This past weekend WBO light-heavyweight title holder Sergey Kovalev 24-0-1 (22 KOs) successfully defended his title with a seventh round stoppage over Cedric Agnew 26-1 (13 KOs) at Boardwalk Hall in Atlantic City.
Kovalev dropped Agnew with a strong left jab to the body around the liver and Agnew was counted out while on one knee with 58 seconds left in the round. It was the third knockdown of the fight scored by Kovalev, but the fight wasn't a walk in the park for him as most thought it would be. On this night he had to go more than the three or four rounds he usually does and he also had to deal with some adversity. He was cut above both eyes due to a head butt and an unintentional elbow from Agnew. In addition to that, Agnew had a plan and despite not winning a single round, he stuck to it until the fight was over regardless of how much Kovalev tried to open him up during the bout.
His fight plan was to try and get Kovalev deep into the fight and hope that the hard punching Russian would tire; not a bad idea, as he hasn't had to go beyond the fifth round more than three times in 24 fights. Well, Agnew never got a chance to find out if Sergey was going to tire and to his credit, Kovalev caught on to Agnew's game and didn't waste many punches while trying to track him down as the fight progressed.
''I tried boxing because he has good defense,'' Kovalev said. ''Then I went to the body. I saw how hurt he was.''
Yes, Agnew spent a lot of the fight with his back to the ropes and fighting in retreat, but he did manage to cut loose with a counter attack, with some hard left hooks to the head and body which momentarily caused Kovalev to back off for a brief moment allowing Agnew to get away.
It's amazing how boxing never changes in that when a supposed genuine destroyer or life-taker the likes of Sergey Kovalev or Gannady Golovkin come along, how every fight that goes rounds is bound to expose flaws the way this past weekend's fight regarding Kovalev did. That doesn't mean he wasn't impressive because he was. Anytime a fighter can drop his opponent two times with a body jab, well, that's outright impressive. But the more you can get a look at a fighter, the more likely it is you'll start to see ways he can be beat. And the Agnew fight began to show some areas where Kovalev might be lacking. Let's start with the positive.
We saw that Kovalev definitely carries his power into the second half of the fight. It's safe to assume that he's a dangerous puncher from rounds one through twelve with both hands. Those kind of fighters are born, not manufactured, regardless of what some cookbook analysts say. Another thing that was easy to pick up on was, more than most fighters, it's really suicide to back straight up against him. Kovalev comes in straight and if you don't pick a side to go back and force him to punch across his body or reach for you, you're a sitting duck for his finishing right hands and hooks. He's sort of like David Tua in that sense..if you keep him turning he's not quite as much of a killer. Something else we saw over the course of the fight with Agnew is how Kovalev stays focused and really doesn't give a damn about his opponent. It doesn't matter what his opponent does, he won't be dissuaded and he's going to come for you.
As for what can be construed as a flaw and an opening for Klovalev's future opponents, there's not much... but he's not an unbreakable dam either. There's no such thing as a totally complete fighter, especially if he's a legitimate knockout artist. As we saw with Mike Tyson when he was forced to go rounds - he wasn't constantly aggressive and fought in spurts and usually drifted mentally if the fight wasn't an early round knockout. George Foreman's stamina wasn't always reliable and as George Chuvalo has often said, "Foreman threw a lot of punches out the window." Former junior middleweight title holder Julian Jackson was a wrecking machine that put together Thomas Hearns type picturesque knockouts. But as his level of opposition was stepped up and he had to go more rounds, we found out that he couldn't catch nearly as good as he could pitch.
In regards to Kovalev, he really doesn't have much in the hand speed department. He has a good sense of timing and distance but if he doesn't cut loose before his opponent does, he's going get there second as often as he gets there first. He attacks in a straight line and doesn't try to make his opponent miss. He banks on them waiting to see what he's gonna do because they're concerned with him landing cleanly on them more than the opposite. Another thing that is impossible not to see is that his offense is pretty vanilla and lacks imagination. He's basically a jab-cross-left hook fighter. He's not really looking to trick or set up his opponent, no, he's looking to make solid contact and believes the rest will take care of itself if he connects. When Agnew did fire back when he felt Kovalev was looking to reload, I didn't like the way Sergey was jumping back from his punches, especially from a fighter who isn't really much of a puncher. I'm not sure he wasn't hurt once during the fight more so than it looked. Perhaps he wasn't as hurt as it looked to me, but I know I didn't like the way he reacted the few times he was touched flush. Remember, Tyson was a different fighter when he got nailed and his confidence waned when his opponent experienced a little success against him. I'm not saying that's who Kovalev is by any means, but I am saying it's something to watch as his fights begin to go more rounds.
As of this writing I still believe Kovalev is the fighter to beat in the light heavyweight division. I would definitely pick him to beat Adonis Stevenson and Bernard Hopkins. However, I give Hopkins a better shot now to upset him than I did before because the things that bother Hopkins at this stage of his career, speed and work-rate, are not Kovalev's strength. Unlike Gennady Golovkin who he's recently been compared to, he's not as smart or as fluid nor does he cut off the ring quite as well. Golovkin has his vulnerabilities too but they're overshadowed more by his attributes and will be harder to exploit. Golovkin just hits you and hits you, whether or not he finds an opening. Kovalev waits around looking for his spots a little more, which leave an opening for an opponent who is good enough and not afraid to exploit it. What's most compelling about the trinity of Hopkins, Kovalev and Stevenson regarding the top of the food chain in the light heavyweight division is, there's a case that can be made favoring anyone of them over the other two. That's something that probably wouldn't be in play if Hopkins was crowding 40 years old instead of 50.
Frank Lotierzo can be contacted at GlovedFist@Gmail.com