Sergey Kovalev vs. Cedric Agnew: Preview, Prediction for Light Heavyweight Bout

Briggs SeekinsFeatured ColumnistMarch 23, 2014

Sergey Kovalev vs. Cedric Agnew: Preview, Prediction for Light Heavyweight Bout

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    This Saturday night, Russian wrecking machine Sergey Kovalev returns to action on HBO's Boxing After Dark, to defend his WBO light heavyweight belt against undefeated contender Cedric Agnew.

    Kovalev ended last year one of the hottest fighters in the sport. He went 4-0 in 2013 with all four of his fights ending by stoppage inside of four rounds. He captured his first world title along the way. 

    Kovalev is one of the emerging Eastern European fighters whom HBO is looking to build its boxing programming around in the wake of losing Golden Boy to rival Showtime. He's got the kind of offensive tools that can make a fighter a must-see phenomenon.

    On Saturday, Kovalev will look to keep his momentum going against a hungry, undefeated challenger.

Tale of the Tape

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    Per BoxRec     Sergey Kovalev     Cedric Agnew
    Record:     23-0-1, 21 KOs          26-0, 13 KOs
    Height:     6'0"           6'0"
    Reach:     72.5"     Unlisted
    Weight:     175 lbs     175 lbs
    Age:     30     27
    Stance:     Orthodox     Orthodox
    Hometown:     Fort Lauderdale, Florida     Chicago, Illinois
    Rounds:     63     124

    Although Agnew has been in just two more fights than Kovalev, he's fought almost twice as many rounds. That is because Kovalev has knocked out most of his opponents in the early going. Even Kovalev's draw was a two-round technical draw. 

    Kovalev is training in Florida now as he tries to build his professional career in the United States, but he is a native of Chelyabinsk, Russia. He learned his boxing craft on the renowned Russian amateur team.

Main Storylines

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    Sergey Kovalev is one of the most dangerous punchers in boxing. He's stopped 21 of 24 opponents, with one technical draw.

    In his last six fights, as his level of competition has gone up, his fights have gotten shorter. Since 2012, nobody has made it out of the fourth round against him. And the sole opponent to make it past three, defending WBO champion Nathan Cleverly, should not have been allowed out of his corner for the fourth. 

    The boxing public loves nothing so much as a knockout artist, so Kovalev has begun to get noticed. Fellow light heavyweight champion Adonis Stevenson is another puncher with ferocious power, and HBO would no doubt love to get them together in the ring. 

    Kovalev also looks like one of the biggest available threats for super middleweight champion and pound-for-pound superstar Andre Ward. It's even possible to imagine Kovalev in a future showdown with current middleweight champion and fellow monster puncher Gennady Golovkin.

    Challenger Cedric Agnew is also undefeated, but his resume looks nothing like Kovalev's. Where Kovalev spent last year knocking out a world champion, a former world champion and a couple of highly rated contenders, four of Agnew's last six opponents had losing records. 

    When you look closer, Agnew's recent record is even less impressive. Of the last two fighters he has beaten with winning records, Otis Griffin has gone 1-9 since the start of 2011, and Yusaf Mack has gone 3-5 in his last eight fights. 

    Still, Agnew had a terrific amateur career, and he's handled whoever was in front of him as a professional. This is the opportunity of a lifetime for Agnew, and I don't expect him to lie down. But compared to the boxers he's seen in the ring to date, Kovalev is an entirely different beast.

Strengths

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    Sergey Kovalev has the kind of punching power that can only come from the genetic lottery—or God. Either way, it can't be taught. 

    What can be taught is the kind of footwork and movement to capitalize on those natural gifts, and Kovalev is well-tutored. He has a strong amateur background and has cut off the ring and destroyed some very good boxers. 

    Cedric Agnew had a great amateur career. His is a ring-savvy boxer and a terrific physical specimen. I've seen a few YouTube interviews with him, and he sounds like a guy whose head is in the right place. 

    Agnew clearly understands the basics of defensive boxing, which will be essential against a slugger like Kovalev. He strings his combinations together well to the body and head and throws good uppercuts and hooks off his jab.

Weaknesses

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    Sergey Kovalev is untested in the deep waters. That's largely because nobody has been able to drag him there. He's fought some talented fighters, like former world champions Gabriel Campillo and Nathan Cleverly, and made things look easy against them. 

    But it remains to be seen how he will react to an opponent tough enough to take his power and keep fighting him. 

    Cedric Agnew has not been a prospect whom contenders or other prospects were anxious to fight, so the quality of his resume is not entirely his fault. But when Yusaf Mack is the best name on your resume, a beast like Kovalev represents an enormous step up. 

    There is ultimately no way to prepare for getting hit by a guy who hits harder than nearly every other fighter on the planet. Agnew's lack of experience is a huge weakness coming into this one.

Sergey Kovalev Will Win This Fight If...

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    The blueprint for victory in this one is pretty simple for Kovalev. It's the same thing he's done with regularity in the past few years. 

    Kovalev needs to cut off the ring on Agnew and break him down with his heavy hands. He has to take away Agnew's room to maneuver defensively and turn the ring into a closet. 

    Kovalev has shown very good offensive movement in all of his fights. He's not simply walking forward and throwing bombs. He throws a punch and is inevitably moving into position to throw the next one. 

    In this fight, he will need to remain patient if Agnew is able to complicate the game plan. He has to have faith in his ability to connect eventually with the kind of punches that will end the fight.

Cedric Agnew Will Win This Fight If...

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    Agnew is going to need to be both smart and brave to win this fight. He's going to have to have the intelligence and caginess to stay away from Kovalev's destructive power. 

    But he's going to need to be courageous enough to move back into position to counter. If he merely runs, Kovalev will catch up to him eventually, sooner rather than later.

    Agnew needs to establish his jab immediately and move out of range behind it. As Kovalev pursues him, he should look to throw his lead hook. Once he starts to find range with the jab-hook combination, he can plant his feet just long enough to throw the overhand right. 

    But then he needs to get back on the bicycle. He won't be able to get away with standing still for long against Kovalev.

Prediction

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    Cedric Agnew deserves credit for taking this fight. He's been languishing for the past few years in the sort of fights that don't really prove much about his potential. Yusaf Mack was a nice win, but Mack is decidedly on the back end of his career. 

    So maybe Agnew will be able to offer Kovalev the kind of challenge we haven't seen Krusher get yet. 

    But after watching Kovalev's campaign in 2013, I believe he is a puncher of a different order of magnitude. Gabriel Campillo, Nathan Cleverly and Ismayl Sillakh were all experienced fighters at the world-class level, and Kovalev walked through them. They all reacted to his power as if it were the sort of thing they had never encountered before. 

    Agnew is an unknown quality. We know he has some physical tools and some skill. But until we see him stand up to a puncher like Kovalev, there's no way to know for sure whether or not he can do it. 

    Until we've seen Agnew defensively finesse an offensive wrecking ball like Kovalev, there is no way to tell if he can handle it. If Agnew has the skill and durability to stand in against Kovalev, it will mean a pretty special fighter has been riding under the radar for years now. 

    That certainly happens. The boxing world is too big for everybody to get the attention he deserves. 

    But the odds are against it. The smart money here is Kovalev by stoppage. I think it will happen in the third. 

    This isn't a terrible fight to keep Kovalev active while it is still early in the year. But I hope to see him fight Adonis Stevens or Andre Ward before the end of the year.