Although Kovalev had been getting attention he was still seen as a bit of a prospect. A hard punching fighter but one who needed to take the next step up, one who needed to fight a world champion.
Following his victory over White earlier this year Kovalev knew he opened the doors to world title contention. Originally it was expected that he'd fight Bernard Hopkins for the IBF Light Heavyweight title, instead however he had to make do with unbeaten Welshman Nathan Cleverly (26-1, 12), the WBO champion.
Cleverly, who had boasted an unbeaten record, had been the WBO champion for well over 2 and a half years. He had been considered by some as one of the most under-rated champions in boxing, though others felt he had been defended with soft match making by his promoter Frank Warren.
It appeared that this was a step up for both men a real litmus test for both and their first real bout.
Unfortunately for Cleverly things didn't go as he expected and Kovalev started fast using his jab to spear the face of the defending champion from the opening round. The supposed hand speed advantage of Cleverly really wasn't as pronounced as expected and Kovalev was managing to counter his jab almost at will.
The opening round, whilst clearly a Kovalev round, was a calculated round from the Russian. He was set on preventing Cleverly from getting in to a rhythm and was using his jab to open up the rest of his arsenal including a booming right hand that although rarely landing was showing his intention.
After taking the opening round Kovalev just maintain his busy work landing the occasional body shot as he left Cleverly feeling pain both upstairs and downstairs. Although Cleverly himself landed several punches of note he simply being out worked, out landed, out powered and generally broken down by a powerful guy who had traveled to Wales with the intention of winning.
Kovalev's attack, which had been constant in the opening two rounds, finally broke through in the third round when he staggered Cleverly. Kovalev, rather than rushing in and wasting the opportunity took his time and showed a very calm head before hunting for the punches to put Cleverly away.
The chance came quickly and Kovalev pounced dropping Cleverly hard, the first knockdown against Cleverly in his career. The Welshman managed to regain his feet but was still clearly shaken as Kovalev pounced again dropping Cleverly for a second time soon afterwards. Again he rose but it seemed almost a forgone conclusion that the referee was going to have to wave off the bout before Cleverly took further damage but amazingly Terry O'Connor waited and waited with Cleverly looking completely out on his feet.
With the bell going before O'Connor's hand was forced the referee appeared to carry Cleverly to his corner and sit him on his stool before the Welshman's corner, including his own father saw to him. Unfortunately Cleverly's father didn't seem to realise the state his own son was in and instead of saving him he sent him out for another round.
Kovalev, knowing perfectly well that Cleverly wasn't with it, went straight on the offensive and attacked from the off before forcing Terry O'Connor to save the Welshman before any lasting damage could be done. Thankfully it appeared O'Connor came to his senses before Cleverly lost all of his.
With Kovalev now clearly seated as one of the players in the Light Heavyweight division it appears almost certain that we are going to have some really fun fights in the near future. A fight between Kovalev and Adonis Stevenson appears to be at the top of every fight fans list of dream fights, though Kovalev against the likes of Bernard Hopkins would also be incredibly interesting.
No matter who Kovalev fights next, one thing is for sure, many fans will be tuning in to see the destructive Russian in action.