What a year 2013 has been for Sergey Kovalev. In January, the "Krusher" crushed former light heavyweight titlist Gabriel Campillo in seven-and-a-half minutes while in June he did the same to the 21-1 Cornelius White in a little less than eight minutes. Just two months after that he traveled to Cardiff, Wales to take on Welshman Nathan Cleverly, who also happened to be the defending WBO light heavyweight titlist. Many thought Cleverly's volume-punching and home ring advantage would prevail, but in the end it was Kovalev's aggression, accuracy and power that prevailed in scoring a fourth-round TKO.
On Saturday, the globe-trotting Kovalev will again travel to hostile territory to make his first defense against Ismayl Sillakh in Quebec City. The mission: Score an eye-catching KO before the home fans of his next potential rival, WBC titlist Adonis Stevenson, in the hopes of generating interest in a Kovalev-Stevenson unification fight. The Ukrainian challenger has other ideas, however, and he believes his long-armed style and superior mobility will "Krush" Kovalev's aspirations.
Factors that may influence the outcome include:
Best of All Worlds: Most knockout artists sacrifice accuracy for power, but Kovalev is a far different animal. Like WBC super bantamweight titlist Leo Santa Cruz, Kovalev is that rare power puncher that connects with impressive accuracy.
His title-winning effort against Cleverly saw Kovalev average 94 punches per round, which limited Cleverly's to 40.5 en route to big connect edges (100-37 overall and 66-11 power) as well as two knockdowns in round three. Kovalev's accuracy wasn't as high as in other bouts (34% overall, 25% jabs, 42% power) and he tasted 69% of Cleverly's power punches, but the damage was limited because he could only land 11 of 16.
More typical efforts can be found in other fights. In stopping Cornelius White in three rounds, Kovalev averaged 80.2 punches per round and connected on 45% of his total punches, 30% of his jabs and 52% of his power shots, all above the light heavyweight norms (32%, 24%, 39% respectively). The connect gaps were wide as well (93-26 overall, 74-6 power).
In destroying Campillo, Kovalev averaged 90.8 punches per round and created similar volume against Roman Simakov (82.6) and Darnell Boone (84). For the record, the average light heavyweight throws 54.1 punches per round. Against Lionell Thompson (KO 3), he landed 46% overall, 31% jabs and 52% power while earning a 45-5 power connect gulf. Similar patterns emerged against Boone (44% overall, 39% jabs, 46% power) and Simakov (41% across the board).
A Potential Weakness?: Before meeting Cleverly, stylish boxers managed to somewhat neutralize Kovalev's accuracy. Against Campillo, Kovalev landed 34% overall, 28% jabs and 37% power but his far superior activity (Campillo averaged 23.6 punches per round) and punching power led to a signature stoppage. He also showed himself vulnerable to accurate jabbers against Thompson (36%) and Boone (38%), but only 23% of his jabs got through against Cleverly. Based on that, one can surmise Kovalev is still improving and Sillakh's history suggests that theory will be further tested.
As The Jab Goes, So Goes Sillakh: Like Kovalev, Sillakh is capable of generating high-octane volume. He averaged 71.2 punches per round in his latest fight against Konstantin Piternov, but more typical efforts can be found against Mitch Williams (41.2) and Denis Grachev (58.8).
In all those fights the jab was the centerpiece of Sillakh's attack. Against Grachev (KO by 8), Sillakh averaged 34.2 jabs and 10.5 jab connects per round and connected on 31% of them, all above the light heavyweight averages of 22.7, 5.4 and 24%. The pattern continued against Piternov (44.3, 11.8, 27%) in scoring a sixth-round corner retirement victory and versus the southpaw Mitch Williams (24.6, 7.4, 30%), whom he out-pointed in eight. The jab comprised 58% of his total output and 53% of his total connects against Grachev, 60% and 56% against Williams and 62% and 46% against Piternov.
Therefore, it is vital that Sillakh keep his distance with the jab, especially since he was staggered by Williams' left cross in round one and stopped in eight rounds by Grachev.
Prediction: Sillakh has the skill set of a potential titlist - good hand speed, excellent mobility, an accurate jab and a stylish all-round game. His assets could extend the fight into the middle rounds but his dodgy chin could short-circuit his effort at any time. Look for Kovalev to impose his pace and power early and pound away until Sillakh gives way.