Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Kovalev, Stevenson, And The Changing Landscape Of The Light-Heavyweight Division

It surely looked as though Light-Heavyweight world champions Sergey Kovalev and Adonis Stevenson were on a collision course as 2013 came to a close. Two fighters who have established themselves in the same division, at the same time, in a similar manner. Both producing knockouts that have gained the Boxing world’s attention.

The idea of these two emerging stars in the sport being pitted against each other in a world title unification clash is certainly an intriguing storyline. Most storylines however, are known for having intriguing plot twists. The scenario of a potential Kovalev-Stevenson collision would appear to be no exception.

Although most Boxing fans are probably of the opinion that a fight between Kovalev and Stevenson is the most logical option for both fighters at this stage of their careers, sometimes what may appear to have the most logic does not always take place. This is especially true when it comes to the sport of Boxing and certain elements, which might be a factor in determining when or if such a fight might take place.

Even though the groundwork for a potential Kovalev-Stevenson clash appeared to be laid following both fighters successful title defenses on the same card last November, a scenario that I brought up in the days following that card centered around the various political elements in the sport. A dilemma for promoters and television networks is whether or not to put such a fight together as soon as possible, with the assumed goal to sell the fight as a pay-per-view event to Boxing fans.

In all truth and honesty it is a delicate task for promoters and networks to determine when a fight of this magnitude should be made. Of course one of things to consider is the financial incentives that a fight like this would bring to all parties involved. Other things to consider however, are not only what the fight could do for the fighters involved in the short-term, but also where does it leave the fighters involved in the long-term picture in regard to a potential win or loss. It is also important to remember that those involved in the business end of the sport not only invest time, but also over the course of developing fighters invest in those fighters from a financial standpoint.

It is perhaps more important in the long-term picture to make sure that there are options on the table for all parties involved regardless of whom should emerge victorious in a would be “Super-Fight.” Although some may believe that it would be tempting to put together a fight like this as a significant pay-per-view draw as soon as possible, the other thing to consider is whether or not attempting to continue to grow interest in such a fight would perhaps be better in the long-term. 

An argument could be made that some of the most memorable “Super-Fights” are those fights that are built over a significant period of time and in some cases over a period of years. In almost all cases fights that were built up over a period of time left the fighters involved in better positions coming out of the fight in the long-term as it more often than not gives fighters notoriety and increases their marquee value.

Even though following the Stevenson-Kovalev twinbill last November there did not seem to be any roadblocks that would prevent a potential unification bout between the two. It was recently announced that Stevenson will face top Light-Heavyweight contender Andrzej Fonfara on May 24th. What makes this noteworthy is the fight will be televised by Showtime in the United States.

Both Stevenson and Kovalev have fought their most recent fights on HBO, the main rival of Showtime for many years. The current landscape of the sport at least in terms of where marquee fights are televised in the United States is largely driven by the rivalry between the two networks, which some might argue has both positives and negatives for fighters.

It goes without saying that the sport of Boxing has many detractors who will point out all the negative things that the sport deals with. In this case however, with two of the sport’s big-time players engaged in competition with the goal of trying to put on the best fights possible for the Boxing fans who have always supported the sport in good times and bad is good in the eyes of this observer. The more that there is competition among television networks looking to bring the best and most competitive fights to their audience, the better.

Some could easily say however, that increased competition between networks and promoters could potentially and has in some ways stood in the way of some marquee fights being made. With the news that Stevenson will be facing Fonfara on May 24th on Showtime very much fresh in the minds of Boxing fans and experts alike, Sergey Kovalev entered the ring to defend his WBO Light-Heavyweight world title against undefeated contender Cedric Agnew on March 29th in Atlantic City, New Jersey.

Although Agnew was undefeated going into this fight he was unknown to most. Going into this fight I wondered whether or not all the discussion of the potential fight with Stevenson and the news that some might consider a potential roadblock standing in the way of that fight taking place would have any effect on Kovalev.

Despite a tactical approach and a high defensive guard, Agnew was unable to avoid Kovalev’s power as the champion gradually broke his opponent down, scoring three knockdowns en route to a seventh round knockout. Although Agnew was outgunned in this fight, he does deserve credit for the tactical way he attempted to fight Kovalev and he was successful sporadically with his offense. For Agnew, his effort in this fight could well lead to another opportunity against a top contender in the division down the line.

For the champion Sergey Kovalev his second successful title defense will likely be viewed as a win that will lead to bigger and better things down the road. Kovalev did however, show in this fight that he was not distracted by all the talk of the potential fight with Stevenson perhaps not happening at least in terms of the immediate future.

The attention however, will now focus on Adonis Stevenson as he prepares to face Andrzej Fonfara on May 24th. Will all the attention and discussion surrounding the anticipated potential showdown with Kovalev have any effect on Stevenson in this fight? An interesting question that Boxing fans are likely going to ask as that fight draws closer. The spotlight however, will first shine on IBF champion Bernard Hopkins and WBA champion Beibut Shumenov as they prepare to square off in a unification bout on April 19th in Washington, D. C.

Although much of the attention has focused on Kovalev and Stevenson in recent times with regard to the Light-Heavyweight division it is important to remember that in the current landscape of the division. It’s true both Kovalev and Stevenson are emerging stars and are likely the future of the division. The Light-Heavyweight division still presents one man who not only has skills, but attracts fights on marquee value alone. Bernard Hopkins…

It could be a valid point that no matter the outcome of the Hopkins-Shumenov fight that most would say that Hopkins will likely remain the fighter for whom all fighters in the Light-Heavyweight division will seek an opportunity to fight as long as the forty-nine-year-old future Hall of Famer continues to fight. Hopkins thus far has not indicated any plans to retire in the near future. 

Although a fight between Kovalev and Stevenson remains a highly anticipated fight, one could assume that both are likely looking at the perhaps bigger goal. This would be to face the winner of the Hopkins-Shumenov fight and thus look to be in better position in the long-term future.

No matter what happens on April 19th, the landscape of the Light-Heavyweight division will change. As networks and promoters continue to vie to put on the best fights possible for the Boxing fans, some may continue to focus on the negative aspects. This observer chooses to view the division as being on the threshold of a new exciting era. 

Hopkins, Kovalev, Stevenson, and Shumenov all in the mix.  Let’s not forget there are many other contenders and former world champions with Boxing skills and knockout power. The Light-Heavyweight division might be the most explosive division in the sport.

 “And That’s The Boxing Truth.”

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