By - George Delis (@Delisketo)
On March 9th, in Verona, Wisconsin, Dmitry Bivol will defend the WBA Light Heavyweight World Championship against top contender Joe Smith Jr.
Dmitry Bivol (15-0/11 KOs) is considered to be one of the top boxers of his division today (currently ranked #3 by the Ring & BoxRec). Boasting an amateur record of 268 wins and only 15 losses, Bivol won numerous titles from 2006 to 2014, including youth and junior World championships, 2 National tournaments as well as gold at the 2013 World Combat Games.
Turned pro in 2014 (23 years old) and in 15 months he had already garnered 6 victories, all stoppages. During that time Bivol gained the WBC U.S. Silver & WBA Intercontinental titles, proving his skills early on in his career, while establishing his right hand as a legit threat to anyone that stepped into the ring with him.
In May of 2016, the Russian prodigy went toe to toe with the reigning WBA interim World champion Felix Valera, for the Light Heavyweight strap. Valera was also undefeated at the time, standing at 13-0, with 12 stoppages, most of them coming in the first round. Bivol outboxed the champion in every single round, and even dropped him twice, earning a wide unanimous decision and of course the interim championship.
Bivol proceeded to defend his belt against Robert Berridge (30-7) and Samuel Clarkson (21-5) in 2 one sided beatdowns, knocking them down three times each before getting the TKO win in the 4th round. He then faced 30 fight veteran Cedric Agnew, in a non title match. Bivol dropped him in 2 minutes of the very 1st round with a fast combination and continued to punishing him until the referee waved the fight off in the 4th. It’s worth mentioning that Agnew’s only KO loss prior to this was against fellow Russian champion Kovalev, who needed 7 rounds to get the job done. In these last 3 bouts, Bivol showcased some excellent bodywork, which we hadn’t seen much from him in the past.
After Badou Jack vacated the WBA title, Bivol was promoted to Regular champion. As such, he marked his inaugural title defense over Trent Broadhurst, in November of 2017. The Australian was on a 13 fight winning streak and hadn’t lost in 6 years. Bivol stopped him with a perfectly placed right on the chin, in the very last second of the 1st round.
In 2018, Bivol defended his World title thrice, against Sullivan Barrera, Isaac Chilemba and Jean Pascal. Barrera got dominated for 12 consecutive rounds, taking shots nonstop until a right hook sealed the deal. Chilemba had already suffered back to back losses to Alvarez, Kovalev and Gvozdyk, thus not proving to be much of a challenge. The most significant out of the three was the former WBC World champion Pascal, who put up a much better fight that the other two, connecting with some good punches through out the fight, but it wasn’t enough overall to take the belt away from Bivol, who systematically picked him apart and got the win one more time. Now for his 5th one, he will have to face a much stronger boxer this time.
Joe Smith Jr. (24-2/20 KOs), a bona fide KO artist with knockout power in both of his hands, has finished most of his opponents within 6 rounds. 2019 will mark the young veteran’s 10th anniversary into the sport, as he aims to finally add a World championship to his collection.
His first major success came in 2016, when he took on world title contender Andrzej Fonfara (30-5) for the WBC International title. In a surprising turn of events, Smith put the Polish fighter down in the midway of the opening round, before finishing him off with a left & right hook combination a few seconds later.
However, Smith’s biggest test came 6 months later, as he was set to go face to face with legendary boxer Bernard Hopkins, in the main event of a Golden Boy show, broadcasted live on HBO. Hopkins, the 2 division World, Lineal & Ring champion, came out of retirement for one last match and the opportunity to go out with a win and another belt. After 8 action packed rounds, Smith shocked the world again when he caught Hopkins with a thunderous left uppercut, which knocked him out of the ring. Unable to respond to the 20 count, Smith was declared the winner, in what definitely must be his most important victory to date.
Smith’s momentum was momentarily cut short in 2017 after losing to Sullivan Barrera in a world title eliminator. Despite dropping Barrera in the 1st, he didn’t do enough, as the fight progressed, to get the decision. He returned to action almost a year later (Smith’s jaw was broken in the Barrera match) and completely dominated Melvin Russell, putting himself again in world title contention.
