves]
Nathan Cleverly UD 12 Sergey Kovalev: Nathan Cleverly will have to be as smart as his name suggests he is. Sergey Kovalev is dangerous, especially with proven power.
If Cleverly can resist the temptation to engage in the early rounds, he should have enough boxing skill to score a victory on cards in his home country. But he’ll have to do it carefully and cleverly.
Record:11-3 [Thurman UD 12 Chaves]
Nathan Cleverly SD 12 Sergey Kovalev: Nathan Cleverly has good solid boxing skills, and for the past several years, they’ve been on display at home in the UK against mostly nondescript opponents—undefeated challengers Tony Bellew and Karo Murat notwithstanding.
In this light heavyweight matchup of unbeatens, we have a significantly underrated WBO titlist taking on a melodramatically overrated Russian challenger—all in the defending champion’s backyard of Cardiff.
To his credit, Sergey Kovalev is a well trained power puncher and if you believe the hype surrounding him; he would have knocked out, seriously hurt, and retired Bernard Hopkins had they met for B-Hop’s title as was originally ordered by the IBF.
Think Cleverly knows he can’t beat Ivan Drago and that he should be scared belt-less? Think Kovalev knows he needs two KO’s in the 13th round to win this fight in Wales? In the ring where fantasy gives way to reality, I expect Cleverly to survive some rocky moments early while Kovalev flexes his muscle.
Cleverly may even need to get off the canvas once or twice, but when he does and shakes off the cobwebs, look for him to cleverly outbox — but never outfight — a tiring though still dangerous Kovalev down the stretch to secure a razor thin home-cooked split decision. Think fans screaming for a rematch know who really won?
Record: 8-6 [Thurman TKO 8 Chaves]
Nathan Cleverly UD 12 Sergey Kovalev: It doesn’t get much better than this at 175 pounds and we could have a Fight of The Year candidate at the Motorpoint Arena in Cardiff, Wales. Cleverly has been criticized for facing inadequate competition, but his eagerness to meet Kovalev in a voluntary title defense should bring that nonsense to a standstill.
The Russian challenger has chilling punch power and looks positively destructive at mid-range, but his Achilles heel could be late-round experience. He has only been eight rounds once, and usually clocks out after two or three rounds of action. In this fight, he goes against an ambitious young champion with a titanium chin, a blistering work rate and plenty of 12-round round know-how.
I think the Welshman will absorb the best Kovalev has to offer and take over at the mid-way point when the challenger slows down. Cleverly is very underrated, and he has the kind of style and substance which will be very difficult for any light heavyweight to suppress.
Record: 3-1 [Thurman KO 7 Chaves]
Nathan Cleverly W 12 Sergey Kovalev: It is one thing to destroy Gabriel Campillo, a notoriously slow starter in his 30s, but it’s another thing to do the same to a 26-year-old defending belt-holder in his native country.
Sergey Kovalev is a dangerous puncher, and Nathan Cleverly will do well to get through the early rounds. But once he does, Cleverly’s supreme volume and command of distance will take over.
As he piles up points and builds momentum, so will his home crowd, and the final result will be a decision victory for Cleverly.
Record: 8-4 [Thurman TKO 8 Chaves]
Sergey Kovalev TKO 5 Nathan Clevely: Sergey Kovalev by fifth-round TKO. Nathan Cleverly can box, has a lot of confidence and is fighting at home, but he won’t be able to withstand Kovalev’s power.
Record: 6-2 [Thurman KO 10 Chaves]
Sergey Kovalev KO 6 Nathan Cleverly: Really intriguing fight, love the style matchup, and I’m looking forward to it. I think we are entering an era of “Punchers” — Gennady Golovkin, Lucas Matthysse, Omar Figueroa — and I’m swinging along with the puncher in this one.
Nathan Cleverly is going to have to fight 12, perfect rounds to win this. He’ll need to box, move, jab non-stop, dig his very good left hook to the body and keep his focus. Can he do all that for 12 rounds? I don’t think so.
Sergey Kovalev is more skilled than people give him credit for. His last three fights have been against guys with very different styles, and he figured them out before blowing them out. He is very heavy handed, and a terrific finisher.
I suspect this one will take longer than usual because Cleverly has tools, and Kovalev is there to be hit with the jab. However, at some point, Kovalev is going to get home with a big one, and when he does, Cleverly won’t have the power to keep him off for long. I think it ends midway through the scheduled 12 with Kovalev the KO winner.
Record: 9-4 [Golovkin TKO 9 Macklin]
Sergey Kovalev KO 4 Nathan Cleverly: I don’t think the unbeaten Nathan Cleverly will be clever enough to avoid the heavy hands of Sergey Kovalev, who I have seen live in his last four bouts.
Kovalev is a long-armed, persistent puncher who takes no prisoners, so I don’t expect Cleverly has the toughness to survive. I am impressed by Kovalev’s “bad intentions,” and Cleverly has not seen his likes before. Kovalev by KO, maybe in Round 4.
