The six fights that have defined Sergey Kovalev
Luke G. Williams
As his rematch with Andre Ward approaches, Boxing Monthly brings you our selection of the six most significant fights so far in the career of Sergey Kovalev ...
1. Light heavyweight contest vs Darnell Boone, 9 October 2010 – won by split decision (eight rounds)
As detailed in his interview with John A. MacDonald in Boxing Monthly last year, the early years of Sergey Kovalev's professional career in the United States were tough. With no promoter and no solid fan base, Kovalev was forced to rely on his manager Lithuanian Egis Klimis for his living and food costs, and would not earn his first proper purse until his 19th pro fight. Overcoming dangerous gate-keeper Darnell Boone on the latter's home turf of Atlanta, Georgia was therefore a huge statement of Kovalev's potential. Just two fights earlier, Boone had TKO'd future light heavy champ Adonis Stevenson and five years earlier he had become the first man to ever floor Andre Ward. Boone also decked Kovalev, but the Russian did just enough to squeeze out a split decision victory and keep his career on track. The next day Kovalev and Klimas met with promoter Don King to discuss a possible deal - although they failed to agree terms, it seemed America was finally taking notice of Sergey Kovalev.
2. Light heavyweight contest vs Roman Simakov, 5 December 2011 – won by TKO in round 7
The most tragic fight that Kovalev ever participated in has also, in a strange way, provided him with part of the motivation to become the exceptional pugilist he is today. The contest in Ekaterinburg, Russia was only Kovalev's second professional bout in his homeland and, three days after he had stopped domestic rival Simakov after seven unrelenting rounds of action and heavy head shots, the 27-year-old Belovo born pugilist passed away, never regaining consciousness after being carried from the ring on a makeshift stretcher. When he heard the news of his countryman's death by telephone, Kovalev cried uncontrollably. He has rarely spoken of the fight since but did later remark to Chris Mannix of Yahoo Sports: "I don’t remember anything. I was lost ... I have to continue, to fight for me and him, together. I think he’s seeing me. Maybe he is. Maybe he’s looking down on me. I don’t know. But I will try to be the best in boxing. For both of us." By fighting to honour the memory of a man whose death his fists inadvertently caused, Kovalev has been able to overcome the huge psychological hurdle of having been involved in a ring tragedy and fight on in tribute to Simakov. It's the sort of courage and tribute that only a boxer or a person steeped in boxing would understand.
3. Light heavyweight contest vs Darnell Boone, 1 June 2012 – won by TKO in round 2
In his 19th professional fight Kovalev not only earned his first real purse of around $5,000 but he also advanced his career record to an unbeaten 18-0-1. More importantly, he so impressed in destroyed Boone in two savage rounds that Kathy Duva of Main Events signed him to a promotional contract straight after the fight. From the despair of the Simakov contest, Kovalev was now a serious player on the light heavyweight scene with a major promotional company behind him. It was also obvuous from this contest that the somewhat raw slugger from Kopeysk was developing into a highly skilled boxer-puncher. As Boone himself later reflected: “There was a big difference [fighting Kovalev in the rematch], [he] actually moved a little more [and] he was way stronger than the first time I fought him."
4. WBO super middleweight championship vs Nathan Cleverly, 17 August 2013 – won by TKO in round 4
The unbeaten and heavily hyped Cleverly was making the sixth defence of his WBO light heavyweight title in Cardiff and had never previously tasted the canvas in 26 professional contests. Although Kovalev was the bookmakers' favourite, many believed the Welshman might be too smooth and seasoned for the visiting Russian, who remained an unproven quantity in many respects. However, after four rounds characterised by unrestrained brutality on Kovalev's part it was clear that 'Krusher' was the real deal. He stalked the Welshman mercilessly, pummelling him to the canvas twice in round three. Early in round four it was obvious that the champion hadn't recovered and, with Kovalev landing at will and Cleverly stumbling downwards again, the referee waved the contest off. The fight made Kovalev's name and reputation and as good as ruined Cleverly's career for the next two or three years. "Every shot he threw was a thudding shot. It was like a hammer," the shellshocked champion observed after the fight as he contemplated retirement. "Just when he caught you on the shoulder he would have an impact and he was just clubbing me."
5. WBA (super) / WBO / IBF light heavyweight championship vs Bernard Hopkins, 8 November 2014
Although the fact this contest went to points ruined a nine-fight KO streak for Kovalev this should not detract from a top-quality performance against an all-time great in Hopkins who, although past his peak, was still a formidable and incredibly cunning operator. Kovalev floored Hopkins in the first round with a clubbing short punch and dominated him thereafter, with an impressive 73% of the punches the Russian landed being power shots. The wide scorecards of 120-106 and 120-107 (twice) were ample reflection of the most comprehensive defeat of B-Hop's long and meritorious career. No boxer has ever stopped Hopkins, but Kovalev came the closest. This bout also represented the first time that Kovalev had been forced to go 12 rounds, and in doing so with ease he proved that his stamina was as impressive as his power punching and ability to cut off the ring. Master pugilist Hopkins' assessment of his conqueror? "He used his reach and his distance and that was the key to the victory. He has very good mechanics and patience.”
6. WBA 'super'/ IBF / WBO light heavyweight championship vs Andre Ward, 19 November 2016 – lost by unanimous points decision
Although Kovalev lost a unanimous verdict against Ward he, and many others, were convinced the Russian did enough to prevail. This hugely controversial contest raised question marks about both men - specifically, with reference to Kovalev, why he faded so markedly in the second half of the fight, allowing Ward to regain a foothold. Kovalev insists this was down to over-training and his preparations for the rematch have been tweaked accordingly. On Saturday night we will see whether this is enough for the Russian to gain the revenge he longs for.