Sergey Kovalev is called "Krusher" because of the 23 knockouts in his 26-0 record, among the highest knockout percentages ever recorded by a light heavyweight titlist. But few could have ever guessed that the Russian had enough guile to not only out-fight Bernard Hopkins but to out-think him as well. A small majority of boxing experts thought the 49-year-old "Alien" still had enough in the tank to beat the Eastern European beast but once the bell sounded he proceeded to conduct a clinic on intelligent boxing. Also, the man who had never previously fought past the eighth round was fresh enough to deliver a historic beat down in the 12th and final round, landing more total punches (38) and power shots (29) than any other Hopkins opponent had in a three-minute stretch. When the scores were tallied, it was Kovalev -- not Hopkins -- who had delivered a technical and mathematical masterpiece: 120-106 on one card and 120-107 on the other two
Who knew? Few did.
The fight served to shift the conventional wisdom concerning Kovalev; not only is he a frightening two-fisted puncher, he also is capable of clinical dissections that would make a science teacher proud. On Saturday, Kovalev will return to Montreal to take on onetime WBC titlist Jean Pascal, who went 1-0-1 against Hopkins and would love nothing better than to beat his nemesis' conqueror.
Statistical factors that may influence the outcome include:
Ghost Buster: Kovalev's victory over Hopkins was complete and convincing in every facet. The pace was fought to Hopkins' liking -- Kovalev threw just 48.8 punches per round -- but because "B-Hop" only fired 16.2 per round he was out-gunned in every round. Kovalev led 166-65 overall, 45-25 jabs and 121-40 power but when Hopkins threw, he landed: He led 33%-28% overall, 30%-18% jabs and 36%-35% power. If he had thrown more, he might have made it a better contest. Then again, because of what happened in round 12, if he threw more, he might have been knocked out.
Saving Energy?: Kovalev's low output against Hopkins is a manifestation of a growing trend. During his rise to prominence, Kovalev was a volume-punching juggernaut; in fights against Roman Simakov, Darnell Boone, Lionell Thompson, Gabriel Campillo, Cornelius White and Nathan Cleverly, Kovalev averaged a combined 81.6 punches per round and landed 40% overall, 33% jabs and 44% power (well above the light heavyweight norms of 32%, 23% and 39% respectively). Except for the Thompson fight (58.9 per round), Kovalev topped the 80-punch-per-round threshold in every fight and exceeded 90 in two of his biggest fights against Campillo (90.8) and Cleverly (93.9). Not surprisingly, every fight ended in a Kovalev KO.
Conversely, his overwhelmed opponents managed just 32.8 punches per round and only Cleverly topped the 40 mark (40.5). They landed a combined 27% overall, 25% jabs and 30% power, pretty good numbers given Kovalev's all-out attack.
In his last three fights before Hopkins (Ismayl Sillakh, Cedric Agnew and Blake Caparello) the knockouts continued but the pace dropped dramatically -- a combined 43.6 punches per round -- as well as his precision (a combined 30% overall, 20% jabs, 38% power). Moreover, Kovalev's volume was in the 30s against Sillakh (35.9) and Caparello (31.4), plus Caparello managed to out-throw Kovalev 58-50 as well as score a knockdown. One positive: At least in terms of percentage, Kovalev's defensive numbers improved across the board (a combined 23% overall, 17% jabs, 27% power). Are we seeing a newer, smarter Krusher over the long-term? We'll see against Pascal.
Picky Puncher: Pascal patterned his style on that of his hero Roy Jones Jr., who just happens to be his adviser. From time to time Jones marshaled his energy but Pascal has taken that to an extreme. The typical light heavyweight throws 53.3 punches per round but during a four-fight stretch Pascal averaged 40.2 (TW 11 Chad Dawson), 29.2 (D 12 Hopkins I), 31.4 (L 12 Hopkins II) and 31.3 (W 10 Alexey Kuziemski).
Pascal did appear to turn over a new leaf against George Blades as he averaged 47 punches per round and landed 57% of his total punches, 51% of his jabs and 60% of his hooks, crosses and uppercuts before registering a fifth-round stoppage. Blades, however, was several levels below Pascal's talent level and it showed. But against even an eroded version of Lucian Bute, Pascal returned to his low-volume ways as he averaged 36.5 punches per round. The good news was that his extremely sharp (57%) and painful power punching cowed Bute into an even slower pace (34.2), allowing Pascal to prevail 187-150 overall and 151-102 power as well as win a comfortable decision (118-110, 117-111, 116-112). His jab wasn't especially active (14.6 thrown/3.0 connects per round) or accurate (21%) but it didn't need to be against Bute. But here, he will be facing a confident champion in his prime instead of one on the wane and that may well necessitate a change of tactics.
Pascal was lucky to receive this shot, for in his most recent fight against Roberto Bolonti, he clearly hit the Argentine on the break. Yes, Bolonti appeared to milk the injury in order to draw a disqualification but had the fight been held anywhere in the world other than Montreal, and had Pascal not been in line for this lucrative fight, he probably would have been given the thumb -- and deservedly so. The foul was that blatant.
Prediction: Pascal is caught in a quandary. If he uses his usual slow-playing tactics, he won't score enough points to win a decision. But if he opens up, he'll expose himself to Kovalev's power. Even though Pascal will enjoy home ring advantage it won't be enough. Kovalev with ease.