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)