Nathan Cleverly's unbeaten record went up in smoke as impressive Russian Sergey Kovalev took his WBO light-heavyweight title off him with a destructive fourth-round stoppage in Cardiff. The 26-year-old Welshman had been seeking headline unification fights in America and was under pressure to impress an American audience at the Motorpoint Arena being televised across the Atlantic.
However, Kovalev, a narrow favourite with some bookmakers, tore up the script in the Welsh capital by flooring Cleverly twice in the third round and forcing a stoppage in the next session to disappoint the thousands of Cleverly fans and take the title. Oddsmakers had struggled to split the pair ahead of what promised to be the hardest of Cleverly's six world title defences so far.
Mathematics graduate Cleverly started with the knowledge that Kovalev had a taste for quick knockouts. Indeed, the eastern European challenger was looking to land big right hands from the first minute and won the opening round quite clearly.
Cleverly was busy but made few inroads, despite somehow opening a cut over the challenger's right eye. Kovalev, meanwhile, was successfully deploying the jab followed by a driven right hand on a regular basis.
Cleverly landed a decent back hand of his own towards the end of the second which was his only real moment of success up to that point.
Cleverly was rocked badly by a left and went down moments later from a clubbing right. He rose to his feet but was unsteady and moments later he was down from another right to the head, made worse by Kovalev hitting him again as he sank to one knee.
He was out on his feet again and referee Terry O'Connor was poised to stop it, only for the bell to save the Briton.
Kovalev went for it in the fourth and unleashed as many power shots as he could muster. A right and hooking left sent Cleverly wobbly again 29 seconds into the round and O'Connor this time decided enough was enough.
Cleverly's record now reads 26-1 (12 KO wins) while fearsome Kovalev moves to 22-0-1 (20KOs).