It’s one thing to be a fantastic fighter. It’s another thing to be on a completely different level from your peers. Floyd Mayweather knows what that’s like, as does his rival, Manny Pacquiao, and undisputed heavyweight champion Wladimir Klitschko. Over the course of the past year, Russian knockout machine Sergey Kovalev has learned the feeling as well.
Kovalev (27-0-1, 24 KOs) is unbeaten through 28 professional bouts, an accidental foul against Grover Young in 2011 accounting for his only draw. Only three men have gone the distance with the “Krusher,” and one of them, Bernard Hopkins, is a sure-fire first-ballot Hall of Famer.
Kovalev has been wreaking havoc on boxing’s light heavyweight division and has been a titlist for two years. The Florida resident has never looked even remotely ordinary in the ring, and his skills have landed him somewhere in the middle of virtually every boxing pound-for-pound list. His one-sided, 12-round drubbing of Hopkins last year opened the collective eyes of the casual boxing fan. When Kovalev crushed Jean Pascal in March, most agreed that the boxing world was witnessing the birth of something special.
Kovalev is set to make his Las Vegas headline debut on Saturday when he defends his undisputed light heavyweight crown against Nadjib Mohammedi at Mandalay Bay Events Center. The champion is such a favorite to defend his title that he is listed as high as a -10,000 favorite in most sportsbooks.
Kovalev’s sights are set on Adonis Stevenson, a Canadian powerhouse who holds the WBC version of the 175-pound title. Kovalev holds the WBO, WBA and IBF versions, but for myriad reasons, the two haven’t been able to come together and decide who is the best light heavyweight. According to Kovalev, it’s not for a lack of trying.
“I’m ready for a fight with Stevenson and have been a long time ago,” he told Sherdog.com in a recent interview. “I’m really tired of waiting for him. I call him out all the time but I hear nothing from him. I don’t know if he’s ducking me, but I want the fight. I think he’s cowering somewhere. You should ask Stevenson. I want it.”
As much as Kovalev covets a chance to trade leather with “Superman,” he knows he has a job ahead of him. Even though virtually everybody who follows professional prizefighting fully expects Mohammedi to lose, Kovalev is too smart to look past him.
“I think he is a tough guy,” Kovalev stated. “I think he’ll be ready because he has been waiting for this fight and it’s on HBO. Also, it’s a title fight and he’s ready. When your opponent has been waiting and he’s ready, he’s dangerous. He’ll be tough because he’s not a simple boxer.”
Kovalev said that he has some pressure on him to perform well and put on a memorable show. He fought once before in Las Vegas -- in 2011, on the undercard of a smaller event at a much smaller venue -- but now, since he’s headlining a major card in the fight capital of the world, Kovalev admitted that he feels he needs to be electric on Saturday night.
“When I first fought in Las Vegas, I was on a small card at the Cosmopolitan,” he reflected. “I was on the undercard and it was a small show. But now I am fighting in the main event of a big card at Mandalay Bay on HBO. Now I am responsible to make it a good boxing event. I need to make it [exciting] for my team, for myself, for HBO. I must look good for this fight. I don’t know how he’ll fight because anything can happen.”
Kovalev isn’t a man of many words, at least not in English just yet. But before he departed to get back to training, he needed to make one thing clear regarding his upcoming battle: “I will finish the fight.”