This could be Bivol’s toughest fight yet. Smith has the highest KO ratio of any of Bivol’s previous opponents (77%), while he’s also the youngest and the most experienced one, in terms of years competing as a pro. He might not be the most technically sound boxer in the division but he’s certainly one of the strongest punchers. Smith’s style can be described as aggressive, always moving forward, trying to get the KO as soon as possible and that strategy has worked very well for him thus far (minus 2 fights). On the other hand, Bivol is as technically sound as it gets. He never rushes to finish the fight. He stays patient, picking his shots and most times manages to drop his opponent, usually with a well calculated right hand. If he (Bivol’s rival) manages to get back up, then and only then Bivol storms in with incredibly fast (for his weight class) combinations, going for the kill, and if he doesn’t go down again, Bivol disengages and starts over. To conclude with, the only unknown factor here is if Bivol can withstand Smith’s power. If yes, then a 5th successful title defense is almost guaranteed, as he will try to take this to the distance, which will play in his favour, since Smith has never gone to the 12th round. If not, then Smith will be crowned the 43rd WBA Light Heavyweight World Champion ! Either way, we will get our answer this coming Saturday.
The sport of boxing might still be a sport where two fighters hit each other inside a ring trying to either render their opponent unconscious or win a decision, but outside of the ring there is a lot of changes, with one of the biggest ones stateside being HBO's decision to leave boxing. The US television giant was once a cornerstone of boxing television in the US and the premier channel for bouts Stateside. Their long relationship with the sport however comes to end shortly.
One of the very final shows that HBO will air will be headlined by a WBA Light Heavyweight title clash between Kyrgyzstan born Russian champion Dmitry Bivol (14-0, 11) and Haitian born Canadian Jean Pascal (33-5-1-1, 20). It's not the most amazing of bouts, but it should be a good chance for Bivol to end an impressive year and do so against an opponent with some name value, albeit a faded name.
The 27 year old Bivol has been impressive ever since making his debut in 2014, against the experienced Jorge Rodriguez Olivera. Unlike many prospects he hasn't been softly matched at all, and he's never faced a fighter with a losing record, in fact the least notable opponent he's faced so far is Yevgenii Makhteienko who surprisingly lasted 10 rounds with Bivol in 2016. In just 14 fights he has already stamped his name as one of the leading fighters at Light Heavyweight, alongside Eleider alvarez, Adonis Stevenson, Badou Jack and Artur Beterbiev. Unlike those others however he's a relative spring chicken at 27 years old, in what appears to be a division full of older men at the top.
In the ring Bivol is an aggressive yet technical fighter, who fights to a relatively text book style, but at a very high tempo. He's a crisp, clean puncher, with good variety to his work, an excellent output and under-rated defense. If we're being honest the most impressive thing about him isn't his high output, but the fact he can keep it up for all 12 rounds. Sadly he can look a bit predictable, and a smart, well educated and unorthodox fighter can give him problems, as we saw earlier this year against Isaac Chilemba who really tested Bivol, for the first time in his career. We suspect some seasoning, and experience will help there, though there is a feeling that he lacks in terms of ingenuity, and won't be inventive in how he approaches certain opponents. That's not too much of an issue, given his plan A is so effective, but would be one possible improvement for him going forward.
At 36 years old Pascal is one of the many Light Heavyweights who are sticking around the top 10 but are past their physical primes. In fact Pascal may be the most war worn and damaged of the older men in the division, given he has had so many tough fights during his 40 fight career. He has been competing around the top of the sport for a decade, with his 2008 war with Carl Froch living long in the memory. Since facing Froch for the WBC Super Middleweight title he has shared the ring with the likes of Adrian Diaconu, Chad Dawson, Bernard Hopkins, Lucian Bute, Sergey Kovalev, Yunieski Gonzalez and Elerider Alvarez. A real who's who. Sadly for Pascal he has taken a lot of punishment in those fights, and was twice stopped by Kovalev. In more recent years those battles have taken a toll on him, and his reliance on heart, natural explosiveness and athleticism has proven to be problematic, as his body has taken significant damage and aged.
At his best Pascal was a blood and guts warrior, with heavy hands, real quickness, and an awkward style that depended heavily on his explosiveness. As he's aged his legs have slowed, his hands are not quite as quick as they were, his power's not as effective with the loss of speed and his chin isn't what it once was. He's still awkward, but he's probably about 6 years from his peak, and that's an issue against a young gun like Bivol.
At his best Pascal would have made for a very tricky assignment for Bivol. The unorthodox style of Pascal, who regularly leaped in and came at opponents from peculiar angles, would have given the text book style of Bivol real questions to answer. Sadly however this faded Pascal will be unlikely to give Bivol much of a fight, and will instead be expected to be chewed up and stopp in the middle or later rounds, as Bivol moves towards unification contests in 2019.
The Light Heavyweight division is a genuinely interesting one right now, with a lot of potentially exciting match ups to be made, and a lot of heavy handed fighters in and around the top of the division. One of those is the Kyrgyzstan born boxer-puncher Dmitry Bivol (13-0, 11), who looks to make his next defense of the WBA Light Heavyweight title this coming Saturday. In the opposite corner to Bivol will be experienced contender Isaac Chilemba (25-5-2, 10), who is essentially in last chance saloon at the top of the division.
