Thursday, December 5, 2013

Stevenson And Kovalev On A Collision Course?

It has been a truly stellar year for the sport of Boxing. Among several well-matched fights that have taken place this year the spotlight has also shined on rising stars who have become major players in their respective divisions. Two such fighters who have each made a major impact in their division in 2013 are Light-Heavyweight champions Adonis Stevenson and Sergey Kovalev.

Both fighters successfully made the transition from top contenders to world champions in 2013. Stevenson, winning the WBC world title by scoring a devastating one punch knockout over longtime division cornerstone Chad Dawson in June of this year, and Kovalev scoring a knockout over previously undefeated WBO world champion Nathan Cleverly in August.

An argument could be made that Stevenson has in some ways received more attention than has Kovalev. This argument could be based on Stevenson after all winning his world title by defeating a fighter in Dawson who had just faced the legendary Bernard Hopkins in two fights. Dawson status as one of the top fighters in the Light-Heavyweight division for several years coupled with his fights against Hopkins and a brief drop down in weight to challenge undefeated Super-Middleweight champion Andre Ward, a man in the upper tier of most pound for pound debates. This certainly drew the attention of the Boxing world and thus all eyes were focused on Dawson when he got in the ring with Stevenson a fighter with a career knockout percentage of over 80%.

A very justifiable argument should be made that Adonis Stevenson became a star in the sport literally with one punch by knocking out Dawson. In his first title defense Stevenson scored a seventh round stoppage in a dominating performance against former IBF Light-Heavyweight world champion Tavoris Cloud. In addition to being former world champions of the Light-Heavyweight division, both Dawson and Cloud were able to garner attention and notoriety by facing Hopkins. Stevenson’s knockout victories immediately placed him as a likely candidate to eventually face off with Hopkins. There is little dispute that although there are five recognized world champions currently in the division, it is Hopkins who due to his legendary status one might argue is the most lucrative fighter the Light-Heavyweight division has to offer. Based on this it is not hard to understand why everyone in the division would not be looking for an opportunity to face Hopkins. One fighter who could have had an opportunity to fight the future Hall of Famer is Sergey Kovalev.

The undefeated Kovalev became the mandatory challenger for Bernard Hopkins after scoring a third round knockout over contender Cornelius White in June of this year. Kovalev however, opted to take what was seen by some to be a gamble by choosing to challenge Nathan Cleverly for the WBO title instead of facing Hopkins. It proved to be a great move for Kovalev who not only dethroned Cleverly, but also raised his name recognition value in the process. Much like Adonis Stevenson Kovalev has a high career knockout percentage of over 70%. Much like Stevenson, Kovalev has the ability to end a fight with one punch.

Although Hopkins clearly has the most marquee value of anyone in the division; the idea of a potential clash between Stevenson and Kovalev is certainly intriguing. A potential clash which may now happen in the near future as Hopkins appears to be at least for the moment entertaining, the thought of dropping down in weight back to the Middleweight division for a potential fight with Floyd Mayweather. The potential Mayweather-Hopkins fight would at least for a brief period leave the Light-Heavyweight division without it’s marquee attraction, but an opportunity for a unification bout which may ultimately determine who will face Hopkins.

The groundwork for a potential Stevenson-Kovalev battle seemed to be laid when the two world champions defended their respective titles on the same card on November 30th in Quebec City, Canada. Kovalev successfully made the first defense of his WBO title by scoring a devastating second round knockout over top contender Ismayl Sillakh. In that fight Kovalev showed his power knocking Sillakh down with a solid right hand and finished Sillakh off with a brutal combination seconds after Sillakh had gotten up from the knockdown. Kovalev’s seek and destroy mentality was on full display in this fight in that once he saw an opening he quickly took Sillakh out.

