Sergey Kovalev: One must be careful when it comes to gushing over a fighter with only one or two significant victories. But it’s hard to hold back with Kovalev, who is emerging as one of the most exciting fighters on the planet. Nathan Cleverly (26-1, 12 knockouts) entered their fight on Saturday as a blossoming young star, an excellent boxer with a good chin and matching swagger. And Kovalev (22-0-1, 20 KOs) reduced him to just another overmatched victim, stopping the Welshman in the fourth round to win the WBO light heavyweight title. The Russian seems to have solid skills but it’s his ferocity and immense power that catches your eye. It’s hard to imagine anyone in the division standing up to his relentless and punishing pressure. If RING champ Adonis Stevenson gets past Tavoris Cloud on Sept. 28 and is interested in fighting Kovalev, that matchup could be as entertaining as any in boxing. And it’s a good bet Kovalev would be the one standing when it is over.
Nathan Cleverly: Cleverly should be applauded for taking the risk of fighting an opponent as dangerous as Kovalev. He had the confidence of an undefeated fighter and, he believed, enough experience to pull off a victory. Plus, he had the advantage of fighting in front of the home fans. In the end, the night was a disaster. One can safely say from a distance that Cleverly was too stationary against a puncher like Kovalev, against whom one must move as if his bare feet are on hot coals. Cleverly was too easy to hit. If his strategy was to allow Kovalev to punch himself out, it was a misguided plan. Now he knows. Cleverly, only 26, is far from finished. He’ll learn from the setback and be a better fighter for it going forward. And you can bet that he’ll win more important fights, including one or two for major titles, in a successful career. He just might be wise to stay clear of Kovalev along the way.
BIGGEST WINNER II
Darren Barker: You have to hand it to the 31-year-old Londoner. He remains only a solid, blue-collar fighter who will never live in the pound-for-pound neighborhood but his heart and determination were inspiring against then-IBF middleweight titleholder Daniel Geale on Saturday in Atlantic City, N.J. Barker (26-1, 16 KOs) survived a body shot that nearly ended the fight in the sixth round to outbox and outwork a champion known for his work rate and stamina. As a result, Barker won a split decision and his first major title nine years into his career, which prompted him to drop to his knees in tears after the announcement. Barker will have a hard time improving on this – he isn’t in Gennady Golovkin’s league – but there are options. A rematch with Geale (29-2, 15) would be attractive. And a Barker-Peter Quillin fight might be intriguing. No matter what happens, though, he’ll always have the memory of a special night on Aug. 17, 2013.
Kiko Martinez: Martinez (29-4, 21 KOs) gave an outstanding performance to beat talented Jhonatan Romero (23-1, 12 KOs) and win the IBF junior featherweight title Saturday, the Spanaird’s first major title. Martinez isn’t the power puncher that Kovalev is but he might be more aggressive. Romero, a skillful boxer, was able to avoid many shots but was worn down by the volume of them. That made for a compelling fight and undoubtedly earned Martinez many fans. His post-fight interview didn’t hurt, either. When he was asked by HBO’s Max Kellerman what he was thinking after the fight, he said (through an translator): “Pinch me, pinch me please, because this is a dream for me. HBO, seeing you, in terms of transmitting this fight. I … watch you all the time. Michael Buffer calls out my name. I can’t believe it.” If that doesn’t make you smile, then your heart is cold. Martinez is an exciting, action fighter who also is charmingly humble. You gotta love him.
Kudos to Enzo Maccarinelli (37-6, 29 KOs). The Welshman seemed to be finished as an elite fighter but, having found his fire again at 32, he remains a relevant light heavyweight. He outlasted Ovill McKenzie (21-12, 10 KOs) in a grueling battle to win by an 11th-round knockout on the Kovalev-Cleverly card Saturday. … Andrzej Fonfara (24-2, 14 KOs) stopped Gabriel Campillo (22-6-1, 9 KOs) in the ninth round of a close light heavyweight fight the Pole was losing Friday in Chicago. Fonfara hasn’t lost since 2008. Campillo, who looked like an elite talent only a few years ago, is 1-3 in his last four fights. … It’s good to see Juan Diaz (37-4, 19 KOs) back in the ring (if that’s what he wants). The former lightweight titleholder stopped journeyman Adailton De Jesus (30-8, 24 KOs) in five rounds Saturday in Laredo, Texas. … Former junior flyweight champ Giovani Segura (30-3-1, 26 KOs) also proved he has more fight left in him. He stopped Puerto Rican prospect Jonathan Gonzalez (13-1, 11 KOs) in a flyweight bout Saturday in Puerto Rico.