Bivol has been fast tracked since making his professional debut, thanks to a strong amateur background that included more than 280 bouts. Ever since his debut in November 2014 he has been matched tough and allowed to hone his skills against good competition. Whilst he has honed his abilities that's not to ignore the fact that he is naturally heavy handed, has a great engine and a good boxing brain. In May 2016 he claimed the WBA interim title, and would go on to claim the full version the following year.
In his most impressive performance so far Bivol scored a 12th round TKO win over Cuban fighter Sullivan Barrera. That performance showed Bivol putting it all together. His shots were crisp through out, he showed he could box at a high pace for 12 rounds, and rather than cruise to a decision he hunted the stoppage, becoming the first man to take out Barrera. What was supposed to be a testing bout for Bivol was made to look easy by the 27 year old, who now appears to be on a collision course with Sergey Kovalev, who will be defending the WBO title on the same card.
The 32 year old Malawian born South African based Chilemba has long been a leading contender at 175lbs. Early in his career he was happy to make a name for himself in South Africa, where he fought his first 17 bouts and went going 15-1-1 (8), whilst avenging his sole defeat. Whilst many of his opponents in South Africa were relatively unknown they did include a win over the then 20-0 Doudou Ngumbu and a draw with Thomas Oosthuizen. Since then he has gone 10-4-1 whilst fighting on the road in all but 1 of those bouts. On the road he has scored upset wins against Maksim Vlasov, Debis Grachev, Vasily Lepikhin abd Blake Caparello, as well as fighting to a draw with Tony Bellew.
Sadly for Chilemba he's a very old 32 who has gone 24 with Bellew, 12 hard rounds with Eleider Alvarez, and 12 hard rounds with Sergey Kovalev and and was stopped in 2016 by Oleksandr Gvozdyk. The losses to Alvarez, Kovalev and Gvozdyk have come in 3 of his last 4 bouts and he has scored only a single win, the one over Caparello, in the last 3 years. At his best Chilemba was a nightmare to fight, he was slippery, slick, tricky and sharp. Sadly though he has shown wear and tear in recent bouts and with inactivity and age his reactions will have slowed.
At his best Chilemba would have been able to give fits to Bivol with his movement and control of distance. Sadly though this beyond prime version of Chilemba will be hard pushed to survive with the champion who we suspect will chip away at the challenge before ramping up the tempo and stopping him in the final third of the bout.
Chilemba was a very good fighter once, but we really can't see how this current version survives, or competes, with the rising force that is Dmitry Bivol.
This coming Saturday is another big one for boxing fans, who really are having a great few weeks recently. For us the most significant single bout takes place at the legendary Madison Square Garden, as WBA Light Heavyweight champion Dmitry Bivol (12-0, 10) defends his title against Cuban Sullivan Barrera (21-1, 14) in a highly interesting, and potentially explosive, contest.
The Cuban challenger is 36 and will likely see this as his only chance to win a world title, after being some what of an avoided man through much of his career. He turned professional in 2009 but it wasn't until 2015 that he faced a notable name, the then shot to pieces Jeff Lacy. That was Barrera's 15th professional bout and even then he was 32 and likely just on the end of his physical prime. Since then however he has gone 6-1 (4) and scored noteworthy wins over Karo Murat, Joe Smith Jr, Vyacheslav Shabranskyy and Felix Valera,whilst suffering his sole loss to Andre Ward.
In the ring Barrera doesn't fight like a typical Cuban. It seems like he knows he needs to be fun to watch, and can't rely on just winning, but instead needs to make fans want to watch him. That has certainly been the care in his biggest fights, as we've seen him down, we've seen him slug out with fighters and have some thrilling fights. We've seen serious question marks left over Barrera's chin, and he's been down against Ward, Shabranskyy, Smith and Valera, but he's shown real bravery and toughness to recover and often look to get revenge.
Although skilled Barrera seems to be happy to have a fight with opponents and can be dragged into a war. This can be really exciting, but shows both the strengths and weaknesses of Barrera. He can be hurt, but has the speed, the toughness and the machismo to have a firefight and come out on top. He also has the skills to counter an opponent who happy to engage him, whilst also having rhe boxing skills to get out of range and toy with lesser fighters, who are perhaps too dangerous to have a war with.