Following Kovalev’s knockout victory over Sillakh, Stevenson stopped top contender and mandatory challenger Tony Bellew in defense of his WBC title in six rounds. A fight where Stevenson consistently beat Bellew to the punch with his left hand, dropped Bellew with a left hand in round six and finished the “Game” challenger off with a brief barrage of left hands before the fight was stopped.

The performances of both Stevenson and Kovalev have surely set the stage for an intriguing battle of knockout artists if that was indeed the goal of the promoters who staged this card. There are however, other possibilities for both Stevenson and Kovalev if a fight between the two is not in their immediate futures. An obvious possibility could be that the winner of the upcoming Light-Heavyweight fight between Jean Pascal and Lucian Bute face either Stevenson or Kovalev. If the potential Stevenson-Kovalev clash is indeed next for both champions, what could result is a scenario that would ultimately be a four-man box off between Stevenson, Kovalev, Pascal, and Bute.

There is no doubt that such a scenario would generate significant attention and interest. Other possibilities that could be presented to either champion could be a potential unification clash with WBA champion Beibut Shumenov, Shumenov is scheduled to defend his world title against undefeated contender Tamas Kovacs on December 14th. Should Shumenov be successful a unification bout for either Stevenson or Kovalev could be attractive if they do not set their sights on each other. One possibility that has not been mentioned is a possible unification bout with the fifth champion of the division Blake Caparello the International Boxing Organization (IBO) champion.

Although not held in high regard by some, the IBO has risen in prominence in the last decade and in the eyes of this observer should be held in the same light along with the WBC, WBA, IBF, and WBO. Caparello, undefeated in nineteen professional fights who is perhaps not well-known outside of his native Australia, recently captured the vacant IBO title by scoring a twelve round unanimous decision over former top Super-Middleweight contender Allan Green. 

Now as a world champion Caparello would likely welcome the opportunity to face any of the other champions in the division not only to gain more recognition on the world stage of the sport, but also establish credibility among those who may not give him the recognition of a champion. Whether or not Stevenson or Kovalev would be open to facing Caparello at this stage of their respective careers is a question that only they can answer.

An element that should also be taken into consideration is the current political landscape that has dominated much of what has transpired in the sport in recent times. Rival networks and rival promoters at a standoff although all looking to put on the best fights possible, in actuality create almost insurmountable obstacles.  For those whose opinions really matter, the Boxing fans, once again are left out of the equation.

 In terms of fights that look like they might be a solid pay-per-view draw a fight between Stevenson and Kovalev certainly looks as though it would fit the criteria of a fight that Boxing fans worldwide would pay to see. As of this writing there is no foreseeable “Business Roadblocks” that would prevent this fight from happening. 

From a business standpoint it is an interesting dilemma for a promoter or a network to face. On one hand you have two knockout artists, both with exciting styles, each considered rising stars. An Interesting question that will face promoters and a network will be whether or not to put this fight together as soon as possible and assuming that the goal would be to sell this fight as a pay-per-view event to Boxing fans, with the hope of solid returns in terms of pay-per-view revenue. On the other hand, they could continue to grow interest in this fight by having the two fighters face off against top contenders and maybe even the other world champions in the division possibly on the same cards so that a potential pay-per-view clash would be an even bigger draw. 

No matter what happens one thing that is certainly clear is the Light-Heavyweight division in recent times has provided excitement and generated interest. Fighters like Stevenson and Kovalev could eventually be viewed as the cornerstones of what could be a great era for the division. 

Given the exciting styles and punching power of both fighters an eventual pay-per-view showdown is indeed possible and makes sense as a main event of a pay-per-view card. There are only two questions in this observer’s mind. Is it the right place at the right time under the right circumstances for the fight to happen? Will the current political landscape in the sport of Boxing stand in the way of not only this fight, but rather any of the potential bouts that could take place in the division?

Personally I believe that championships should be unified so in actuality there would be simply “One Undisputed World Champion.”  After all, we live in “One World!”

“And That’s The Boxing Truth.”

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