Photos: Will Hart
By Kieran Mulvaney
Sergey "Krusher" Kovalev swatted aside the challenge of Frenchman Nadjib Mohammedi at the Mandalay Bay Events Center, knocking him down twice en route to a dominant third round stoppage victory in his first outing as a Las Vegas headliner.
The first round was uneventful, Kovalev (28-0-1, 25 KOs) patiently stalking his foe, landing stiff jabs that snapped back Mohammedi's head but unable initially to land any power shots past his defensive stance and herky-jerky upper body movement. The second, in contrast, saw the two men make four visits to the canvas between them, although only one was a legitimate knockdown.
Kovalev was the first to find himself horizontal, tripping over as he circled away from a clumsy Mohammedi assault, but shortly afterward he sent the Frenchman to his knees with a brutal flurry of blows: a right hand that drove his opponent into the ropes, a left that caused him to topple forward, and then another right/left combination that dropped him. Mohammedi beat the count, but understandably looked far from comfortable as the Russian pursued him with a predatory zeal. Mohammedi went down again, but this time from a push, and stumbled as he sought to escape Kovalev, rising slowly and uncertainly.
“After the knockdown, I knew I was in a fight,” said Mohammedi afterward – as if he didn’t know that before.
He survived the round, but Kovalev began the third with bad intentions, landing two powerful straight rights that sent Mohammedi into the ropes. The Frenchman, however, appeared to have regained his bearings – until a two-punch combination suddenly ended the night. A Kovalev overhand right twisted Mohammedi’s head to one side, and a follow-up straight left landed square in the center of the Frenchman’s face, sending him to his haunches. He rose to his knees, blinking and rubbing his eyes, and as he lifted himself to his feet, still appearing in distress, referee Kenny Bayless waved off the contest at 2:38 of the round.
Mohammedi, who falls to 38-4 with 23 KOs, said afterward that he couldn’t open his eyes, improbably blaming Kovalev’s thumb for causing the injury. The fact that that thumb was just one part of a powerful fist was the significantly more likely cause.
“I don’t even know how I landed the punch that got his eye,” shrugged Kovalev, who admitted that he had been shouting at Mohammedi to get up. “I wanted more rounds,” he said. “I wanted to make him look like a clown. I wanted him to look foolish. I wanted to give the fans more of a show.”
Kovalev promoter Kathy Duva announced afterward that her fighter would return on November 28 in Moscow; she planned to offer the fight to another undefeated Russian, Artur Beterbiev, but said that other options were on the table.
Kovalev said he was happy, whomever he faced:
“I’m ready for anybody.”