Sergey Kovalev owns 22 knockouts among his 24 victories. | Photo Courtesy: Ed Mullholland/HBO
The dour expression on his face suggested he did not want to do this. Sitting amid all the jutting microphones and tape recorders, all the reporters trying to take copious notes, Sergey Kovalev would rather have faced Blake Caparello right there in the meeting room at the Affinia Hotel in Manhattan on July 26 than answer another question from the probing media.
Kovalev’s relief will come Saturday on HBO, as he climbs through the ropes to defend his WBO light heavyweight title against light-fisted Australian challenger Caparello (19-0-1, 6 KOs) at the Revel Casino in Atlantic City, N.J. Kovalev (24-0-1, 22 KOs), one of today’s most devastating punchers, brings a certain nostalgic sense to boxing. He is a very old-school, meat-and-potatoes stalker who provides knockouts, and in the time he is not sending his opponents to the canvas, he punishes them.
“They don’t call him ‘The Krusher’ for nothing,” said Lou DiBella, Caparello’s manager.
Caparello seems tailor-made for Kovalev. The Aussie southpaw has only stopped six opponents within the distance and has not scored a stoppage in more than two years. Still, Caparello feels he has something new that could throw off Kovalev. He thinks he has a model to follow in Kovalev’s last outing -- a seventh-round stoppage of Cedric Agnew in March. Caparello feels Kovalev struggled at times with Agnew’s lateral movement. It took him a little longer to get to Agnew than most.
“No one wants to feel [Kovalev’s] power, but I’m going to be in there and I’m going to feel it at some stage, and then I’ll figure out from there what game plan to use,” Caparello said. “We have different game plans that we’re going to use. I took a few things away from the Agnew fight. You have to respect Sergey’s power, but you can’t fear it. Agnew had a good plan and didn’t punch back. I’ll punch back. He’s going to have to fear my power, too. It doesn’t show on my record, but I do have the pop.”
To Kovalev, facing Caparello seems like a ho-hum proposition. Sure, “The Krusher” plays the media game, trying to drum up more attention for a fight no one thinks his opponent has a chance to win; and he knows what is expected: knocking out someone who has never lost, though Caparello has fought 19 of his 20 fights in his native Australia, hardly a boxing hotbed.
Fans like punchers -- they command most of the attention -- and Kovalev, who is gradually learning English, is one of the most fan-friendly fighters in boxing.
You better pay attention, though, when he fights. Kovalev has gone seven rounds twice in his last eight appearances and went the distance once in the last four years, recording an eight-round, split decision against journeyman Darnell Boone in October 2010. It remains Kovalev’s longest fight. He has gone an average of 3.6 rounds over his past 10 fights, excluding the two-round technical draw against Grover Young in August 2011.
“I want to show people what they want to see,” Kovalev said. “I can’t think about what people say about me [being a knockout puncher]. I don’t go into fights looking for the knockout. My opponents think they will [beat me], but once they get into the ring, it’s another story.”
Kovalev grew annoyed when the names of IBF and WBC titlist, the legendary 49-year-old Bernard Hopkins, and linear world light heavyweight champion Adonis Stevenson were broached. He stressed he would rather focus on the fighter in front of him now, “Il Capo,” than waste energy thinking ahead of fights that may not happen.
“Once Blake gets hit once, the whole fight is going to change,” said John David Jackson, Kovalev’s trainer. “Caparello is talking a good game and everything, but we don’t underestimate him; we can’t. We lose to him and everything we’ve worked toward falls apart. Sergey will cut the ring off very nicely, and he’s a more patient fighter.”
Regardless of what Kovalev wants, it is still intriguing that Caparello is left-handed, as is Stevenson. Agnew was also a southpaw, and it is not a coincidence that fight happened. There is a future plan in place, and that aim, it appears, is Stevenson. Hopkins also appears to be on the radar.
“Sergey sees the money growing, and he doesn’t get frustrated in the ring,” Jackson said. “I think he gets frustrated with Stevenson talking all of this trash and now there is no fight, and now Bernard is talking this same thing. Bernard is an older man, and you have to treat him like an old man when you fight him; don’t give him the respect. No one has made Bernard work harder than he has to fight. Bernard is fighting in a young man’s sport. I spoke to Bernard. I don’t want to see Bernard get hurt. There’s nothing bad that I want to see happen to Bernard Hopkins, but if you keep talking that trash, you may get what you want. This kid doesn’t care what you did when you were middleweight world champion.”