Russian based Bivol, originally from Kyrgyzstan has been one of the sports fastest rising stars. He debuted in late 2014 and went through very stiff competition early on, doing so in very impressive fashion. Around 18 months after his debut he took a wide decision over Felix Varela for the WBA interim title and essentially announce himself as a fringe world class fighter. Since then he has gone 5-0 (4), defending the interim title twice and claiming the regular title. He has looked even more like a star than he was in his early bouts, and impressed fans in Europe, Russia and North America, with solid wins against the likes of Robert Berridge, Cedric Agnew and Trent Broadhurst.
In the ring Bivol looks like a natural born destroyer. He has the typical edge associated with fighters from former Soviet countries. He has the nasty, brutal yet effortless power, associate with Gennady Golovkin and Sergey Kovalev, and just like those two he is technically very solid. He has a high work rate, a seemingly solid chin, and whilst he is perhaps lacking the experience needed find the holes of a defensive genius he looks like a fighter who can simply break the defense, through sheer bloody mindedness and work rate.
We've yet to see how Bivol fares against real world class opposition. However the eye suggests he can go a very long way. We've never really seen him break a sweat, be put under any problems or struggle in any way, other than struggle to stop one or two foes. It could be that he can't make that next step, it might be that he can't handle top quality pressure or that he simply isn't as good as he looks. The reality though, seems to be that he is something very special.
Barrera might ask a lot of new questions of Bivol. He is the first real world class opponent that Bivol will have faced. However we suspect that Bivol will have answers to question Barrera asks, and the power, work rate and skills to not only hurt the Cuban but finish him off. Barrera certainly has the skills to trouble Bivol, but his chin has caused him issues in the past against lesser opponents, and we suspect that Bivol won't let him off the hook like some of those other opponents have done, so far.
The Light Heavyweight division is one of the divisions which has a lot of talent in it's ranks, and has fans waiting for the top men to face each other and let us really know who is the best at 175lbs. Fighters like Adonis Stevenson, Sergey Kovalev and Badou Jack are the top names whilst contenders continue to mount, with the likes of Eleider Alvarez, Oleksandr Gvozdyk, Artur Beterbiev and Marcus Browne all looking for a shot at the top.
Another fighter looking to announce himself as a top divisional fighter is WBA champion Dmitry Bivol (11-0, 9), a Kyrgyzstan born Russian based boxer-puncher who recently claimed the WA title when Jack chose to vacate rather than give Bivol his long awaited Mandatory title shot. The talented 26 year old Bivol will be up against once beaten Australian Trent Broadhurst (20-1, 12),with the two men fighting in Monaco.
Of the two fighters it's obviously Bivol who enters as a fighter looking to make a statement. From his debut in November 2014 it was clear that Bivol was going to be fast tracked. That fast tracking saw Bivol fight for the WBA interim title in just his 7th bout, after just 29 rounds of professional action. He would go on to claim that interim title with a win over the previously unbeaten Felix Valera. Sadly as an interim champion Bivol failed to make the most of his title, only defending it once, though it was clear he was chasing a full world title fight. Sadly he wouldn't get a shot due to the politics of the sport,but would be upgraded when Badou Jack decided Bivol wasn't worth the ring of a mandatory defense.
Although yet to score a career defining win Bivol has been consistently impressing. He's shown really consistent and intelligent pressure with a very good work rate, very solid power and smart pressure. He's yet to be given a real chin check, and hasn't faced anyone with the IQ or skills to make his pressure work against him, but when he's had to show some variety he has managed. It should be noted though that he has shown a bit of a 1-paced fighting style and does sometimes struggle when fighters use a good defense, though they have often been left handcuffed by Bivol's constant work, as seen when Bivol beat Cedric Agnew.
Whilst Bivol is viewed by many as the heir apparent for the Light Heavyweight division the 29 year old Broadhurst is seen as the lamb to the slaughter. The Australian challenger has yet to fight above Australian domestic level, with his sole loss being a 5th round KO defeat to Robert Berridge in 2011, who was himself stopped in 4 rounds by Bivol. Whilst some may suggest the loss to Berridge was more than 6 years ago there really isn't much on Broadhurst's record to show he's developed beyond the likes of Berridge. He does hold wins over the shop work Nader Haman, the crude Rob Powdrill, and the under-sized Affif Belghecham. One thing that has impressed is the fact he's shown solid power, but at best that power is only “solid”.
In the ring Broadhurst is a bit simple, he can apply pressure and does have some nice combinations and head movement, but it's more the fact that those things look better at domestic level than they will when he faces Bivol. It's easy to throw combinations that look nice against limited foes who aren't throwing back. He has been forced on to the back foot before and seems very unsure of himself when he is forced backwards. He's looked flawed on the lower tiers and whilst we have seen fighters step up when t mattered they had usually shown some tools of note, whilst Broadhurst hasn't and has looked very basic so far.
