In the heavyweight division it's Wladimir Klitschko. In the super-middleweight division it's Andre Ward, while Gennady Golovkin holds that distinction at middleweight. Floyd Mayweather is the best fighter in between junior middleweight and welterweight. Terrence Crawford is the alpha fighter at junior welterweight and Roman Gonzalez is the junkyard dog at flyweight. As for the light heavyweight division, Sergey Kovalev is universally recognized as the fighter to beat in the division.
What separates him from the others is, there is a fighter out there who is supposed to be his rival and capable of beating him. His name is Adonis Stevenson and it's not a given that Kovalev would beat him if they fought. Klitschko doesn't have a rival at heavyweight, Ward doesn't at 168, neither does Golovkin at 160 and Mayweather just beat his biggest rival, Manny Pacquiao, in his last bout a little over two months ago. In Kovalev's case, based on his actions, Stevenson isn't anxious to fight him and settle the debate regarding who's the man at light heavyweight. So Kovalev has to move on and he forges his way to eliminate the top contenders, leaving Stevenson no one left to fight down the road.
Saturday night in Las Vegas at the Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino, Kovalev will defend his WBA, WBO and IBF light heavyweight titles against Nadjib Mohammedi 37-3 (23) of France. Like Terence Crawford, Roman Gonzalez and Gennady Golovkin, Kovalev is an emerging star. The undefeated big hitter has stopped 10 of his last 11 opponents, with Bernard Hopkins being the only fighter who went the distance with him. Yes, Hopkins went the full route, but it must be duly noted that he was shutout and it took all of his guile to enable him to finish the fight on his feet. This tells you just how formidable Sergey Kovalev is.
Sergey is a boxing star in the making for many reasons. What stands out mostly to fans when they watch him is his legitimate two-handed power. He throws every punch with the intention of ending the fight, but what sets him apart is his patience. Kovalev doesn't seek the one-punch knockout, he's too smart for that. Sergey sets up his combos in threes and fours and does it with his strong jab. It’s a jab so deliberate and strong that he stopped Cedric Agnew with a single one to the body. Kovalev also applies steady pressure but doesn't come out of the shoot looking to impose himself brutally on his opponent – instead he sets them up from the outside and once they are slowed and he senses trepidation, he goes in and looks to land finishing right hands and hooks.
Mohammedi isn't thought of as being much of a threat to Kovalev. Nadjib usually moves straight back, something that is suicidal against Kovalev, who can move forward faster than he can go back. Some have suggested that he fights with his hands too low, and there may be some merit to that. Although I doubt that'll be the case when he sees Kovalev coming at him this weekend. The best fighter Mohammedi has ever been in the ring with is Nathan Cleverly, and he lost a unanimous decision to him five years ago. Since then he's gone 14-1 and was stopped in the second round by Dmitry Sukhotsky. So his prospects of taking Kovalev deep into the fight don't look good.
Like most fighters of his stature, Kovalev is in a no win situation. If he steam-rolls Mohammedi, instead of getting credit for being efficient and good, the common theme after the fight will focus on how inept his opponent was. On the other hand if he struggles, everyone will suggest that Kovalev is overrated instead of considering that Mohammedi was better than advertised and really raised his game for the opportunity to fight for a world title. That's the no win position Sergey is in this weekend. However, that's professional boxing at the highest level.
When a fighter is as good as Kovalev or Klitschko, there aren't many contenders or rivals around to test them. So they must fight the next best available or mandatory challengers and win. The race to greatness is a Marathon and not a sprint. Sergey has to take this type of fight and keep winning and hopefully impressively. Soon there will be no one left for Stevenson to fight and he'll either be forced to fight Kovalev or give up his title. The main thing for Kovalev is to keep compiling W's. Sooner or later Stevenson will step up and if that doesn't happen, most likely Andre Ward will be in position to fight for the light heavyweight title. And that's when Sergey will be rewarded for fighting these types of bouts along the way.
Frank Lotierzo can be contacted at GlovedFist@Gmail.com