Sergey Kovalev may have lost out to Adonis Stevenson in terms of the 2013 Fighter of the Year race, but his dominating performances might have allowed him to take the lead in an even important category: Best light heavyweight on the planet.
Kovalev's last 11 victories have been by knockout and had it not been for a two-round technical draw against Grover Young in August 2011 it would have been a consecutive string. Only two of those 11 KOs have gone three or more rounds and he only appears to improve with each outing. He will be an overwhelming favorite to continue his reign of terror Saturday when he faces Cedric Agnew, a 26-0 Chicago product who will be making his U.S. television debut.
Factors that may influence the outcome include:
King of Pain: Kovalev seems to have it all when it comes to offensive firepower -- extremely high volume, knockout drops in both hands and impressive accuracy. The evidence can be seen in his first three 2013 fights:
KO 3 Gabriel Campillo: 90.8 punches per round, connect leads of 77-13 overall, 22-9 jabs and 55-4 power, 34% overall, 28% jabs, 37% power.
KO 3 Cornelius White: 80.2 punches per round, connect leads of 93-26 overall and 74-6 power, 45% overall, 30% jabs, 52% power.
KO 4 Nathan Cleverly: 94 punches per round, connect leads of 100-37 overall and 66-11 power, 34% overall, 25% jabs, 42% power.
For the record, the average light heavyweight throws 53.8 punches per round and lands 32% overall, 23% jabs and 39% power. Usually, volume punchers like Kovalev sacrifice accuracy for big numbers but the above figures show Kovalev is cut from the same cloth as Leo Santa Cruz, the most precise volume puncher in the game.
Potential Weaknesses: Stylish boxers seem to give Kovalev issues. Thompson landed 36% of his jabs while Darnell Boone connected on 38% of them. During his most recent fight with Ismayl Sillakh, the 21-1 challenger's movement limited Kovalev to 38 punches in round one, which saw the champion mount a slim 10-9 lead in overall connects. But Kovalev adjusted to Sillakh's jabbing by jabbing himself (9 of 25 in round one), which helped set up the brutal KO in round two. Agnew can box, and he'd be well advised to use lateral movement to extend the fight.
Listed as Righty, Better as Lefty: In the two available Agnew fights on video, the Chicagoan started out of the right-handed stance only to suddenly shift to southpaw and become far more effective.
Against Mikel Williams (KO 2) Agnew was 14 of 54 (26%) overall and 12 of 28 (43%) in power shots while fighting out of the right-handed stance in round one, but when he turned lefty in round two he scored three knockdowns, all with left crosses. His percentages in the round dropped (24% overall and 31% power), but the impact of his power shots created was more than impressive.
Against Chuck Dillard (W 4), Agnew again fought the first round out of the orthodox stance, out-landing Dillard 13-4 overall and landing 25% overall and 34% power to Dillard's 7% and 14% respectively. From round two onward, save for a few moments, he switched to southpaw and out-landed Dillard 18-8, 31-2 and 27-8 overall to capture a shutout decision. His power percentages rose with every passing round (37% in round two, 44% in round three, 50% in round four).
When he hurt Dillard in the second minute of round three, Agnew showed himself capable of producing big numbers as he went 29 of 67 overall and 27 of 58 in power shots during that 60-second span. Of course, he throttled down in minute three -- how could he not -- but he recovered enough to go 27 of 65 overall in the final round. Another interesting note: Dillard failed to land a single jab in the fight (0 of 80).
Prediction: Dillard may have a pretty record but aside from former title challenger Yusaf Mack (who came into the fight 3-3 in his last six), his quality of opposition has much to be desired. The last five opponents before Mack boasted a combined record of 70-99-10 (.430), which pales in comparison to the 101-7-1 record (.927) Kovalev's last five foes compiled.
These are fighters occupying different universes and that will be shown once the opening bell sounds. Agnew may delay Kovalev's surge with nimble early movement but Agnew's tendency to wait out flurries along the ropes before lashing out will prove disastrous for two reasons. One: No one should ever try to fight off the ropes against Kovalev. And two: Once Kovalev starts throwing punches, he doesn't stop until his opponent drops to the floor. Kovalev by early knockout.