Three years ago, Sergey Kovalev was an undefeated Russian with a heavy punch, a virtual unknown outside most boxing circles. After knocking out tough Darnell Boone in two rounds, Main Events boss Kathy Duva signed Kovalev to an exclusive contract.
Since then, Kovalev has knocked out seven opponents in a row before facing future Hall of Famer Bernard Hopkins last month.
Many boxing experts predicted that Hopkins, the 49-year-old legend, would outbox the more stationary Kovalev.
But Kovalev (26-0-1, 23 KOs) had a plan, brilliantly conceived by Trainer of the Year candidate John David Jackson. Known as a predatory slugger, Kovalev out-boxed the old master, peppering him with stinging jabs. He refused to allow the crafty veteran to lure him into traps. A powerful right hand floored Hopkins in the opening stanza.
The fight, was over, with Hopkins merely trying to survive.
Kovalev had brought his “A” game into the ring, and Hopkins failed to respond.
In his 26-year-career, no fighter had ever dominated Hopkins so thoroughly. The old warrior admitted after the bout he was stunned by Kovalev’s skill.
“I recognize real,” Hopkins said. “I’ve been in there with a lot of great fighters from the middleweights to now. Sergey is the real deal.”
“When he got some of my shots, he would sit back,” Hopkins said. “He used his reach and his distance and that was the key to his victory tonight. He has very good mechanics and patience.
“I couldn’t overpower him. I felt like I was a middleweight in there, maybe super middleweight, in there with a cruiserweight,” he added.
Is Hopkins past his prime? Of course.
But it took Kovalev to prove the obvious.
Kovalev now holds the WBO, IBF, and WBA light heavyweight titles.
Terence Crawford (25-0, 17 KOs) had a phenomenal 2014. In March, Crawford, of Omaha, Neb., traveled to Glasgow, Scotland to defeat hometown hero Ricky Burns. He returned to Omaha three months later and stopped talented Yuriorkis Gamboa in the ninth round of a thrilling bout. Crawford ended his year by winning a unanimous decision over tough Ray Beltran.
Gennady Golovkin (31-0, 28 KOs) rolled through 2014 by stopping all three of his opponents, including former champion Daniel Geale in July. Golvkin’s popularity continues to grow.
The choice here is Kovalev. He’s improved dramatically since first being spotted a few years ago. His power can be frightening. It’s becoming common for him to floor an opponent with a jab.
He’s willing to fight anyone. In March he’ll tangle with former titleholder Jean Pascal.
Hopefully a showdown with WBC belt holder Adonis Stevenson will follow.
Not bad for a guy who at one point in his career couldn’t find a promoter.