Amidst dramatic scenes Russian challenger Sergey “Krusher” Kovalev brutally dethroned WBO light heavyweight beltholder Nathan Cleverly in the fourth round of a fight that left the home crowd at the Motorpoint Arena in Cardiff, Wales in stunned silence.
The official time was 0:29 seconds.
Kovalev, THE RING’s No. 3-rated light heavyweight, closed out savagely by battering the wounded warrior with hard lefts and rights to the head. The natural instincts of the Welshman was to bash his hands together and ask for more and more was precisely what was delivered, leaving the referee with no choice but to halt the action.
“He’s obviously down and extremely disappointed,” said promoter Frank Warren of Cleverly’s no show at the post-fight press conference. “I thought Nathan’s speed was the key but when he got caught he simply couldn’t recover. Also, he was hit once or twice when he was down.”
Welsh-Russian relations were light hearted amongst the capacity crowd but there was near hysteria as the fighters made their ring walks. During the introductions Cleverly, THE RING’s No. 2-rated contender, looked pumped for action and even shot the challenger a smirk as he paced back and forth.
Kovalev, who weighed 173 pounds, retained an ice cold and stoic demeanor and clearly meant business.
In a tense opener Cleverly, 174 pounds, opted for reconnaissance and Kovalev took the opportunity to throw and land a few bursts down the middle. The Welshman matched Kovalev on the jab but was outworked by the Russian who displayed no sign of nerves whatsoever.
Kovalev was cut around the right eye in the second round, likely by a clash of heads, but kept his composure.
The injury seemed to energize Cleverly who opened up briefly but he could not dissuade the challenger who continued to work hard at mid-range, while ruling on the outside.
The Russian also displayed nice versatility by working the body but he did ship a nice counter right hand before the bell.
In round three, vicious straight shots took the legs from Cleverly who responded with misplaced machismo before hitting the canvas. The crowd fell silent and an immediate feeling of déjà vu filled the air as “Krusher” set about finalizing yet another brutal knockout.
A follow up assault decked Cleverly again as the Russian smashed the champion mercilessly with both hands and the fight was essentially over at this point. The proud Welshman was being punished heavily at the end of the session and the referee literally carried him to his corner and dropped the dazed fighter on his stool.
The champion needed 60 minutes to recover, not 60 seconds. His chin, habitually granite like, simply crumbled under Kovalev’s artillery and he was thrashed to defeat.
Kovalev, despite being the challenger, came into this fight as favorite. His fearsome reputation had preceded him although the boxing fraternity was anxious to see if his pulverizing weaponry could function at world title level. That message has now been delivered loud and clear.
Cleverly personally sourced this opponent and tasked Warren with getting the fight made. He should be commended for that but the gamble has backfired and considering the wave of critics the Welshman had before, it will be a long way back in terms of rebuilding.
“Nathan did ask for this fight,” confirmed Warren. “He mentioned him to me before I even knew who he was. Kovalev is one of those fighters that will be beat by a good boxer who uses his brain but Nathan got it wrong tonight.
“Back to the drawing board but it’s not the end of the world.”
Kovalev is simply ferocious and one can’t imagine the queue for willing challengers stretching around the block. He will get fights but on the evidence of what transpired tonight it could be long time before the WBO light heavyweight championship changes hands again.
The new champion improves to (23-0-1, 20 knockouts) and Cleverly suffers his first professional defeat in 27 fights.
There were horrible scenes following Stephen Smith’s explosive fifth round stoppage of British junior lightweight champion, Gary Buckland.
The Welshman was caught by a ferocious right hand uppercut which deposited him face first on the canvas and he was out cold. Buckland’s friends and family burst through security as oxygen was immediately administered to the stricken fighter and panic set in at ringside.
Buckland, 128 pounds, had been on the ascendency in the first couple of rounds but he was caught hard by a right hand in round four and the warning signs were out. The knockout shot was similar in that the champion was intercepted coming in and the force of the blow was multiplied.
Thankfully Buckland made a full recovery and left the ring under his own steam. Smith, 130lbs, is also a former British and Commonwealth featherweight champion. This was arguably the finest win of his career to date.
Former WBO cruiserweight titleholder Enzo Maccarinelli captured the Commonwealth light heavyweight title from Ovill McKenzie in a rematch.
“Macca” closed the show in the 11th with a sustained burst in his own corner punctuated by an explosive left hand uppercut. The referee instantly called a halt to the bout as only the ropes were holding McKenzie upright.
The Welshman had controlled most of the bout behind a hard jab but took his licks, particularly in the seventh and eighth rounds when he was caught by booming over hand rights. McKenzie, from Derby in England, relies on strength and aggression but he couldn’t find the equalizer and, over time, he succumbed to the technically more gifted operator.
Many had called for Maccarinelli to retire on the back of his six losses all coming by way of knockout. The first fight, in November of last year, was prematurely halted in round two by referee Ian John Lewis, who seemed reluctant to let the Welshman take a punch.
This victory tonight will have done wonders for Maccarinelli’s confidence and his case for carrying on in the sport. Both men weighed 174 pounds.
Photos / Scott Heavey-Getty Images
Tom Gray is a member of the British Boxing Writers’ Association and contributes to various publications. Follow him on Twitter: @Tom_Gray_Boxing