By Jake Donovan
By the time Adonis Stevenson and Tony Bellew step into the ring for their HBO-televised main event, a buzz will have already been created for the next major challenge that awaits the winner.
That is the expectation in Saturday’s televised co-feature, as Sergey Kovalev makes the first defense of his 175 lb. alphabet belt versus Ismayl Sillakh in Quebec, Canada.
Kovalev (22-0-1, 20KO) has become a smash hit with the boxing public thanks to a steady stream of showcase fights on NBC Sports Network. Promoter Main Events saw major potential in the unbeaten Russian knockout artist, developing his in-ring talent leading up to a crushing 4th round stoppage of Nathan Cleverly this past August on HBO.
An instant buzz was created for an eventual showdown with Stevenson, as is to be expected when two explosive punchers reside at the top of the same weight class. However, both fighters have their hands full tonight with live underdogs.
While the onus is on Stevenson to figure out a way to turn away England’s Bellew, the co-feature has the potential to become a major trap fight for the streaking Kovalev. The odds may not be with his challenger to pull off the upset, though perhaps largely due only to the one setback in a once highly-touted career.
Sillakh (21-1, 17KO) was a major prospect on the rise prior to an ESPN2-televised showcase versus Denis Grachev in early 2012. Many expected the transplanted Ukraine talent – now living in and fighting out of California – to shine, which is exactly what he did for seven rounds before his world – and Grachev’s fists – came crashing down in a disastrous eighth round to provide the lone loss of his career.
Four straight wins have followed, though against competition non-descript enough for the 28-year old to have fallen far off of everyone’s radar.
Will his title shot prove to be a night of redemption for a still promising boxer, or will the tour of terror continue on for a growing cult favorite with dynamite in his fists.
Read on to see how the staff at Boxingscene.com believes the evening’s chief support will play out.
PREDICTIONS – SERGEY KOVALEV vs. ISMAYL SILLAKH
“Sillakh becomes the eighth in a row to get stretched by Kovalev.”
- Damien Acevedo (Kovalev KO)
"This is a very interesting fight featuring two big punchers. I think both men hit the canvas but Kovalev has had the better competition, especially of late and gets the KO."
- Ryan Burton (Kovalev KO7)
“This fight could very well be a repeat of Sillakh’s lone loss, where he starts strong and is perhaps way up on the scorecards before running into disaster. Kovalev can be outboxed, but the question is whether or not his power can be outlasted. The guess here is no, although Sillakh will come dangerously close before running into something big late in the fight.”
- Jake Donovan (Kovalev TKO11)
"Sillakh had some big talk a few years back on the Hopkins-Jones II undercard, but he’s spun his wheels since. He’ll have reason to yap again if the upset happens. Call it a silly hunch.”
- Lyle Fitzsimmons (Sillakh TKO6)
"Like Bellew I have been big on Sillakh. The problem for Sillakh was he simply wasn't brough up right. He is better than Kovalev skillwise and that will show. I expect Sillakh to stack up round after round like his fight with grachev but like the Grachev fight he will be brutally stopped. Sillakh will start to fade around the 8th or 9th and then the champion will find his opening and add another highlight reel KO to his résumé.”
- Timothy Kudgis (Kovalev TKO10)
"Once upon a time, Sillakh was the prospect-du-jour, and his hand speed, power and fluid combinations lent some credence to the hype. However, one brief flurry from Denis Grachev put that all in doubt and raised questions about Sillakh's chin. On the other hand, Kovalev has thrashed his competition, and his tour de force against Cleverly was his most impressive work to date. Ultimately, I think Kovalev will stand up to Sillakh's assaults and overpower him with pure nonstop pressure late in the fight. And yes, I broke out the French in honor of this card's Quebec locale.”
- Ryan Maquiñana (Kovalev TKO10)
“With Hopkins out of the HBO picture, this is a good fight to determine the best possible opponent for Stevenson. Sillakh is some minds was the heir apparent in the 175 lb division until two things happened: he got KO'd; and Kovalev announced his presence. After his KO loss, Sillakh has beaten soft touches. In that same time period, Kovalev has knocked out some pretty tough competition. Kovalev's home stadium is wherever he's fighting on the road. In a very game fight while it lasts, I think Kovalev's power tells the ultimate story, and he stops Sillakh in the mid to late rounds.”
- Richard Najdowski (Kovalev TKO9)
“I think Kovalev with have some trouble with Sillakh early before settling down and eventually breaking him down.”
- Chris Robinson (Kovalev TKO8)
“Kovalev may get a bit of a test here as Sillakh can box, and box well. He can't afford another loss and knows the danger the WBO titlist presents. Knowing that AND doing enough to win are two different things. Kovalev is a bad man and should score a bad knockout in the second half of the fight.”
- Cliff Rold (Kovalev KO)
“I remember when Sillakh was destined to be the next top light heavyweight until he was stopped by Grachev last April. Since then, he has fought four times in 2013 and three of them on club shows in the Los Angeles area. Sillakh can box, which may give Kovalev some problems early. But can Kovalev hurt him, yet alone catch him? I say yes. Sillakh may go down once in the fight and Kovalev wins a hard-fought, somewhat close decision.”
- Francisco Salazar (Kovalev UD)
“Sillakh has done a good job rebounding from his 2012 TKO loss to Denis Grachev raking up four consecutive wins albeit against fringe competition. But he'll face the same outcome he did against Grachev when he faces the hard-hitting Kovalev. I expect Kovalev to end things before the half way point and make a showdown with Stevenson even more salivating.”
- Luis Sandoval (Kovalev KO5)
“Sillakh can be a better boxer than Kovalev - that's true. He can also be a better-skilled of the two and a faster mover. It won't play a crucial role in the fight though. The "Black Russian" is shaky and chinny. He can outbox Kovalev to a certain point but then he will be checked hard by one of the White Russian's bomb, and the night for him will be over. I assume it'll happen sooner than later.”
- Alexey Sukachev (Kovalev TKO5)
Sergey Kovalev 11
Ismayl Sillkah 1
Jake Donovan is the Managing Editor of Boxingscene.com, as well as a member of Transnational Boxing Ratings Board, Yahoo Boxing Ratings Panel and the Boxing Writers Association of America. Twitter: @JakeNDaBox