It really is hard to see anything but a showcase win for Bivol here in front of an audience in Monaco and TV cameras from the UK. Broadhurst might have to fleeting moments, but Bivol will quickly put an end to Broahurt's ambition before breaking him down and stopping him. We don't imagine the Aussie will willingly roll over, but we don't see how he will be able to cope for long with the pressure and power of Bivol, who really is something special.
During the last 40 years or so we have become somewhat accustomed to seeing Oriental fighters being fast tracked through the ranks to a world title. Fighters from Thailand, Japan and Korea have all won world titles in their first 10 or so bouts with fighters, particularly Japanese, doing it regularly over the last few years. Notably it seems fighters from other countries now want to do the same now and we've already seen Vasyl Lomachenko race to a world title in just 3 professional bouts.
The next fighter looking to win a “world title” in their first 10 bouts is Kyrgyzstan born Russian based fighter Dmitry Bivol (6-0, 6), who looks to claim the WBA “interim” Light Heavyweight title and over-come the unbeaten, and tricky, Felix Valera (13-0, 12), of the Dominican Republic.
Valera, who enters the bout as the current “interim” champion, came to the attention of hardcore boxing fans last year when he travelled to Russia and out-pointed Stanislav Kashtanov for the title. The bout was one that many fans felt was scored incorrectly in favour of the Dominican, but in fair Valera did show some genuinely impressive traits and showed that he genuinely does know his way around the ring.
The Dominican has a very relaxed style, he can border on lazy at times but has the flash hand speed, intelligent movement and ring IQ that can take a fighter very far. He's a fighter whose record suggests he's a big puncher, though it must be said that aside from Kashtanov he's not faced anyone of any real value and his best stoppage is a 4th round KO against the limited Emilliano Cayetano.
Whilst Valera is a relaxed and “lazy” fighter the same can't really be used to describe Bivol who is an aggressive, high intensity fighter who brings the pressure and the action and looks to break down opponents. He can look a bit one paced at times, but he does everything excellently with a wonderful array of punches, an brilliant work rate and the desire to hunt a stoppage even when a bout is already won.
Unlike many fighters, including Valera, Bivol has been matched insanely hard. Everyone of his opponents has had a winning record, and in fact everyone has had double figure wins. We won't pretend the opposition have been fringe world level but they have been very good opponents for a fighter at the start of their career.
It's hard to bet against Bivol, who genuinely does look like one of the hottest young talents in the sport.
Saying that however Valera does have the style that perhaps could give Bivol real nightmares. Valera knows how to fight on the back foot, knows how to use the ring, and knows how to ride a shot. If Bivol goes into the bout looking to steam role the Dominican then he may find himself up again a man that really tests him mentally and physically. For Bivol to win he needs to use his intelligence, rely on his strong amateur background, and take his time.
What a difference a year makes. This time last year we were all raving about Haitian sensation Adonis “Superman” Stevenson (24-1, 20). The Canadian southpaw had had a break through year avenging his sole loss by stopping Darnell Boone, claiming the WBC Light Heavyweight world title with an opening round blow out of Chad Dawson and defended his title with wins over Tavoris Cloud and Tony Bellew. He went 4-0 (4) for the year and seemed on a collision course with fellow big puncher Sergey Kovalev, a man who appeared to be his natural rival for divisional supremacy at Light Heavyweight.
This year we've seen Stevenson go from hero to zero. The bout with Kovalev, that seemed all but signed, vanished after Stevenson signed with “advisor” Al Haymon and since then he has fought just once, taking a less than impressive decision over American based Polish fighter Andrzej Fonfara, who actually dropped Stevenson in round 9. Not only has Stevenson been inactive but we've seen Kovalev show the traits that we thought Steveson had and the Russian went on to beat the division's other top fighter Bernard Hopkins.
To end the year Stevenson will be getting into the ring with a Russian opponent. Sadly it's neither of the two, Kovalev or Artur Beterbiev, that we would have wanted to see him in with. Instead it's going to be the strong but very basic Dmitry Sukhotsky (22-2, 16). A man who looked very poor last time he was in North America, losing a near shut out to Cornelius White, and in his last fight, scoring an unconvincing win over Joey Vegas in Russia.
