HBO Boxing Insiders Eric Raskin and Kieran Mulvaney discuss the bizarre fight between Brandon Rios and Diego Chaves in Las Vegas, and Sergey Kovalev's demolition of Blake Caparello in Atlantic City, which sets up a November showdown with Bernard Hopkins.
Photos by Will Hart
By Michael Gluckstadt
Most fighters are confident. But very few of them are confident enough to book their next fight on the day before the one at hand.
In agreeing to fight Bernard Hopkins later this year, Sergey Kovalev effectively made his light heavyweight clash with Australian southpaw Blake Caparello a formality. Saturday night at Revel Casino, he followed through on that premise with a TKO in the second round on the heels of three devastating knockdowns.
There was some dramatic tension early on, however. A Caparello left hand surprised Kovalev, who took a step back and dropped his glove to the canvas. The crowd was stunned, no one more so than Kovalev's promoter, Main Events CEO Kathy Duva. But it was just a flash knockdown, one that came when Kovalev lost his balance while Caparello stepped on his front foot. By the end of the round, Kovalev began to show his form, wobbling Caparello with a thudding left just before the bell.
In the second, Kovalev truly went to work. First, he dug a straight hand into Caparello's liver, which dropped the Australian to the floor wincing in pain. Soon after, Kovalev wound up his right hand for a bolo punch that channeled Sugar Ray Leonard, driving it straight into Caparello's face for another knockdown. When Caparello got up, his reward was a six-punch combination culminating in two right hooks to the body. As he leaned against the ropes, referee Sparkle Lee stepped in and waved off the fight.
If there was any doubt that this fight was primarily intended to set up the showdown with Hopkins, it ended when Kovalev and Hopkins conducted a joint interview with HBO's Max Kellerman about their upcoming bout. "[In Kovalev] I see a champion like myself," Hopkins said. "I always run to the fighter, not away from the fighter."
Hopkins would certainly present the toughest challenge of Kovalev's career – in 65 career fights, the 49-year-old legend has never been knocked out. But the KO-artist Kovalev is ready to adjust his style. "If I knock him out, I will be happy," he says." "But that's not my goal; my goal is to be the new world record holder."
Before the fight, Hopkins expressed a similar sentiment, albeit more colorfully. "Don't look for a knockout from me," he told a gathering of reporters. "What you will look for is a career-ending mental breakdown. You won't even see the wounds. But they enter your soul and your spirit."
"It's a major fight in the light heavyweight division," Kellerman says of the match-up. "You have to give Hopkins, who is almost 50 years old, credit for taking this fight. Especially since Jean Pascal had him dropped in one fight and hurt in the other – though I thought Hopkins won both of those. But at a certain point, he will be too old."
"When people say father time is undefeated, I always say he has one draw and that's to Bernard Hopkins. If Hopkins wins this fight, he'll have knocked out Father Time. If he doesn't, Kovalev gets taken to a new level of fame in the fight game and the sports world."
Sergey Kovalev and Blake Caparello weigh-in ahead of their match-up taking place Sat., Aug. 2 on HBO as part of a split-site tripleheader beginning at 9:45pm ET/PT.
By Michael Gluckstadt
Tonight's HBO Boxing After Dark offers a triple header of action, starting at 9:45 PM. First, undefeated junior welterweights Jessie Vargas and Anton Novikov will kick things off at The Cosmopolitan in Las Vegas. Then, at Revel Casino in Atlantic City, Sergey "Krusher" Kovalev takes on Australian southpaw Blake Caparello. The final fight of the evening will be between Brandon Rios and Diego Chaves, back in Las Vegas.
The HBO Boxing broadcasting team will be covering all the fights live from ringside. Jim Lampley and Andre Ward will be in Las Vegas, while in Atlantic City, Max Kellerman will be doing the blow-by-blow alongside analyst Roy Jones Jr. This will be Kellerman's second time in that role, which is usually performed by Lampley. Inside HBO Boxing caught up with him to find out how he's preparing for it:
Is this a departure from your usual role on the broadcast?
Max Kellerman: It's totally different. Everyone knows what Jim Lampley can do, it's ridiculous. You never have to worry about anything because you have the best captain steering the ship. You know Jim's going to take care of everything. Before I did my first one, I called Jim. He's an incredible mentor in that capacity. Both with moral encouragement and technical details.
Is the type of preparation different for blow-by-blow versus color commentary?
Absolutely. It's like if you're in a car and you're sitting in the back seat and someone else is driving, you may not know how you got there. But if you drive yourself you know exactly how you got there.
What Jim's amazing at, that I try to emulate as much as I can, isn't just one thing – like calling punches, asking Roy a question, conducting an interview, giving an opinion, directing traffic, reading a promo, tossing it to whomever—no one thing is difficult. But the integration of all those things is the art of it.
Is there anything specific you've picked up from sitting next to Jim all these years?
The number one thing is to keep the narrative in mind. Why are we here? What are we doing here? What's the story of the fighters? If you keep that in mind, you can always come back to that. That's the throughline; that's the thread that stitches it all together.
Do you ever review tape of your past performances?
I have, but the truth is, I'm a fight fan, so I just end up watching the fight again. I have to really concentrate to focus on what we're doing.
Photos: Will Hart
By Frank Della Femina
When Blake Caparello stepped on to the scale Friday afternoon at Revel Casino in Atlantic City, it was easy to imagine the digital read-out render the word, "Why?" instead of his weight of 174 pounds. After all, not many people are willing to enter the ring across from a man as feared as Sergey "Krusher" Kovalev.
Lately, Kovalev's opponents have been coming in as heavy underdogs. His previous challenger, Cedric Agnew, hit the canvas three times on the way to a 7th round KO this past March. However, he did manage to leave Kovalev with a not-so-friendly reminder that not every win will come void of pain – or in this particular case, a few stitches above the eye.
But as HBO's June match-up between Ruslan Provodnikov and Chris Algieri showed, anything can happen in a boxing ring, which is why Caparello is so confident in his chances of pulling off an upset.
"I believe in my ability. I know I can beat him," said the Aussie southpaw. "If I wasn't confident I wouldn't have taken the fight. I'm confident. My team is confident and [promoter] Lou DiBella is confident. That's why we took the fight."
For all the animosity that often builds during fight week, Kovalev and Caparello seem to have taken a "save it for the ring" approach. Neither has been so bold as to take proverbial jabs at the other, nor has there been anything less than a few smiles exchanged, starting with Thursday's press conference (sarcastic as they may have been).
"I'm coming to America to beat Sergey Kovalev," Caparello boasted from the podium Thursday afternoon. "I'm confident in my abilities and I'm ready to be a champion."
Moments later Kovalev responded simply, "I want to just get in the ring and get my next win this Saturday."
Simple and to the point. Perhaps even a direct reflection of Kovalev's natural ease with which he approaches an opponent; never asking whom he's facing, only when the fight will happen, and at what weight he needs to be.
Like Agnew before him, Caparello enters the contest undefeated. However, all but one of those 19 wins came in Australia. If the Russian can add to the right side of his professional record of 24-0-1 (22 KOs) Saturday night, he could face a fighter—Bernard Hopkins—with much greater name recognition soon after.
Official Weights from Atlantic City
Sergey Kovalev: 174 pounds
Blake Caparello: 174 pounds
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?
HBO Boxing Insider Kieran Mulvaney goes one-on-one with Sergey Kovalev and Blake Caparello before they face off Saturday night from the Revel Atlantic City.
Watch live on HBO Boxing After Dark, starting at 9:45 PM ET/PT.