Sergey Kovalev's Next Fight: Top Contenders for Next Opponent
It’s an age-old reality in boxing. If one man’s punches are concussive and his opponent’s shots are merely dissuasive—concussive usually wins.
Such was the case Saturday night in Atlantic City, when Russian slugger Sergey Kovalev made it 12 consecutive victories via stoppage with a methodical seventh-round rubout of previously unbeaten challenger Cedric Agnew in defense No. 2 of his WBO light heavyweight championship.
The defeat of the anonymous and largely untested American was hardly unexpected, but its sheer destructive spectacle was nonetheless enough to get a rise from the few thousand on hand at Boardwalk Hall.
“This was very good for me,” Kovalev told HBO’s Max Kellerman after the fight.
And with Agnew now authoritatively in the rearview mirror, the focus shifts to what fighters within arm’s reach of the Russian’s turf at 175 pounds would make the most sense as an opponent for the next go-round. We’ve put our list of five together here and invite feedback in the comments section.
5. Adonis Stevenson
If you’ve been paying attention in the days leading up to Kovalev’s match with Agnew, you’re well aware that his most sought-after foe, WBC champion Adonis Stevenson, joined forces with manager Al Haymon and, by doing so, presumably took himself out of the Krusher sweepstakes.
Chances are good that it won’t happen, but representatives from both HBO, which aired Kovalev’s Saturday fight, and Showtime, which will broadcast Stevenson’s May title defense against Andrzej Fonfara, have indicated a lingering willingness to make the match a reality later this year.
An HBO source told Sports Illustrated’s Chris Mannix that the network was still interested in bidding on a Stevenson-Kovalev event, while Yahoo! Sports’s Kevin Iole reported that Showtime executive Stephen Espinoza “would have interest in a Stevenson-Kovalev fight if Kovalev were available.”
And if it doesn’t happen, Kovalev can claim the first-round KO in the verbal war after following up the Agnew win by telling HBO’s Kellerman, “Adonis Stevenson is a piece of s***.”
4. Andre Ward
It’s a match that Main Events promoter Kathy Duva has labeled as “inevitable,” according to Bill Emes of BoxingScene.com, and while few would expect Kovalev to get in the ring with consensus super middleweight kingpin Andre Ward by the end of 2014—count us in among those who’d happily jump on the potential bandwagon.
He started slowly after a gold medal in the 2004 Olympics, but Ward picked up steam with a series of wins in Showtime’s Super Six tournament a few years back and has built his brand to a point where almost no one expects him to lose anytime soon at 168 pounds.
That leaves the prospect of elevation to 175, where Kovalev, now a contracted colleague at HBO, would presumably be ready, willing and able to take on the challenge. Given the paucity of other realistic big-ticket options for either guy, why not go ahead and bring on the future a few months early?
3. Gennady Golovkin
A pair of fighters who were born into republics in what’s now the former Soviet Union. A pair of fighters with amateur pedigrees that consist of more than 200 bouts. And a pair of fighters who’ve gone on to become world champions in their respective weight classes.
If that doesn’t make a match between Kovalev and Gennady Golovkin about as close to a no-brainer as there is in boxing, well...we don’t know what does—not to mention the added intrigue of Golovkin’s trainer, Abel Sanchez, claiming Kovalev was afraid when the fighters sparred together.
They’re both HBO fighters, too, which makes the get-together a television possibility. And, assuming Golovkin gets by a planned July date with Julio Cesar Chavez Jr. at 168 pounds, don’t be surprised if it’s either Ward or Kovalev who is immediately suggested as the next big pay-per-view thing.
2. Eleider Alvarez
After a series of sexy, albeit admittedly less likely prospects in Stevenson, Ward and Golovkin, the emphasis shifts to a comparatively unknown Colombian in Eleider Alvarez—who has a far less weighty resume but the advantage of a high-end spot in the WBO rankings.
The soon-to-be 30-year-old (his birthday is on April 8) has just 14 fights under his belt since going pro in 2009 but is the No. 2 challenger for Kovalev’s belt according to the Puerto Rico-based organization, whose top contender, Fonfara, will vie for Stevenson’s WBC title in May.
Presuming Alvarez wins his own scheduled bout the same night, it’s feasible that he’d be deemed the mandatory challenger for Kovalev, who defeated Nathan Cleverly to win the title before downing Agnew, who was rated No. 14 heading into their Saturday fight on the New Jersey seashore.
1. Jean Pascal
As a former regional champion at super middleweight and two-belt world champion at light heavyweight, few would argue that Haitian-born Canadian resident Jean Pascal has the street cred to make an attractive opponent for the heretofore unthreatened Kovalev.
He handed former WBC titleholder Chad Dawson his first career loss in 2010, fought to a draw with Bernard Hopkins four months later and recently resurrected his own career with a dominant 12-round decision over former 168-pound champ Lucian Bute in January in Montreal.
Pascal suggested in an EastSideBoxing.com article that Kovalev was an “untested” commodity until he beat a champion and could not claim he was No. 1 in the division until doing so. As the No. 3-ranked WBO challenger to end March, he’s in a good spot himself to be the litmus test.