Cedric Agnew (26-0, 13 KO) has his sights set on the WBO light heavyweight title, but there's one big problem: Sergey "Crusher" Kovalev (23-0-1, 21 KO) is the one holding it.
Kovalev has laid waste to all but three of his opponents, and none has scored a victory against him. He's a dynamic performer because of his power and ruthless aggression. The Russian-born Kovalev's accent and power make him seem like a real-life Ivan Drago from the Rocky V movie.
In some respects, Agnew is hoping to be his Rocky Balboa.
Can the challenger pull off a minor miracle and dethrone Crusher? Here's how you can watch and find out.
When: Saturday, March 29 at 10 p.m. ET
Where: The Ballroom, Boardwalk Hall in Atlantic City, N.J.
The Book on Kovalev
HBO had big plans for Kovalev and WBC champion Adonis Stevenson, but the latter will not be linked with the network long enough for the long-awaited clash to take place.
Per Sports Illustrated's Chris Mannix, Stevenson is leaving HBO and Kovalev without a signature opponent:
Mannix also breaks down what the rumored details of Stevenson's impending departure might be:
ESPN.com's Dan Rafael confirmed Stevenson's move to Showtime.
Even though Kovalev is relatively new to boxing's mainstream, he is 30 years old. While that's not old, it's not considered young either. Kovalev needs a big-time opponent to validate him as a champion and a future pay-per-view draw.
Stevenson was supposed to be Kovalev's guy, but that no longer seems to be the case. It is a shame and just an unfortunate dynamic of boxing.
What's worse is that it looks like Stevenson wants no part of Kovalev. Ducking opponents isn't good for a fighter's reputation. That said, there are two sides to every story. HBO deserves some of the blame, but, in the long run, the fighter will take most of the heat.
In the meantime, Kovalev will take on opponents such Agnew to stay sharp, dominant and hopefully untested. Kevin Iole of Yahoo! Sports pulled no punches when he broke down the matchmaking strategy employed in this fight.
Iole wrote: "Agnew was chosen specifically because he could make Kovalev look good. He's 26-0 with 13 knockouts, which indicate he doesn't punch particularly hard. In the fight before his last one, he fought an eight-rounder. In the bout before that, he'd fought a six-rounder."
Kovalev's power is his biggest quality. He has never been beyond the eighth round in a fight. Per Allen Trieu of FoxSports.com, Kovalev is unapologetic about his power, which almost seems incidental during his fights.
Kovalev says: "I'm not going to the ring to knock somebody out. I go to the ring for boxing. It's not my fault if somebody's going to fall after my punch."
Kovalev will be looking to happen upon another knockout on Saturday.
The Book on Agnew
The 27-year-old from Chicago is a professional, so don't expect him to come to Atlantic City to lose. This is his biggest opportunity, and he's coming off a 12-round unanimous-decision win over Yusaf Mack.
That fight did take place nearly a year ago, though, so ring rust could be a factor.
Despite the layoff and the caliber of his opponent, Agnew is confident. He called Kovalev "ordinary" in an interview with Lem Satterfield of The Ring, but he insists he's not overconfident.
Agnew tells Satterfield: "I'm not overconfident. I'm humble. I know the road that I had to take to get here, and now that I'm here, I have to show the world all of my talent. I have to show the world who Cedric Agnew is."
The road Agnew has travelled may have been tough, but the path he'll have to take to upsetting Kovalev will be quite formidable as well.
There's no doubt he has a chance, but he'll need to employ a smart game plan and show the champion something he hasn't seen.
Agnew has decent hand speed, and he keeps his hands high when he isn't punching.
To win, he must stay away from Kovalev's power and extended exchanges. Moving his feet and head and changing angles is key.
Agnew appears a little slow to fire at times and leaves too much of his body exposed when he's peeking through his guards.
Body punches will be there for Kovalev when he wants them if Agnew doesn't employ enough movement. Also, Agnew has shown the tendency to drop his left hand, leaving straight and overhand rights open for his opponents.
Obviously, he's never faced a puncher like Kovalev, which could lead to disaster for him Saturday night. All Kovalev needs is one shot to change the immediate future.
While Agnew does have some skills, Kovalev's pressure and power will get to Agnew relatively early in this fight.
Look for a third-round KO win for the champion.
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