Last year Stevenson looked explosive, destructive and genuinely scary. He showed sheer aggression against Boone in genuinely beating him into submission. Perfect timing against Dawson who he flattened with a perfect shot. Brilliant boxing against Cloud who ended up beaten mentality and physically. And no fear against Bellew who, as often does, talked a good fight whilst being unable to deliver. This year, and now at 37 years old, he looks like yesterday's story. The bout with Fonfara, a supposed showcase, was a struggle with Stevenson fighting as if he expected an easy win rather than fighting like a man who wanted to strengthen his position with an impressive performance.
At his best, which we may well have already seen, Stevenson was a powerful puncher with solid and under-rated boxing ability, surprisingly quick movement and impressive handspeed. His only question marks were regarding his stamina and chin with his sole loss being a shock knockout to Boone in their first meeting. This year however question marks regarding his heart for the game, his age and training have all cropped up. It may well be that after reaching pinnacle last year Stevenson thinks he's still the man, sadly his avoidance of Kovalev have seen many feel he's more of a mouse. It's a shame as he is talented and has all the traits to be a genuine star and scores the types of victories we all love to see, vicious knockouts and beatdowns.
In Sukhotsky really do have a basic fighter who fights like many fighters from the Soviet bloc. His work, at it's best, comes at mid range where he can get his jab landing to set up his powerful straight though he can hold his own, at a lower level at least, on the inside. Where he excels is in his physical strength and power. He's not explosive but he has the thudding and hurtful power which does damage every time he lands, as seen when he disfigured Eduard Gutknecht in one of his biggest wins to date.
He is however very slow, basic and his movement is rigid. He needs to set his feet before punching, can be left chasing opponents and at times just looks like a very simple fighter. This was most notable against White who completely out boxed him, out moved him and out landed him in humiliatingly one-sided contest. That loss however was a stark contrast to Sukhotsky's other loss, a rather enjoyable battle with Juergen Braehmer which saw Sukhotsky coming up short on the cards after a compelling late charge at the then WBO champion. The Braehmer bout however did come some 5 years ago and in all honesty it does feel like he's missed out on ever reaching his potential.
Sukhotsky has the ability to make this tough for Stevenson if the Haitian puncher isn't at his best. If, however, Stevenson boxes on his toes, makes the most of his sharp and hurtful jab and fights at range he could do a similar job here as he did to Cloud. If Stevenson's lost a little bit of speed however there is a chance Sukhotsky can drag him into a battle, smother the champion's power a little bit and make things difficult for the home town fighter.
We suspect Stevenson will come out victorious here but we'd not be shocked if his year from bad to worse and that he ends up looking bad even in victory.
Over the last year or two we've seen the Light Heavyweight division really explode into life with the emergence of some vicious punchers and aggressively minded destroyers. One of those is WBC champion Adonis Stevenson, who decimated Chad Dawson last year, one is Artur Beterbiev, who completely steam rolled Tavoris Cloud earlier this year, and the other is Russian destroyer Sergey Kovalev (25-0-1, 23).
This weekend sees Kovalev taking part in his most significant bout to date as he battles against American legend Bernard Hopkins (55-6-2-2, 32) in a bout to unify the WBO title, held by Kovalev, with the WBA "super" and IBF titles that are currently held by Hopkins. For both men this is a chance to solidify their claim as the premier Light Heavyweight on the planet, despite the fact Stevenson holds the "linear" title, though there is so much more to this bout than just that claim and the three titles.
For Kovalev this is his chance to really break through and go from heavy handed and exciting fighter to a legend killer, in fact if he stops Hopkins there will be few doubting his credentials as one of the most destructive fighters of his era. For Hopkins however this is a chance to further prove that he is one of the all-time greats and that he really will defeat father time and go out on his terms, not when others tell him he should.
Of the two men it's Hopkins who is the better known fighter, after all his 65 fight career has seen him do it all and more in a career that spans more than 25 years and has seen him unifying titles at both Middleweight and Light Heavyweight. Aged 49 he has really staved off the aging process better than any other fighter and proven himself against more top class fighters than anyone else of his era, which has been a distinctly long one.
The veteran fought his first world title fight in 1993 though came up short to fellow future Hall of Famer Roy Jones Jr. Less than two years later he claimed his first world crown in after stopping Segundo Mercado and would later add the WBC, WBA and WBO titles to become the first fighter to fully unify a division. In 2006 he moved up to Light Heavyweight and dominated Antonio Tarver, since then he has become a 2-time Light Heavyweight world title holder winning the WBC title in his first reign before claiming the IBF title last year, then adding the WBA title this year with his win over Beibut Shumenov. Amazingly a win over Kovalev would see Hopkins becoming the first fighter to win all 4 major titles in 2 separate divisions.
