By - George Delis (@Delisketo)
A massacre will take place one day before Valentine’s Day, as Maksim Vlasov & Joe Smith Jr are set to go to war for the vacant WBO Light Heavyweight championship.
The 16 year veteran Maksim Vlasov (46-3/25 KOs) will soon be entering his 50th professional fight, with the chance to cement his legacy and finally call himself a world champion. The road to that dream however has been quite long and not without its hiccups.
Vlasov began his career back in 2005 at Super Middleweight, where he ended up being undefeated. His most significant win in the division was against former European champion & 4x world title challenger Khoren Gevor (34-10).
As a Light Heavyweight, Vlasov suffered only 2 losses, a controversial one to Isaac Chilemba (26-7), which was avenged in 2019 and a close match with the unbeaten Gilbert Ramirez (41-0). In that bout, Vlasov had problems with his endurance, due to the weight cutting, which is why he then moved up to Cruiserweight.
It was there, where the Russian had his big moment, when he came face to face with 2008 Olympic champion Rakhim Chakhkiev (26-3) for the vacant WBA International title. Vlasov shined that night. He scored a fast knockdown in the 2nd with a short right hook and rocked Chakhkiev hard at the end of the round. The fight could have possibly ended there, had it not been for the timekeeper mistakenly ringing the bell 15 seconds earlier than he should have. Vlasov nailed him again with a straight right hand in the 5th, scoring a second knockdown. The action picked up in the next round, as Chakhkiev dropped him with a liver shot of his own. The two men continued to trade bombs until Vlasov returned the favour, flooring the Olympian for the third time. At the 7th round, Vlasov put Chakhkiev down for good this time, after connecting with a plethora of punches and another straight right to the jaw. It undoubtedly was the most spectacular battle of an already great night of boxing. (Gassiev vs. Lebedev was the co-main event, while names like Kudryashov and Troyanovsky were also competing)
Vlasov qualified for the 2018 Cruiserweight WBSS tournament, after dominating former WBC Silver champion Olanrewaju Durodola (34-8), only to be eliminated by Krzysztof Glowacki (31-2) at the quarter finals. After that defeat, he switched back to Light Heavyweight and quickly captured the WBO Global title, winning 4 fights in a row over Omar Garcia (16-4), Isaac Chilemba (26-7) as aforementioned, Emmanuel Martey (15-1) and Sergei Ekimov (18-2), earning himself another crack at the gold. In order to fulfil his longtime goal though, he will have to go thrown a very rugged opponent.
A bona fide KO artist that possesses massive power in both hands, Joe Smith Jr (26-3/21 KOs) has ended most of his fights within 6 rounds.
His first major victory came in 2016, when he took on former IBO champion Andrzej Fonfara (30-5) for the WBC International title. In a surprising turn of events, Smith put the Polish fighter down midway of the opening round with a thunderous right hook, before finishing him off just a few seconds later.
Smith would then go on to knock an aged Bernard Hopkins (55-8) out of the ring, successfully defending his belt and moving up in the rankings. However his momentum was momentarily cut short after losing to Sullivan Barrera (22-3) in a world title eliminator. Despite dropping him in the 1st, Smith 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 quickly earned himself an opportunity at the WBA champion Dmitry Bivol (17-0), but was completely outclassed during their encounter, giving the undefeated Russian some trouble only in the 10th round.
In 2020, he made another strong comeback, this time against 2x world title challenger Jesse Hart (26-3). A relentless Smith kept the pressure on, continuously moving forward and throwing way more punches than his opponent. After 10 punishing rounds and 1 knockdown, Smith was once again back on track.
He solidified his place at the top of the Light Heavyweight rankings last August, with an impressive performance over Eleider Alvarez (25-2). Smith overwhelmed the former WBO champion, virtually leaving him no room for an offense of his own. By the 5th round, Alvarez had already a bruised face and was bleeding profusely from the nose. Smith finally connected with a sharp straight right in the mush, following it up with a left, to drop Eleider and become the #1 contender for the vacant WBO crown. The “working” Joe is now only a step away from realizing his full potential and claim his first world title.
When you take a closer look at these 2 guys, you can find similarities in their careers as well as their styles. Both are pressure fighters and even though they have a strong right hand, usually it’s not a one hit punch that does the job. They tend to beat down their opponents before finishing them off with it. Moreover, both men have a good chin. Vlasov has never been stopped in his entire career, while Smith has only been once, but that was a decade ago. Power wise, Joe has to be considered the stronger fighter. In spite of Vlasov having more knockouts, Smith has the higher KO ratio. On the other hand, Vlasov has the better footwork and knows how to properly use his reach to his advantage. As far as their resumes are concerned, each man hold wins over accomplished boxers, but the main difference is in their career’s trajectory. Smith’s best performances came last year, whereas Vlasov’s “best hits” belong in the past. It’s also worth mentioning that the Russian fighter seems to have lost some of his knockout power since moving back to Light Heavyweight, where Smith is looking stronger than ever before.
All things considered, Smith must be considered the favourite in this match, but at the same time, Vlasov has proven to be a formidable fighter and not an easy one to dispose of. If he manages to keep his distance and cuts off Smith’s barrage, we might be looking at the 4th Russian born Light Heavyweight champion of the world.
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)
One of the break out fighters of 2013 was Russian Light Heavyweight Sergey Kovalev (23-0-1, 21) who really tore the division down last year with a strong series of wins which saw him claiming the WBO world title and becoming one of the sports "must watch" fighters.
