The hard hitting Russian is widely regarded as the most dangerous man at 175lbs and he'll be hoping to add to that reputation on August 17th as he takes on WBO champion Nathan Cleverly (21-0, 12) in the champions homeland of Wales.
The young Welsh champion who has held the WBO title for more than 2 years is a fighter who widely splits opinion. In the eyes of some he's a talented fighter who has been matched softly by Frank Warren, a man who has seen his biggest names jumping ship for rival promotional outfit Matchroom Sports, in the eyes of others he's a soft champion protected for his own good just as much as Warren's.
Whether he's protected or not one thing Cleverly does have going for him is his brain. He's a smart guy outside of the ring and has something to fall back on once his ring days are over thanks to a university education, though in the ring those smarts don't always help.
Inside the ring Cleverly's boxing is brain is questionable, especially in terms of his defense, though so far he has had the gas tank to see through his toughest tests and like former training mate Joe Calzaghe, he has a genuine impressive work rate. Unfortunately Cleverly doesn't appear to have the skills to match the "Welsh Dragon" even if he does have the excellent stamina.
With a fantastic work rate and solid, if unspectacular, skills Cleverly is genuinely a good fighter who seems to take a shot even if his own power is lacking. Sure he takes more than he should but he appears to have a solid chin which allows him to take shots without too much effect. Unfortunately his match making has left him open to much more doubt that he perhaps deserves and that same match making has left him a butt of some jokes in the boxing world.
Kovalev isn't as well known as Cleverly though he appears to be a fighter who can end careers. He's an offensive fighter first and foremost and although he appears to be defensively poor at times he knows his best defensive lies in his own heavy artillery which can forced almost anyone to think twice about opening up.
At the moment the sport is starting to see a rise in genuine powerhouse fighters. We recently saw Omar Figueroa defeat Nihito Arakawa and we've also seen the recent coming out parties of Lucas Matthysse and Gennady Golovkin, it's fair to also put Kovalev in that bracket, even if he is yet to claim a world title.
Like Golovkin, Matthysse and Figueroa, and to an extent Takashi Uchiyama, every punch Kovalev lands, even on the arms, hurts. It's a thudding, blunt force trauma that could be rivaled to a lead pipe. He not only has this amazing power but he also seems more than capable of landing it on even defensively savvy fighters by intelligently understanding range and pacing of a bout.
Unfortunately when you have that destructive power you leave yourself open to other questions. No one will question Kovalev's power or strength but his stamina is genuinely untested. His longest bout to date is an 8 round split decision over Darnell Boone whilst his second longest was his tragic bout with Roman Simakov who sadly passed away after the bout, which lasted 7
What we have here, rather like the recent Figueroa/Arakawa bout, is a hard hitting phenom taking on a tough and hard working opponent who has a fantastic engine but questionable power. Like that bout we have two questions. Can the banger take out the the hard working and tough fighter? Can the hard working fighter take advantage of the fact the hard hitter hasn't got proven stamina?
If Cleverly can use his brains and find a way to keep Kovalev from setting himself to land his hammer like blows he has a chance. In all honesty it make take Cleverly to copy, to some extent, the tactics of Arakawa who smothered Figueroa at times to have any chance of seeing out the early stages of the bout. If the brawn of Kovalev manages to take control early this bout may not last long, in fact Kovalev has stopped his last 4 opponents, including the world ranked Gabriel Campillo and Cornelius White, in a combined 11 rounds.
Whilst we have worries if Kovalev goes beyond 6 or 7 rounds we have bigger worries for Nathan Cleverly, who has appeared far too willing to take a shot to land one so far in to his career. A clean shot from Kovalev can leave almost any fighter at 175lbs devoid of their senses and if Cleverly takes one clean he may not seem so clever afterwards.