Kovalev Sends an Emphatic Message

By Eric Raskin


Photo Credit: Ed Mulholland

All week, it was the elephant in the room -- or perhaps more accurately, the elephant that used to be in the room but had found its way into a different room across the street. Sergey Kovalev's fight against Cedric Agnew was designed to build toward a fall detonation against Adonis Stevenson for undisputed light heavyweight supremacy, until Stevenson made clear just a few days ago that he prefers a meeting with Bernard Hopkins. Like that, what was going to be a build-up fight in Atlantic City's Boardwalk Hall became just another showcase for Kovalev -- though the "Krusher" still delivered.

After Kovalev dispatched Agnew in seven one-sided rounds, he referenced the subject with five simple words: "Adonis Stevenson piece of shit." (Then he said "Sorry for my English," which is apparently what Russian dudes say instead of "Pardon my French.") To cap a week filled with accusations of ducking, Kovalev certainly wasn't ducking the uncomfortable topic. He was attacking it the same way he attacks everything else. And he was reminding fight fans, even on a night when his fight proved only semi-satisfying, why he has become one of the most beloved bruisers in boxing in short order.

Is Stevenson a piece of excrement? Or just a 36-year-old late bloomer viewing boxing as a business first and a sport second? You could argue that there's some truth to both.

What you can't dispute is that Kovalev is the kind of fighter who takes care of business the old-fashioned way. 

The previously undefeated but decidedly unproven Agnew put up a stiffer challenge in The Ballroom at Boardwalk Hall than most expected, but he still hit the canvas three times and likely lost every round. The only possible exception was the opening frame, in which the 27-year-old switch hitter from Chicago came out in a southpaw stance and landed a couple of counter left hands that surprised Kovalev, 30, and landed flush. By the end of round two, however, any inkling of upset fever was gone, as a straight right hand from the Krusher set up a left hook that sent Agnew sprawling to the canvas with less than 10 seconds to go in the round. He got up at referee Sammy Viruet's count of eight, but now it was just a matter of how long he would last.

As it turned out, pretty long -- at least by Kovalev's standards. Nobody had taken the Russian beyond the fourth round since 2011, but Agnew bucked that trend with a tight defense and a sturdy chin. The underdog never stopped trying, and he managed to cut Kovalev both above the right eye and below the left eye (even if neither gash was necessarily caused by a legal punch) while also doing damage with the occasional low blow. Still, it was a pleasure to watch Kovalev gradually break down Agnew's defenses, particularly the way he used heavy left hooks to open up holes for straight right hands and then used zipping straight rights to create openings for those thudding hooks. Early in the sixth, a straight left to the body set up a left hook to the head, causing the second official knockdown (though video replays supported Agnew's insistence that neither his gloves nor knees ever touched the canvas).

With Agnew's left eye swelling and with more than 100 punches from Kovalev absorbed, the challenger's resistance finally subsided early in the seventh round. Kovalev loaded up on a couple of straight right hands, then struck with a left to the body -- essentially a jab with all his weight and a little hooking action behind it -- that dropped Agnew (26-1, 13 KOs) to one knee, where he remained until Viruet had counted 10.

"I tried boxing today, because he has good defense," Kovalev (24-0-1, 22 KOs) commented afterward. "I found the key for his defense, left to the body."

So far, it's proven true that if Sergey Kovalev gets you in the ring, he finds the key to taking you out. The question now is what elite fighter with other reasonable options is he going to get in the ring?