by Michael Gluckstadt
Most fighters are confident. But very few of them are confident enough to book their next fight on the day before the one at hand.
In agreeing to fight Bernard Hopkins later this year, Sergey Kovalev effectively made his light heavyweight clash with Australian southpaw Blake Caparello a formality. Saturday night at Revel Casino, he followed through on that premise with a TKO in the second round on the heels of three devastating knockdowns.
There was some dramatic tension early on, however. A Caparello left hand surprised Kovalev, who took a step back and dropped his glove to the canvas. The crowd was stunned, no one more so than Kovalev's promoter, Main Events CEO Kathy Duva. But it was just a flash knockdown, one that came when Kovalev lost his balance while Caparello stepped on his front foot. By the end of the round, Kovalev began to show his form, wobbling Caparello with a thudding left just before the bell.
In the second, Kovalev truly went to work. First, he dug a straight hand into Caparello's liver, which dropped the Australian to the floor wincing in pain. Soon after, Kovalev wound up his right hand for a bolo punch that channeled Sugar Ray Leonard, driving it straight into Caparello's face for another knockdown. When Caparello got up, his reward was a six-punch combination culminating in two right hooks to the body. As he leaned against the ropes, referee Sparkle Lee stepped in and waved off the fight.
If there was any doubt that this fight was primarily intended to set up the showdown with Hopkins, it ended when Kovalev and Hopkins conducted a joint interview with HBO's Max Kellerman about their upcoming bout. "[In Kovalev] I see a champion like myself," Hopkins said. "I always run to the fighter, not away from the fighter."
Hopkins would certainly present the toughest challenge of Kovalev's career - in 65 career fights, the 49-year-old legend has never been knocked out. But the KO-artist Kovalev is ready to adjust his style. "If I knock him out, I will be happy," he says." "But that's not my goal; my goal is to be the new world record holder."
Before the fight, Hopkins expressed a similar sentiment, albeit more colorfully. "Don't look for a knockout from me," he told a gathering of reporters. "What you will look for is a career-ending mental breakdown. You won't even see the wounds. But they enter your soul and your spirit."
"It's a major fight in the light heavyweight division," Kellerman says of the match-up. "You have to give Hopkins, who is almost 50 years old, credit for taking this fight. Especially since Jean Pascal had him dropped in one fight and hurt in the other - though I thought Hopkins won both of those. But at a certain point, he will be too old."
"When people say father time is undefeated, I always say he has one draw and that's to Bernard Hopkins. If Hopkins wins this fight, he'll have knocked out Father Time. If he doesn't, Kovalev gets taken to a new level of fame in the fight game and the sports world."