As a fighter Hopkins is a historic fighter though he's also a frustrating one. In the ring h's incredibly highly skilled, very intelligent and knows what a fighter is going to do before they do it, but he is also very negative, holds, spoils and seems to be more capable of lulling an opponent to sleep then knocking them out. It's been that ability more than any other that has allowed him to remain so competitive at such an age and over-come younger fighters like Shumenov and the somewhat poor Karo Murat.
Through his sensational career only one thing has really bothered Hopkins, speed. His 5 high profile losses so far have all come against speedy fighter in the form of Roy Jones Jr, Jermain Taylor, twice, Joe Calzaghe and Chad Dawson and it's fair to say that he has avoided some other quicker fighters due to these losses. Despite that he has continued to fight good fighters, just slower ones.
In Kovalev we have a fighter who really emerged on the world scene last year by destroying a talented foursome of Gabriel Campillo, Cornerlius White, Nathan Cleverly and Ismayl Sillah in a combined 12 rounds. Those four fights took Kovalev from relative obscurity to WBO world champion and he has quickly become one of the sports must watch fighters due to intense offensive mentality and crushing power, power that has seen him dubbed "The Krusher".
Since winning the WBO belt Kovalev has continued to enhance his reputation through 2014 with two more earlier victories as he took out the unbeaten pairing of Cedric Agnew and Blake Caparello in a combined 9 rounds to continue his destruction of the division. In total he has now stopped his last 9 opponents in a combined 33 rounds and it's worth noting that hose opponents had a combined record of 184-26-6 with 3 of the men being unbeaten fighters.
Aged 31 Kovalev is coming into his prime money making years and knows that he needs a win over Hopkins to continue that. That however is easier said than done and Kovalev certainly isn't a speedster like those that have typically over-come Hopkins. Instead Kovalev is a very heavy handed pressure fighter who bring educated pressure, a lot of punches and heavy hands to the ring. His shots aren't thrown as hayemakers but all heavy handed with every shot coming with real force despite many looking like little more than stay busy arm punches. Although not the most skilled he is among the most devastating.
The bout is stylistically very interesting with Hopkins's sharp but negative boxing put against the come forward and intelligent pressure of Kovalev. If Kovalev does manage to fight his usual style he should win, likely by stoppage, though Hopkins always seems to get fighters out of their game plan and fighting his style of fight. If he does that again here then he will likely lull Kovalev into inactivity and take a clear decision himself. It really is a case of whether or not Kovalev can fight his fight or not. If he has too much respect for Hopkins then the old master will do it again and will celebrate his 50th birthday next year as a triple title holder however if Kovalev fights like his usual self and with his typical "I don't give a shit" attitude then we suspect the Russian will become the biggest thing in the Light Heavyweight division, at least for now.
(Image courtesy of Goldenboy Promotions)
If Gennady Golovkin (30-0, 27) is everyone's favourite fighter from a former Soviet country then close behind him is Light Heavyweight destroyer Sergey Kovalev (24-0-1, 22) who, just like Golovkin has been steam rolling through opponents with little problems.
Kovalev, the WBO Light Heavyweight champion, will be back in the ring on August 2nd as he attempts to record the 3rd defence of his title inside a year and continue his long run of T/KO's that bates back 8 fights and almost 3 years. In fact if we ignore the technical draw Kovalev suffered against Grover Young the Russian Krusher has stopped his last 12 opponents with only 2 men lasting more than 4 completed rounds.
Kovalev will be looking to extend those runs by getting rid of little known Australian challenger Blake Caparello (19-0-1, 6), a man known by the ominous moniker of "Il Capo", or for those who don't speak Italian "The Boss". Unfortunately for Kovalev this isn't a fight he'd have wanted considering some of the other big names in the division but on the other hand it's a fight he shouldn't struggle to look good in.
If you've not yet seen Kovalev then you've been missing out on one of the sports most interesting fighters. He's the very definition of heavy handed and what he hits he hurts even if it doesn't look like he's putting much effort into his shots. His jabs are like ramrods and can dismantle opponents, his power shots are like thunder and most worryingly is the fact that he combines that power with a very impressive work rate and criminally under-rated skills and movement. To the amazement of many Kovalev is far from just a power puncher.
Whilst those who haven't seen Kovalev have been missing out, big time, we can understand fans having not seen a lot of Caparello. He is a capable fighter but he has, for much of his career, been a local star in Australia rather than a fighter who has gone about marketing himself internationally. From his 20 fights so far only one, his most recent against Elvir Muriqi, was outside of his homeland and even that bout didn't prove much about Caparello when you consider Muriqi was 7 years removed from being a "contender".