Record: 6-5 [Golovkin KO 9 Macklin]
Sergey Kovalev late-round KO Nathan Cleverly: To date, Nathan Cleverly has yet to face a serious challenge to his WBO 175-pound belt. That changes when he faces Sergey Kovalev, who has developed into one of the division’s premiere punchers.
Cleverly has the tools to out-hustle Kovalev, but we haven’t seen his chin tested against light-hitting and over-matched opponents. I expect Cleverly to get off to a good start for a few rounds based on his activity.
But as the fight wears, Kovalev’s power will wear him down. Kovalev should get a late stoppage in a pretty fun fight that will have us wanting to see more of both fighters.
Record: 5-0 [Thurman TKO 10 Chaves]
Nathan Cleverly KO 11 Sergey Kovalev: Both the Welsh WBO light heavyweight holder and Russian challenger have stated this is the biggest test yet of their respective unbeaten careers. Should be a cracker then.
However, while Sergey Kovalev arrives with a reputation of being an unstoppable sledgehammer in the ring, Nathan Cleverly should prove a step or two up in class.
I believe with the home crowd behind him, and so many potential blockbusters on the line, the champ will be too fast, too resilient and, eventually, too strong for an opponent who has never been the distance in 22 outings. Hence, my tip of a late stoppage in Cleverly’s favor and a 27th straight victory.
Record: 5-2 [Froch UD 12 Kessler]
Sergey Kovalev mid-round KO Nathan Cleverly: This is an excellent fight between two evenly-matched boxers.
But you’d have to assume that at some point, whether early or late in the fight, Kovalev will be able to catch Cleverly.
And when that happens, Kovalev should be able to end matters conclusively. Kovalev via middle rounds knockout.
Record: 9-5 [Thurman KO Chaves]
Sergey Kovalev mid-rounds KO Nathan Cleverly: Sergey Kovalev is a very intriguing fighter and he appears to be on a roll since linking up with John David Jackson in South Florida.
I expect him to continue his progression this weekend with a mid-rounds stoppage over Nathan Cleverly.
Record: 9-3 [Golovkin TKO 9 Macklin]
Sergey Kovalev KO Nathan Cleverly: This is SUCH a tough fight to call. Sergey Kovalev can box and punch; Nathan Cleverly is quick and gets off in volume. In the end, I like the precision and amateur background of Kovalev in what should be a fun scrap.
Record: 9-5 [Thurman KO 9 Chaves]
Sergey Kovalev KO 9 Nathan Cleverly: Sergey Kovalev seems to have reached an unstoppable stage right now. There’s a reason Bernard Hopkins wants no part of him–everything he touches he destroys.
I don’t see the pattern breaking against Nathan Cleverly, even though the fight is taking place in England, where if Kovalev does get knocked down, the referee may try his 10-count by twos. Cleverly is going to get pummeled, because Kovalev can both box and punch. Should be fun while it lasts.
Record: 12-3 [Golovkin KO 7 Macklin]
Sergey Kovalev W 12 Nathan Cleverly: I’m thinking it is a great, great fight that might fly under the radar a bit, but all boxing fans should tune in. I’m hesitant to go one way or the other. I wouldn’t feel comfortable going either way.
But if I had to bet I would go with Sergey Kovalev really breaking out here with a strong performance that highlights his strength and determination over 12 rounds. I’ll take him on a strong decision over Nathan Cleverly with a late stoppage not surprising me either.
Record: 11-3 [Thurman UD 12 Chaves]
Sergey Kovalev KO 10 Nathan Cleverly: I like Sergey Kovalev’s power, and I feel that Gabriel Campillo was a decent gauge for how he’d do with Nathan Cleverly. Cleverly can’t stay in neutral against a guy like Kovalev, and I think the challenger catches up to him late.
Record: 4-2 [Froch W 12 Kessler]
I don’t expect Kovalev to be fazed by fighting away from home in part due to his extensive amateur pedigree. You would think that Kovalev will bring the pressure from the get-go and try to force Cleverly backward onto the ropes, where the Russian can get an advantage.
Movement from Cleverly appears to be key. Don’t stand and trade with the puncher. Give him angle’s. I asked Cleverly if Kovalev was the best fighter he’s faced, and he told me that he didn’t know. But he did say that Kovalev is the most dangerous.
Most people focus on that, but when we flip the question around, and Cleverly would have to be the best fighter Kovalev has fought as a pro. The key for Cleverly would appear to be the jab, to keep the hard charging Russian off balance and away from landing his damaging power shots.
Early on, Kovalev will bring lots of pressure, which will let us know a lot about Cleverly. I have a feeling Cleverly will be able to weather the early storm and land enough punches to get Kovalev’s attention. As the fight goes longer, Cleverly’s activity will become more apparent with him winning a decision.
Record: 3-1 [Thurman KO 8 Chaves]
By the narrow edge of 10-7, the experts have selected Sergey Kovalev to dethrone WBO light heavyweight titleholder Nathan Cleverly for his first loss before his home town fans.
[Note: Martinez-Burgos was a draw, meaning all who selected otherwise received a loss]
Photo by Scott Heavey, Getty Images
Photo by Emily Harney
Lem Satterfield can be reached at email@example.com