If Sergey Kovalev, promoter Kathy Duva and HBO had their way, this date might have witnessed the long-desired unification bout between Kovalev and WBC titlist Adonis Stevenson. But since Stevenson bolted for "the guys across the street" to fight Andrzej Fonfara (and possibly Bernard Hopkins), Kovalev has been content to bide his time while blasting out whomever was placed in front of him.
This past March 29, the victim was 26-0 Cedric Agnew. On Saturday, it will be Blake Caparello, a lanky Australian southpaw with a strange style and a 14-fight winning streak. The knockout percentages couldn't be more different (88 percent for Kovalev, 30 percent for Caparello) nor the fighting styles but in boxing contrast is the spice of life.
Will Kovalev score his career-high ninth knockout in a row or will Caparello pull off what may well be the upset of the year, if not the decade thus far?
Factors that may influence the outcome include:
Kovalev vs. Left-Handers: The switch-hitting Agnew opted to fight almost exclusively from the left-handed stance and while he managed to average a meager 17.2 punches per round to Kovalev's 63.6 he managed to give the Russian tank a lot to think about. Head clashes opened cuts over both Kovalev eyes and his high guard limited the champ to a lower-than-usual 27% overall, 18% jabs and 34% power. Still, Kovalev proved he could land the hook as it scored knockdowns in rounds two (jaw) and six (body) and a jab to the body -- of all things -- ended up scoring the 10-count knockout. The final numbers were sufficiently dominant as he out-landed Agnew 107-31 overall, 36-9 jabs and 71-22 power and the jab was impressively effective as he averaged 31 thrown and 5.7 connects per round, well above the 22.6 and 5.2 light heavyweight norms.
In January 2013 Kovalev created an army of believers by blasting out former 175-pound titlist Gabriel Campillo in round three thanks to the three-knockdown rule. Kovalev took full advantage of Campillo's slow-starting tendencies by going 24 of 90 to Campillo's 2 of 12 and 30 of 83 to 9 of 41 in round two to set up the third round destruction. In all Kovalev out-landed Campillo 77-13 overall, 22-9 jabs and 55-4 in power shots but more importantly Kovalev averaged 90 punches per round to Campillo's 23.6.
Given what happened in these two fights Kovalev's approach against southpaws is clear: Negate the positional war by going straight through it and ceaselessly firing cluster bombs.
Caparello's Caper: If the man from Down Under is to spring the monumental surprise, he must manage to neutralize Kovalev's hot start by applying his two-inch reach advantage and his quirky style. One way is to adopt the approach he utilized in his most recent fight against Elvir Muriqi -- being proactive with the pace (74.4 punches per round to Muriqi's 34.4), using a busy jab (39.4 thrown/4.1 landed per round) and steadily piling up points each round. He out-landed Muriqi 139-79 overall, 41-17 jabs and 98-62 power and while he wasn't precise (19% overall, 10% jabs, 28% power) he muffled Muriqi enough (23% overall, 12% jabs, 31% power) to get the job done.
The other way is to muck up the proceedings and make it messy, as he did against a reluctant Allan Green and his close fight with Daniel MacKinnon, both of which were 12 round decision wins. Caparello won the MacKinnon bout by being busier (45.1 per round to 35.2) and at least using the jab (26.7 thrown per round) if not landing it often (6%). MacKinnon banked on his power punching to break through but Caparello's style prevented him from making much of a dent (28%, an 87-71 connect edge and a 32%-28% accuracy deficit). Caparello led 91-90 in total connects and 20-3 jabs, enough to get the nod from the judges.
The Green fight was no more than a glorified sparring session and the American reportedly was hesitant even to leave the dressing room. Again, the pace was modest (41.8 per round for Caparello to Green's 30.5) but Caparello's 46% power accuracy was enough to deter Green's ambition. Caparello out-landed Green 155-68 overall, 24-20 jabs and 131-48 power only because he was so much more active (502-366 in total thrown punches). For Caparello, a dull fight is a winning fight.
Prediction: Unfortunately for Caparello, Kovalev doesn't do boring. Instead, he'll bore in, do his damage and leave the ring with another KO on his ledger. Next?