From his fights in Australia Caparello has proven himself to be fairly decent, though sadly his best win is likely his decision over Allan Green who was, like Muriqi, on the back end of his career. Technically he's a capable boxer with good movement and speed but a lack of power and with his limited opposition so far it's hard to tell how he will react when he's sharing the ring with a monster like Kovalev.
What we imagine will happen is that Caparello will look confident, until the two men are in the ring together and Kovalev is staring into the eyes of the Australian who think will realise the severity of the fight. From then on it will be a case of Caparello doing his best to just survive against the very heavy handed Kovalev who is genuinely no nonsense in the ring.
We've seen Caparello in trouble in the past and we expect that trouble to be amplified and we'd be very shocked to see the Australian lasting more than 4 rounds with Kovalev who is sure to call out one of the divisions biggest names following this win.
(Image courtesy of Main Events)
Not many people are described as "living legends" whilst still participating in their chosen field but for the ageless Bernard Hopkins (54-6-2-2, 32) that is an apt description. The current IBF Light Heavyweight champion is truly one of boxing's legendary fighters and whether you like him or not you simply need to respect him for being able to compete at the elite level in his and late 40's.
Now aged 49 Hopkins is battling father time just as much as opponents and just like like his opponents he seems to find a way to halt the assault of father time like no other. He's fitter than our team and we're all relative young "whippers nappers" compared to Hopkins, in fact we're barely his age when you combine us.
This weekend however Hopkins faces his most determined opponent in a long time as he battles Kazakh Beibut Shumenov (14-1, 9), a man who is attempting to unify his own WBA "super" title with the IBF belt of Hopkins and prove that he is the strongest fighter at 175lbs.
For many their entire viewing history of Shumenov was his victory last time out against the horribly over-matched Tamas Kovacs. Kovacs went in to that bout unbeaten in 23 though simply couldn't cope with the strength of Shumenov who hurt almost every time he landed until finally finishing the show in the 3rd round. From watching that fight alone Shumenov looked sensational though it was a clear showcase event for him to look having just signed with Golden Boy Promotions. That was his first fight with Golden Boy and it seemed clear that the intention, even then, was to pit him with Hopkins down the line.
Before being able to pit Shumenov with Hopkins they had to "legitimise him" for the US audience and the blow out over Kovacs did just that. It made Shumenov look a killer.
Unfortunately for Shumenov he's not a killer. That's not to say that he's not talented because he is very good, very strong and powerful with both hands however he is awfully basic and the victory over Kovacs allowed him to hide his flaws by simply using his strengths. Kovacs was unable to make Shumenov pay for technical limitations, his lack of speed, his somewhat basic foot work and his less than great engine. These were flaws shown in both of Shumenov's bout with Gabriel Campillo's and whilst he "won" one of those, very questionably, they are flaws we still think he has to this very day.
For Hopkins, one of the most technically sound fighters on the planet, it's the flaws of Shumenov that will come in to play. Hopkins is smart, accurate and very technically accomplished. He may now be lacking speed but he has fantastic timing, spots weaknesses in a heartbeat and most worrying for Shumenov he can control opponents both mentally and physically. With a fighter who has obvious flaws Hopkins tends to have a field day and we'd not be shocked if he landed his counter right straight time and time again on Shumenov.
On paper we all have to favour Hopkins his skill level, like his nick name "The Alien", is out of this world. At 49 though and against a genuinely strong, determined fighter with genuine power and desire to be the best this isn't a given. Hopkins's fight with father time could take it's toll at any point, Shumenov's natural strength may take it's toll and although Hopkins is wonderfully gifted and defensively very cute he has been taking more risks in recent bouts with his contest against Karo Murat last year being full of Hopkins aggression which is unusual.
If Hopkins takes unnecessary risks against Shumenov here he may be forced to pay for it with Shumenov's thudding power. Shumenov isn't like fellow Light Heavyweight champions Sergey Kovalev and Adonis Stevenson, who both have lights out power when they connect, but he is heavy handed and when he connects fighters do feel it. That's the sort of power that can certainly take it's toll on a 49 year old body, even one taken care of like that of Hopkins.
Although Hopkins is rightfully the favourite we do think the American could be given a few troubles at times from Shumenov. The big question as for Shumenov's chances are whether or not he has too much respect for Hopkins or not. If he does then he's already lost but if he refuses to show Hopkins too much respect in the ring he stands half a chance the upset victory and a career defining victory for the man who was, for a long time, left out in the cold and avoided by most other top Light Heavyweights.
Can Shumenov retire Hopkins? Possibly, be he's going to need some serious help from father time
(Picture courtesy of shosports)
World Title Previews
The biggest fights get broken down as we try to predict who will come out on top in the up coming world title bouts.