by Cliff Rold
Sometimes, it’s the man with the belt that has more to prove. Despite five title defenses at Light Heavyweight, and some solid wins against contenders Tony Bellew and Karo Murat, the jury is still out on Nathan Cleverly.
Sergey Kovalev is a hell of a hostile witness.
No one knows how they will react to a murderous puncher until they face one. Kovalev fits the description and, with a deep amateur background, brings skill along with the nuclear bombs he wraps in leather.
Kovalev still has much to prove as well. His win over Gabriel Campillo earlier this year set the table. Cleverly is a bigger bridge to cross as it brings him into the title picture.
Neither man has ever lost. One of them almost surely will on Saturday in a clash of high quality unbeaten Light Heavyweights.
Let’s go to the report card.
Titles: WBO Light Heavyweight (2010-Present, 5 Defenses
Previous Titles: None
Height: 6’1 ½
Weight: 174 lbs.
Average Weight – Last Five Fights: 174.4 lbs.
Hails from: Cefn Forest, Wales, United Kingdom
Record: 26-0, 12 KO
Rankings: #2 (Ring), #3 (ESPN), #5 (BoxingScene, TBRB), #10 (BoxRec)
Record in Major Title Fights: 5-0, 2 KO (6-0, 2 KO including interim title fights)
Current/Former World Champions/Titlists Faced: 0
Title/Previous Titles: None
Weight: 173 lbs.
Average Weight – Last Five Fights: 174.05 lbs.
Hails from: Fort Lauderdale, Florida (Born in Russia)
Record: 21-0-1, 19 KO
Rankings: #3 (BoxingScene, Ring), #4 (TBRB), #5 (BoxRec), #6 (ESPN)
Current/Former World Champions/Titlists Faced: 1 (Gabriel Campillo TKO3)
Pre-Fight: Speed – Cleverly B+; Kovalev B
Pre-Fight: Power – Cleverly B-; Kovalev A
Pre-Fight: Defense – Cleverly B; Kovalev B
Pre-Fight: Intangibles – Cleverly B+; Kovalev B+
Cleverly appears to have a slight edge in speed. Kovalev has a big edge in power. The biggest advantage in the fight might be neither.
It might come down to the feet. That is an area where Cleverly has the advantage. Kovalev often appears off balance, even just slightly uncoordinated in his footwork. His schooling brings the Russian back to a long jab and he puts punches together well. Because he spaces himself well off the jab, he can correct his feet before opponents take advantage.
Cleverly, who possesses excellent balance and gets inside well, might be able to get inside the power range of Kovalev and keep him off balance all night. Inside, Cleverly guards well to the head and works the body efficiently. Both men are good combination punchers, but if Cleverly is able to come forward, his combinations likely land first.
It’s still a tall order to get inside. Kovalev’s jab is educated and he knows how to bring a man up and into line with his right hand. He doesn’t waste effort. He throws to spots to make people feel his power and opens up when he thinks he sees a hole.
Another advantage for Cleverly could be stamina. Since the start of 2011, Kovalev has had one fight go past the third round. A seventh round knockout in December 2011 was the longest fight he’s had in ten starts. Cleverly, conversely, is used to going rounds and winning fights the long way. Three of his last four went the route.
If the rounds tick by, could Cleverly’s body shots start to add up to a sixth straight defense?
The chance is definitely there in a tough, tough fight to call. Both of these guys can go and no one really knows yet what can beat them. This is the night where both men truly begin to define their pro tenures. At night’s end, it is expected here that Kovalev will be the man more violently defined. Despite an edge in footwork, Cleverly often makes the mistake of squaring up in front of his man. Kovalev is good at getting through and around a guard and his power looks for real. The pick is Kovalev by stoppage sometime in the middle of the fight.
Report Card Picks 2013: 31-17
Cleverly-Kovalev is the biggest fight of the weekend. It might not be the best…At Jr. Lightweight, in the main event on Fox Deportes, BoxingScene #5 Takashi Miura (25-2-2, 19 KO) is on the road for the first defense of his WBC crown. It could be a short reign. Mexico’s Sergio Thompson (27-2, 25 KO), #9, is a legitimate puncher. His resume is a little shallow on quality, but does feature Jorge Linares. Miura has real pop too. In a challenge of Takashi Uchiyama for the WBA belt in 2011, Miura had the champion on the floor before retiring in eight. This could really turn into a special war. Thompson has a good look about him and is the pick here by knockout sometime in the second half of the fight…The HBO main event might be a little more of a showcase than the other two big fights this weekend. #2 Daniel Geale (29-1, 15 KO) attempts his second defense of the IBF Middleweight title he won last year from Felix Sturm. Across the ring will be Darren Barker (25-1, 16 KO). Barker proved he could lose well to a top guy when he fell against lineal Middleweight king Sergio Martinez in 2011. He should lose good again this Saturday, with Geale outboxing him for a decision victory.
Cliff Rold is the Managing Editor of BoxingScene and a member of the Transanational Boxing Ratings Board, the Yahoo Pound for Pound voting panel, and the Boxing Writers Association of America. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org