Prior to last year Kovalev was a man known best for the tragic death of his compatriot Roman Simakov. Thankfully though he's managed to put that behind him to become a man that fans are eager to see. He's not just a "Russian fighter" as some may suggest but he's actually a fighter that fans are engaged with, fans want to see him in action and most importantly fans want to see his power connecting with opponent. Of course when he connects he hurts fighters. Every thudding shot of his shakes opponents, even a jab appears to have sledgehammer weight behind it.
The next man trying to derail the Kovalev express will be unbeaten American Cedric Agnew (26-0, 13) who boasts an impressive looking record though has hardly had the victories to make the world sit up and take note. In fact if anything he's managed to compile his record with out ever getting any sort of attention, a true under-the-radar fighter.
Although Agnew has remained under-the-radar his efforts have been spotted by both the IBF and WBO. The IBF some how ranked Agnew, despite having a major win of note, as the #3 ranked challenger whilst the WBO have him at a more realistic #14 ranking, a ranking that enable him to challenge Kovalev.
Of course not many fighters have the power of Kovalev and Agnew certainly doesn't. His last 4 bouts have all gone the distance and whilst there is no shame in going the distance with the naturally big Zack Page, a born survivor, going the distance with Yusuf Mack and Alfredo Contreras isn't the sort of form you'd hope for before getting in the with "Krusher" Kovalev.
Whilst he lacks power Agnew is certainly a talented fighter and he has nice speed, good technical form, lovely body shots and is very confident. He knows he's not the most attractive fighter but he has been calling out a whose who of top Light Heavyweights over the past few years and whether that was because he felt he could beat them, he deserved more attention or he wanted a pay day is up for debate the sounded like he thought he could beat them.
Of course for the skills Agnew has his lack of power and the fact he has never been hit by anyone as powerful or as strong as Kovalev is going to be a problem. When Kovalev hits you you know you've been hit and unlike many powerful fighters he doesn't load up on his shots, instead he throws heavy shots in volume so when he tags you once he'll follow up with 3 or 4 more shots rather than trying to take your head off.
For Agnew the key is to survive the first 6 rounds. That sounds easy on paper but Kovalev's last 6 opponents haven't seen the end of round 4. If Agnew can survive he may be able to ask questions of the Russian. In all honesty however we're expecting Kovalev's power to be felt early on and the ending to come soon afterwards as Agnew is swiftly beaten into submission.
Hopefully a victory for Kovalev will move us a step further to the proposed super fight between Kovalev and fellow power puncher Adonis Stevenson in a bout that really would be a shoot out. Unfortunately rumours are that Stevenson wants nothing to do with Kovalev, a real shame if true. That's a bout every fan seems to want and if Stevenson doesn't then we guess that says something about his character and the fear Kovalev strikes in to the heart of of other world class fighters.
If one man from Russia has made a statement this year then that man was WBO Light Heavyweight champion Sergey Kovalev (22-0-1, 20).
The "Krusher" as he is known, has gone from relative unknown to one of the sports most feared fighters in the space of just 12 months. Although it has just been a year, Kovalev has had one of the most destructive years in boxing destroying a trio of credible foes in the form of Gabriel Campillo (TKO3), Cornelius White (TKO3) and most recently Nathan Cleverly (TKO 4).
Had it not been for the fact Adonis Stevenson had managed to get his hands on a shop-worn Chad Dawson it's fair to say that Kovalev would have been seen as the Light Heavyweight division's saviour. Instead however, Kovalev is a man on a collision course with Stevenson, if, and only if, both men can continue to destroy opponents as they have done this year.
Kovalev will be hoping to continue his destructive run when he returns to the ring on November 30th as he attempts to make the first defense of his WBO world title and battles Ukrainian Ismayl Sillakh (21-1, 17).
Sillakh, a man who has promised much but failed to deliver so far in his career, is a fighter who is skilled, has solid power, and impressive hand speed for a Light Heavyweight. Unfortunately he also possess a questionable mentality in the ring and a chin that has already cost him against a Russian fighter.
At his best Sillakh looks like he has the potential to give anyone nightmares. He combines power and speed excellently, he has a very impressive amateur pedigree and when he lets loose it looks like few can live with him. At his worst however he looks like a fighter going through the motions and a man who is more a talented athlete than a fighter. That sounds harsh but sadly it's the way he looks.
Whilst Sillakh is a fighter who looks like he's going through the motions it's fair to say that Kovalev looks like a wrecking ball, and one that even Miley Cyrus would be afraid of getting close to. Fighters who get hit by Kovalev know they've been hit, and whilst many big punchers are wild and reckless Kovalev is busy and accurate breaking people down with his heavy artillery which is potent to say the least.
It can be very, very easy to fall in love with power punchers. We all know that. But Kovalev is more than just a power puncher, he's a skilled, busy fighter who is as much about his skills as power.
If Sillakh attempts to go to war with Kovalev there will only be one winner, and it'll be over very quickly. If Sillakh attempts to box, he does have a chance. Unfortunately for the Ukrainian however there is little chance of him seeing out more than a few rounds with Kovalev who will connect and then move in for the finish and seeing off Sillakh inside 6 rounds.
Interestingly on the same card Adonis Stevenson will be fighting Tony Bellew. We, like many in the boxing world are hoping that 2014 will see a Kovalev/Stevenson bout, though of course both will need to win their contests here for that to be a possibility.
Courtesy of Boxrec.com
Not every fighter has wrecking balls as fists but one man who certainly does is Russian Light Heavyweight Sergey Kovalev (21-0-1, 19).
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.
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