ATLANTIC CITY, N.J. – Cedric Agnew speaks so softly that sometimes you have lean in close to hear what he says. It seems that Agnew would rather have everyone else do all the talking and reserve the ring for making any loud statements.
And so it was when Agnew and Sergey Kovalev appeared at Circus Maximus at Caesar’s Palace on Thursday afternoon for the final press conference before their WBO light heavyweight title match at the Adrian Phillips Ballroom at Boardwalk Hall on HBO on Saturday night.
The spotlight is all on Kovalev, who will be defending his WBO title for the second time and headlining his first show in the U.S. on HBO. And though Kovalev keeps reminding everyone that he is fully focused on Agnew, no one seems to be paying much attention to Agnew. That doesn’t seem to bother Agnew.
“There are always going to be people who overlook me,” Agnew said. “Even when I win the championship there are going to be naysayers and people overlooking me. To those people I can’t say nothing. I just have to keep doing what I’m doing.”
And that’s winning. Agnew is undefeated, but his 26-0 record with 13 knockouts is light on big name opponents. Agnew defeated Yusaf Mack in a 12-round decision in his last fight. After that victory, he said he went in search of a match against any of the light heavyweight champions. He believed that he was ready. Kovalev answered the call.
Both men thanked each other for taking the fight. But when it’s over on Saturday night someone isn’t going to be happy that they did.
“He’s a pretty good fighter, a tough guy,” Agnew said of Kovalev. “He’s able to beat the guys that they put in front of him. He’s a world champion and they don’t just give those things away. He’s earned that title, just like I’m going to earn mine.”
Agnew has such a low profile that no one gives him a shot at beating Kovalev. The conventional wisdom is that the only chance Agnew has is if Kovalev is somehow distracted or takes him lightly. But Kovalev and his trainer, John David Jackson, said there’s no chance of that.
“We’re looking right at him,” Jackson said. “We’re not looking over him, around him, behind him, beneath him. We’re looking to go right through him to get to the next one.”
The 27-year-old Agnew, who grew up in a boxing family in suburban Chicago, will have to fight the fight of his life to beat Kovalev (23-0-1, 21 KOs), whose knockout power is frightening. Agnew said he’s concerned about that power, because he’s bringing a complete package to the ring.
“Ring smarts, speed, power, everything,” Agnew said.
Agnew said he has never fought anyone similar to Kovalev in the pros, but he has faced Russians with similar styles in the amateurs. He had 115 amateur fights and missed the U.S. Olympic trials for the 2004 Games because he injured his shoulder.
Growing up in the suburbs of Chicago Heights, Agnew said his father exposed him, his six brothers and his sister to boxing.
“We all boxed,” he said. “I started when I was eight. I had an uncle (Mike Evans) who was a professional fighter and seeing him doing it and seeing my other siblings do it was something that I naturally had a love for.”
He is the only one of Michael Agnew’s children to take that amateur passion to the professional level. Three years ago he moved to Houston and now trains in the same gym that heavyweight champion Evander Holyfield once trained in.
If Agnew has as much dogged determination as Holyfield manifested in becoming the undisputed heavyweight champion of the world, he’ll go a long way. He’s going to have to fight like Holyfield if he’s going to have any chance of beating Kovalev.
Give Agnew credit for dreaming big and asking for a challenge. He said if he wins the WBO title against Kovalev on Saturday night, he will probably run into the same problems he had when he decided that he wanted to challenge for the title in the first place.
“I think you’ll always have problems as a fighter with great skills. There will always be people out there that are going to duck you,” Agnew said. “They want to take easier fights for easier paydays. Now it’s become guys fighting for money and not fighting for legacies. I feel like if you want to be a champion, you have to beat a champion.”