by Kieran Mulvaney
Before Saturday night's light-heavyweight double feature, the talk was of the prospect that the two favorites, Sergey Kovalev and Adonis Stevenson, could be on a collision course in a mouth-watering light heavyweight clash for the ages. After both men disposed of their foes with consummate and concussive ease, the talk turned to shouting.
Kovalev's turn was first, and it was the briefer of the two outings. Whether for reasons personal or geopolitical, Ismayl Sillakh, the Ukrainian challenger for the Russian's world title belt, seemed from a distance to have gotten under Kovalev's skin, as evidenced by the way the defending champion taunted him verbally in the first round as he stalked him around the ring. The rangier Sillakh sought to keep his opponent at a distance -- a fine strategy in principle against a knockout artist who goes by "Krusher," but difficult to pull off for long. Indeed, shortly after hearing the bell to begin the second round, Sillakh was likely hearing a lot more of them, courtesy of Kovalev's right hand.
The first right made its mark about 30 seconds into the second frame, and looked to have landed somewhere around Sillakh's left ear, scrambling his equilibrium and depositing him on his back. Sillakh was swiftly to his feet, but even as referee Marlon Wright completed the mandatory eight count, Kovalev was like a pit bull straining on an invisible leash, snorting and growling and desperate for an opportunity to rip apart his prey. As soon as Wright waved them back together, Kovalev flew across the ring, landed another right hand that effectively ended the fight and nearly decapitated Sillakh in the process, and somehow found time to land two straight follow-up lefts to help his falling opponent to the canvas, where he then lay, under the ropes and wondering where he was for a while.
Wright didn't even bother to count; he could have started reading "Moby Dick" and Sillakh wouldn't have been vertical before Ahab disappeared beneath the waves. It was a frighteningly impressive performance for the Chelyabinsk-born Floridian, who moves to 23-0-1 with 21 knockouts. Asked by HBO's Max Kellerman whom he would like to fight next, Kovalev initially proffered the "whoever my promoter wants me to fight" stock answer until, after Kellerman gently pressed, he smiled and said, "Adonis."