It’s been a long time since hardcore boxing fans anticipated a light heavyweight matchup as much as the potential showdown between Adonis Stevenson and Sergey Kovalev.
Of course, it’s been awhile since the division has hosted two brutally dynamic boxer-punchers like Stevenson and Kovalev, both of whom climbed to the top of the 175-pound rankings in 2013 with banner years.
Stevenson (23-1-1, 20 knockouts) had a Fighter-of-the-Year worthy 2013 by fighting four significant bouts and winning all by knockout. The 36-year-old southpaw, who began the year as super middleweight contender, stopped Darnell Boone in March to avenge his only pro loss and then jumped to light heavyweight where he annexed THE RING and WBC titles with a spectacular one-punch first-round stoppage of Chad Dawson in June. The Montreal-based Haitian demoralized former beltholder Tavoris Cloud in his first title defense in September and then took care of his WBC mandatory, Tony Bellew, with a sixth-round TKO on Saturday in Quebec City.
Kovalev (23-0-1, 21 KOs) had an equally impressive 2013, also fighting four times against quality opposition. Nobody lasted more than four rounds with the Ft. Lauderdale, Fla.-based Russian. Kovalev stopped former titleholder Gabriel Campillo in January, once-beaten prospect Cornelius White in June, and unbeaten WBO beltholder Nathan Cleverly in August before closing the year out with a devastating second-round KO of talented Ismayl Sillakh in the co-feature to Stevenson-Bellew.
HBO televised the Nov. 30 doubleheader with the plan and promise of eventually matching the two light heavyweight monsters. Anyone who has watched Stevenson and Kovalev fight this year wants to see that fight as soon as possible, which is understandable.
Both fighters possess the kind of power that can turn or end a fight in sudden, dramatic fashion, but both are more than mere “punchers.” Stevenson and Kovalev are also world-class boxers, although their styles are different. Stevenson is an athletic stick-and-move type. He can stalk effectively but he’s at his best operating from a distance where his fast hands, quick reflexes and excellent hand-eye coordination often set up his money punch – the straight left.
Kovalev is a come-forward technician with bludgeoning power in both hands. He’s flat-footed, methodical and determined. He doesn’t have Stevenson’s quickness but he knows how to cut the ring off and he puts punches together better than the southpaw.
One doesn’t have to be a boxing expert to know that their styles would mesh to create a magnificent contest of power, skill and will.
Stevenson is already an attraction in the Quebec province of Canada. Kovalev, who fought all four of his fights on U.S. television this year (twice on NBC Sports Net and twice on HBO), is building an American audience. The winner of their potential matchup could be launched into stardom (especially with the help of HBO’s PR muscle).
The 175-pound division hasn’t hosted a marquee name since Roy Jones Jr. was the unified titleholder during the late 1990s and early 2000s. Jones didn’t have any marketable dance partners prior to his rapid decline following his second-round KO loss to nemesis Antonio Tarver in 2005, but hardcore fans had clamored for years a for a showdown between the American star and then-undefeated linear champ Dariusz Michalczewski.
Jones wasn’t willing to travel to Germany to face the Polish pressure fighter and Michalczewski seemed content to conduct his career in his adopted country so that diehard “dream fight” never happened.
However, Stevenson-Kovalev will take place. It just won’t happen when the hardcore heads want it to happen (which is asap – early 2014 at the latest).
Kovalev told HBO’s Max Kellerman that “Adonis” was the fighter he wanted to face most immediately following the Sillakh KO. Stevenson was agreeable when Kellerman posed the same question to him following the Bellew stoppage, but not quite as enthusiastic.
“I don’t have a problem with (a Kovalev fight) if HBO puts the money up,” said Stevenson, who brought up Carl Froch and Bernard Hopkins as potential opponents.
Stevenson said the Quebec fans want to see him fight those two titleholders because they defeated the other two stars of the province – Lucian Bute (who was crushed by Froch last year) and Jean Pascal (who was outpointed by Hopkins in 2011).
He might be right. Stevenson vs. Froch or Hopkins would make for big events in Quebec City or Montreal. Stevenson vs. the winner of the Jan. 18 Pascal-Bute showdown would be a Canadian “mega fight.”
The Pascal-Bute winner is a logical next fight for Stevenson.
Kovalev doesn’t have any lucrative options but there are stay-busy fights that can be made next year. He has a WBO mandatory defense to make against German veteran Juergen Braehmer, which would be a decent event if it took place in Germany. A fight with the WBO’s No. 2 contender, Andrzej Fonfara, would attract a lot of fans in Chicago.
Kovalev’s promoter, Kathy Duva of Main Events, recently signed RING-rated contender Isaac Chilemba. The cagey Malawian would make a worthy challenger for an NBC Sports Net main event in the first quarter or half of next year.
So both Stevenson and Kovalev might have enough alternative opponents to go through 2014 without facing each other, but they will fight.
Count on it.