In November of 2014, undefeated Russian WBO light heavyweight champion Sergey “Krusher” Kovalev stepped up to the biggest fight of his career against a legend in the sport, Bernard “The Alien” Hopkins.
Facing off in Hopkins' backyard of Atlantic City, Kovalev was seeking to unify three light heavyweight titles. Although Hopkins was 49 years old, he was still a champion who owned two of those light heavyweight belts.
Hopkins was the oldest boxer in history to unify titles in a weight division and was still seen as a dangerous fighter.
Kovalev dominated Hopkins for all 12 rounds, setting it off with a knockdown in the first round. No one had ever seen the crafty fighter from Philadelphia, whose well-earned nickname was also "The Executioner", beaten in such one-sided fashion.
Kovalev emerged as the new force to watch in the game. Now, with fellow undefeated and newly minted light heavyweight champion Andre Ward as his next challenge this Saturday, Kovalev has a chance to solidify his greatness on the biggest stage in boxing, a pay-per-view card in Las Vegas.
“Yes, my fight with Bernard Hopkins was one of the biggest fights in my career,” said Kovalev via his pre-fight blog post. “Bernard is great fighter so I trained very hard for his fight, before this nobody knew I could box. I am training very hard to improve my boxing skills even more for this fight with Andre Ward.”
Out of 31 fights, Kovalev has 30 wins and 26 knockouts. His lone technical draw came by a competitor not able to continue after claiming a hit was administered to the back of the head in 2011. He is known for knocking people out, and since joining with renowned trainer John David Jackson in 2012, it is an expectation that was proven all the way through to 2015, when he knocked out Jean Pascal.
Kovalev started the fight off with his usual brand of aggression, taking control of the fight in the early rounds and eventually knocking Pascal down in the 3rd. Although Pascal fought back, beginning to finally show some flashes of life in rounds 5 and 6, Kovalev made gains with huge shots, wobbling Pascal. In the 8th round, the referee stopped the fight, saving Pascal from any more unnecessary punishment.
“I believe I can knock anyone out, but I also believe I am good boxer,” Kovalev wrote in his blog. “If I knock (Ward) out it would be great because boxing fans would be very happy, and me too, but I am training for a 12 round fight with Andre Ward, because anything can happen in boxing.”
Ward truly is Kovalev’s toughest opponent to date. He rarely gets in trouble in the ring and usually overwhelms his opponents, even when he stepped up from the super middleweight ranks where he dominated as champion.
Kovalev’s most recent fight against Isaac Chilemba tested his style against a Ward doppelgänger and although Kovalev pulled out the unanimous decision and even knocked Chilemba down in the seventh round, it was a hard- fought victory that showed that he may be vulnerable to boxing technicians.
“Ward is very good defensive fighter, and difficult to hit," said Kovalev. "My last fight was against Chilemba, he was also a very good boxer. He was difficult to hit sometimes, but I was prepared to go the distance and used my boxing skills to win the fight. This fight with Andre Ward is definitely the biggest, most important fight of my career and I will be prepared for him 100%."
For both fighters this weekend, this is their first time dominating the world stage as two men at the pinnacle of their career with a blockbuster pay-per-view fight. For Kovalev, who has been chasing Adonis Stevenson, a win could set that fight up, as it would be extremely lucrative for them both. The same would go for a win for Ward.
Either way, the light heavyweight division is now exciting again and Kovalev might finally solidify his place as one of boxing’s recognized greats.