Is Sergey Kovalev Underrated? You Better Believe It

pic David Spagnolo, Main Events
pic David Spagnolo, Main Events

By John J. Raspanti: You lose two fights and suddenly you’re not that good. Social media goes crazy. You’re overrated they say. Hold on a second. Not that good? Come on. He lost to a guy with the last name of Ward, who many called the pound-for-pound best fighter in the world.


The guy returns and wins both his fights by stoppage. Still not good enough.


Do I need to go over the particulars of Sergey Kovalev’s boxing career?


I guess I do.


Kovalev, 34, turned professional in 2009. His amateur career had been a good one—highlighted by capturing a gold medal at the World Military Championships in 2007. He knocked out 16 of his first 18 opponents, but his pro career seemed stuck in neutral until he was signed by promoter Kathy Duva four years ago.


He picked up his first world title in 2013 by pummeling Nathan Cleverly in four dominant rounds. Kovalev entered the fight a prohibitive underdog. He exited it a champion.


Kovalev’s most impressive victories have been over future Hall of Famer Bernard Hopkins,who was expected to tame the man dubbed "Krusher," and former champion Jean Pascal, whom Kovalev sent to Dreamland twice.


Even at age 49, Hopkins would be far too crafty for Kovalev. He’d use his superior technique to frustrate the champion. Just like he did to Kelly Pavlick a few years before. Sounds good, right?


A minute into the fight, Hopkins found himself on the canvas, courtesy of a right hand. Kovalev won every round, showing a versatility that many thought he didn’t possess. The beatdown was the worst ever suffered by Hopkins up to that point.


Kovalev (32-2-1, 28 KOs) wears boxers down. He’s methodical and deadly. He’s not flashy. Kovalev is the quiet hitman waiting in the wings to strike. His punching power is scary. It’s his great equalizer. He can knock out a guy with either hand, but his right hand is like dynamite.


Then he meets Andre Ward and everything changes. Kovalev’s blazing start in the first match-up (a knockdown) was chilled by Ward’s grittiness. The bout was competitive and edgy. To come back Ward needed to take chances. He did, digging shots to the body. Kovalev hung tough and fought back. The rounds were close--Kovalev’s raw power against Ward’s boxing artistry.


I’ve watched the fight three times. Twice I had Kovalev winning by a point. The other time it was Ward. No robbery though. You want a bad decision? Watch the Paul Williams and Erislandy Lara fight that went down in 2011. Lara easily outboxed Williams. The decision seemed anticlimactic, that is until Williams was announced the winner by a majority decision.


A few weeks after the fight, the New Jersey State Athletic Board suspended the three judges indefinitely.




I could go on about bad decisions in boxing. They’re as common as corruption in politics.


Kovalev demanded a rematch. Fight two was similar to their first go around, except Kovalev didn’t knock Ward down. Each round was close. Ward had the edge after seven rounds. In the next stanza, a Ward right hand separated Kovalev from his senses. His legs went all rubbery.


Did a few punches stray below the belt? Yes, especially the last punch, but make no mistake about it, the fight was over after Ward’s right hand connected.


Kovalev took a break from boxing after his losses to Ward. He traveled to a monastery in Greece to reflect on his life and career. The trip rejuvenated him.


"When you don’t win and when you suffer adversity, it makes you stronger," Kovlaev said during a recent media conference call. "It also shows you who your real friends are. I feel like I cleaned out my life and now I’m ready to start fresh. I’m very excited to get back in the ring, and fight at Madison Square Garden for the first time, and I’m focused on the future. I’m not looking back."


He returned to the ring wars four months ago, demolishing Vyacheslav Shabranskyy in five minutes to capture the WBO belt. He looked like his old powerful self. He was expected to win, but nobody really knows what will happen to fighters after a loss.


He defended his belt a few weeks ago against boyhood friend Igor Miklakin. Kovalev won by stoppage after seven one-sided rounds, but he said after the bout that he didn’t feel that good about his performance. He was right. He looked sluggish and got clipped with some solid punches from the light-hitting Miklakin. Maybe he couldn’t get motivated.


He spoke of fighting the winner of the Adonis Stevenson and Badau Jack bout. And down the road, bad-ass WBA titleholder Dimitry Bivol.


Whoever he meets better be ready, because underrating Kovalev could be a big mistake.

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