Sergey Kovalev Stalking a Lineal Championship: Will Showtime and HBO Derail Him?

Kevin McRae@@McRaeWritesFeatured ColumnistMarch 26, 2014

CARDIFF, WALES - AUGUST 17:  Nathan Cleverly (R) in action against Sergey Kovalev during the WBO World Light-Heavyweight Championship bout at Motorpoint Arena on August 17, 2013 in Cardiff, Wales.  (Photo by Scott Heavey/Getty Images)
Scott Heavey/Getty Images

Sergey Kovalev is a wrecking ball.

He’s destroyed everything placed in front of him on his way to the top of the light heavyweight division, and on Saturday night, he’ll make the second defense of his WBO Light Heavyweight Championship, facing the undefeated Cedric Agnew in the main event of HBO’s Boxing After Dark in Atlantic City.

But the bigger news is not who he’s facing, but who he’s not and now likely won’t face.

It was supposed to be WBC Light Heavyweight Champion Adonis Stevenson sometime this year.

The two were placed on the same card last November—presumably in showcase fights to build anticipation for their eventual clash—but the chances of that fight happening seem just south of zero now.

Stevenson has signed with powerful advisor Al Haymon, and, per Kevin Iole of Yahoo! Sports, will be taking his show (no pun intended) to HBO’s rival Showtime for his May 24 defense against Andrzej Fonfara. The deal is for one fight, but according to Showtime Sports executive vice president and general manager Stephen Espinoza, it has a structure that allows for multiple—the winner of Bernard Hopkins vs. Beibut Shumenov—fights.

Kovalev, for his part, has been reluctant in the past to overlook an opponent, and he remains so to this day. But he’s never made bones about his desire to face Stevenson.

“I have to win my next fight March 29. After this fight we can speak about any other fight, but right now I have my focus on my fight on Saturday,” Kovalev told Bleacher Report on Tuesday.

“I said already a lot of times. I am ready to fight Stevenson.”

The chances of that fight seem remote—at best—now, but that doesn’t change the essentials of the equation for the Russian-born champion.

Kovalev is on the bullet train to superstardom. But he remains humble and feels that there is a lot more to accomplish before he deserves to be labeled a star.

“I’m just a regular boxer now. When I get one more title maybe I can be a star. When I have all four [light heavyweight] titles I will be a big star,” said Kovalev.

Whatever else he may or may not be, Kovalev is far from a regular boxer.

He’s a stalking, pressure fighter with astounding power. He’s scored knockouts in 21 of his 23 professional victories, and most of his opponents haven’t survived past the first few rounds.

Kovalev’s power has already developed a near mythical reputation. And his trainer, former multi-weight world champion John David Jackson, says that’s with good reason.

“Sergey’s punching power is natural. He’s not a bodybuilding guy. His physique is not one where he’s chiseled. And I think that’s why a lot of guys underestimate him,” Jackson told Bleacher Report.

“He gets good leverage on his shots, and he puts his feet at the right spots at the right times when he punches. He’s one of the, if not the, hardest punchers I’ve ever fought or trained. He’s a natural puncher.”

And that presents a big problem for Agnew, an undefeated but untested fighter from Chicago who will need to walk through the eye of a hurricane in order to emerge with a world title on Saturday night.

That he even took the fight at all is something that’s earned him some respect within the Kovalev camp—especially given that many other fighters who were offered this opportunity passed it up.

“He’s [Agnew] going to jump into the deep end of the pool and the deep water. I commend him for taking the shot. A lot of fighters turned it down,” Jackson said.

“A lot of guys want to be champion, but a lot of guys don’t want to go through hell to get to that title. If you box Sergey Kovalev, you’re going to have to go through hell to get it.”

That last part may sound like hyperbole, but if you’re familiar with the 30-year-old Russian’s handiwork, it can be viewed as almost literally true.

He has a very Terminator-esque demeanor about him in the ring, a laser focus that pinpoints his target and tells him how to destroy it.

A lot of that has to do with the very professional and workmanlike attitude that Kovalev takes into every fight. It keeps him grounded and prevents him from playing up or down to the level of competition.

Every fight requires the same focus, the same attitude and the same drive to succeed.

“For me it doesn’t matter who is my opponent. Whoever is ready to fight with me I am ready to fight with him,” Kovalev said.

“Maybe it will be a short fight. Maybe it will be a long fight and go to the decision. I don’t know. Cedric Agnew was ready to fight me and I am ready to fight with him.”

Based on past history, the former is the more likely course. This fight, it would seem, is little more than a way to keep active and keep growing the legend in the hopes of something more significant popping up later in the year.

Stevenson is likely no longer an option, and that presents a possibly significant problem.

Kovalev has frequently—due to the similar reputations of the fighters as huge punchers and the geographic proximity of their home nations—been compared to WBA middleweight champion Gennnady Golovkin.

Golovkin has had some time getting quality opponents to face him in the ring, and with all three remaining 175-pound belts now sitting on the other side of the network fence, that could be a huge problem for Kovalev going forward.

And, in fact, it’s one he’s already grappling with.

“He’s kind of running into that problem now. If you look at the light heavyweight division, you have Bernard Hopkins. He’s a champion. [Beibut] Shumenov’s a champion. And they’re going to fight. Then you have Adonis,” Jackson said. 

Stevenson has since jumped ship to Showtime—joining Hopkins and Shumenov—and with Kovalev signed to HBO, that could leave him without an opportunity to face any of them.

The HBO-Showtime war has derailed many a big fight in the past, and this one doesn’t seem to be any different. But Kovalev’s trainer feels that’s just a convenient excuse used by fighters to avoid fights.

“Bernard [Hopkins] is smart. I gotta give Bernard credit. He uses this war between HBO and Showtime as his shield not to fight Sergey,” Jackson said.

“A lot of guys are doing that. In boxing, if they really want the fight to happen, the fighters can make it happen. They are the commodities. These guys would rather hide behind this so-called cold war thing rather than fight the best in the world.”

Welcome to the backroom, sordid, dysfunctional world of boxing politics.

As for Kovalev? He just wants to fight, and his goal—even though significantly harder now—remains the same.

“My goal in boxing is to get four titles in my division."

"And get a lot of money for my life before I get old,” he said with a chuckle.


Bleacher Report sat down on Tuesday afternoon with WBO light heavyweight champion Sergey Kovalev and his trainer, former multi-weight world champion, John David Jackson. Unless otherwise noted, all quotes were obtained firsthand.


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