By Thomas Gerbasi
For Cedric Agnew, the great thing about conventional wisdom is that it never won a fight. So while that aforementioned wisdom says that the unbeaten - but unknown and untested - Chicago native is going to end up on WBO light heavyweight champion Sergey Kovalev’s highlight reel this Saturday in Atlantic City, Agnew brings a quiet confidence into the biggest fight of his life, along with a simple solution to hearing daily about the growing legend of the “Krusher.”
“I just don’t pay attention to it,” he said quietly, the usual mode of conversation from the 27-year-old. That’s probably the best way to be for a fight like this. Stay below the radar, be stealthy, and strike when it’s time to do so. And no one has done it better than Agnew.
A former amateur star, Agnew turned pro in 2007, slowly and steadily building his record and reputation like countless other hungry fighters. There were recognizable names sprinkled throughout – Rubin Williams, Daniel Judah, and Otis Griffin – but just as many no hopers with losing records, leaving a question mark as to whether Agnew’s impressive slate was a reflection of his talent or his competition.
So while others got the big fights and big opportunities, Agnew would lay in wait, dealing with the boxing business in the best way he knew how – quietly.
“At times, it gets very irritating, but I have to stay true to myself and stay true to my craft, and always remind myself that it’s part of the game,” he said. “Be patient and something will happen. You have to be patient in this game because you’re not always going to get everything your way. Sometimes things are not going to turn out in your favor, so you just gotta hope that things work themselves out.”
In April of 2013, they finally did, with Agnew landing a USBA title fight against Yusaf Mack. Dominant throughout the 12-rounder, Agnew put on a clinic against Mack, winning when he had to, and putting himself in position to get a title shot. Who was it going to be against? Agnew didn’t care.
“Really, it was any of the guys holding titles, whether it was him (Kovalev), (Bernard) Hopkins, (Beibut) Shumenov, or (Adonis) Stevenson – any one of them.”
It’s through this process that you realized just who Agnew was. He wasn’t a manufactured contender, a cardboard character built up only to be knocked down. Instead, he was one of those fighters who could have fallen through the cracks because he was a quiet kid who preferred to let his performances speak for themselves, and not a well-connected prospect who made a lot of noise in and out of the ring.
“It’s always difficult explaining the reality of this game to someone who doesn’t know the inside of it and who’s only on the outside looking in,” he said. “They try to understand and you try to make them understand, but they’re not going to because they’re used to hearing the media and hearing the public, so they think they know what’s going on. There’s a whole lot more going on than just two people standing in front of each other and fighting.”
You do always hope that the right guys eventually get the right opportunities though, especially when boxing isn’t a lark, but a lifelong commitment like it has been for Agnew.
“I’ve been doing this since I was eight years old, and I always wanted to be world champ,” he said. “I always had my eye on the prize.”
That prize is a few days away, something that’s either a daunting prospect or an exciting one. Agnew sees it as the latter, though don’t expect any backflips should he upset Kovalev.
“The one thing you most likely will see will be me staying humble, celebrating with my team, and thanking the man above for rewarding me with such a great gift,” said Agnew, who does know that a win will change his life considerably, whether he likes it or not.
“Realistically, you can’t prepare yourself for it because you don’t know what is actually going to happen. But it’s something that I’ll probably have to accept because it comes with the territory.”
Let’s just say dealing with more notoriety and media attention would be a good problem to have, but to get to that point, he has to address the power and growing aura of the Russian knockout artist, who has that kind of mean in the ring that has made him a cult hero among hardcore fight fans. And it won’t be easy. To win, Agnew has to use every ounce of his speed, savvy, and smarts, and without the stopping power of his foe, he’ll have to be on point for 12 rounds.
But the beauty of a fight is that anything can happen, and when you’ve had gloves on for 19 of your 27 years like Agnew has, nothing is impossible.
“He’s a fighter,” said the challenger of Kovalev. “He’s a strong guy, but I’ve been in there with strong guys. He’s not flashy or real fast or tricky – he’s just a fighter.”
It takes one to know one.