By Alexey Sukachev
Motorpoint Arena, Cardiff, Wales - In a career defining performance, Sergey Kovalev (22-0-1, 20KOs) stopped previously undefeated Nathan Cleverly (26-1, 12KOs) in four rounds to capture the WBO light heavyweight crown Kovalev, who knocked out most of his opponents within three rounds, came out throwing heavy shots in the first round. Kovalev hurt Cleverly badly in the third round, dropping him twice and nearly finishing him off. Kovalev picked things right back up in the fourth, throwing bombs to send Cleverly down for a third time and the referee waved things off.
Many thought Kovalev had that mixture of fundamental skills and tremendous punching power that could fire up a new star in boxing. In many eyes, The Krusher even exceeded their expectations by completely annihilating Cleverly in four. Fighting on his opponent's home turf, Kovalev not only showed his stellar potential but also lived up to it, sending a sound note to every other champion and contender at 175 lbs.
Despite coming as a champion with five defenses to his record, Cleverly, 26, wasn't a pre-fight favorite to the WBO #2 challenger, four years his senior. Kovalev came in with a reputation of a killer-puncher, 18 of his 19 kayos coming inside four rounds, with another one resulting in a fatal accident (Roman Simakov, who was TKO'd in seven, died several days after the fight with the Krusher).
Riding high, Kovalev immediately took the control of the ring, putting pressure on the Welshman. Cleverly doubled up his jabs trying to keep the monsetr-punching Russian at bay but it didn't work perfect in the first round. Yet, the champion was flexible under fire, landed some front hands and didn't get hit too much to make the round close. Kovalev was punching loosely but his power was well felt by Cleverly.
The second round was much of the same but Kovalev's blows started to put some effect on the champion. The Russian hurt Cleverly midst into the round and put him to the ropes for future punishment but the Welshman was able to avoid the danger. That time. He also had some success, that could have been vital later on, forcing a slight cut over Kovalev's right eye with one of his jabs. The third round had started even better for Cleverly. He did land not only jabs but a couple of power punches of his own. "He did it too early", proclaimed Steve Bunce of Box Nation afterwards. "He should have done it later in the fight but he started doing it in the third".
Feeling possibly overconfident, Cleverly decided to stand his ground with a puncher of sorts and paid the price. Kovalev immediately felt blood and sensed the danger for the champion. He was losing that stanza but then a right hand, followed by a left uppercut, wobbled Cleverly badly. He was pinned to the ropes and tried to show some bravado but was hit with a right haymaker instead. And down he went on his knees. He was immediately up, but Kovaled showed his killer's instinct by jumping on the wounded champion. A couple more punches forced Cleverly to get done on his knees, with Kovalev being a bit lucky for not getting DQ'ed for punching Cleverly after that.
Referee Terry O'Connor let the fight continue, and Cleverly went down again, but it wasn't ruled a knockdown, and the champion was dragged to his corner by... the referee. It was clear during the break that he wouldn't recover. And he didn't. Immediately after the start of the fourth stanza Kovalev jumped in, landed several punches more and forced Cleverly to go down for the fourth time. Terry O'Connor waved the fight off after that - maybe even too late.
"I want to thank everyone who likes my boxing", said Kovalev afterwards, giving praise to his promoter Kathy Duva of the Main Events, who was ringside for that fight, to his manager Egis Klimas, to his team (former champion John David Jackson was a chief second in the corner) and to HBO.
"Sergey is ready to fight anyone, any champion. I'll discuss it with HBO the coming Tuesday", confirmed Kathu Duva in a post-fight quickie. "Sergey is a Russian wrecking ball, and he is here for that reason", proclaimed the veteran promoter.
Indeed, he is. Or, at least, it seemed so on Saturday night at Motorpoint Arena in Cardiff, Wales. With a record of 22-0-1, 20 KOs, the WBO light heavyweight champion of the world Sergey Kovalev made a solid claim of being the best light heavyweight in the world. That's for sure.
Tired of lengthy fights and boring decisions? Enters Stephen Smith (17-1, 10 KOs) with an eye-popping right uppercut to produce a definite KO of the year candidate in an upset win over defending BBBofC super featherweight champion Gary Buckland (27-3, 9 KOs). The end came in round five after four rounds, fought mostly on even terms.
Former British and Commonwealth featherweight titlist Smith, 28, was a considerable underdog to WBC/WBA/WBO #10 Welshman Buckland, one year his junior, who was on a nine-fight winning streak, which included wins over Gary Sykes (twice), Derry Matthews and Stephen Foster. Buckland started the fight coming forward - as a champion. Smith was moving backwards, but not without landing some blows of his own. Smith's left hooks to the body were quite effective in the first. Buckland did better in the next couple of rounds, showing activity and desire over skills of Smith. Smith did better with some hard punches in the fourth, but still the end came as a real surprise. Buckland leaned in and ate a head-wilting right uppercut and fell face-first on the canvas - a scary remniscent of the 2012 KOTY in Juan Manuel Marquez vs. Manny Pacquiao IV's fight.
They say "don't hook with the hooker", and that means "don't try to upset the upsetter". But it was exactly what former WBO cruiserweight champion Enzo Maccarinelli (37-6, 29 KOs) did in a heated rematch with his latest conqueror Ovill "The Upsetter" McKenzie (21-12, 10 KOs), unravelling him at the very end of round eleven with a corker of a left uppercut. Maccarinelli, who turns 33 on Tuesday, took McKenzie's Commonwealth light heavyweight title with this career-saving win.
Both combatants started the bout pretty fast, which came as a little surprize for Enzo, who was blown out in two by McKenzie in November 2012. This time the former champ was both fit, trimmed and cautious enough in exchanges with the upset-minded beltholder. Maccarinelli enjoyed a very good round two, pummelling McKenzie with hard right hands around the ring. Ovill did better in the third, and rounds four and five were mostly even. Maccarinelli was working as an aggressor but McKenzie showed a terrific chin and also elusiveness to frustrate the local hero.
Round seven was a huge rally back for Ovill McKenzie, who rocked Enzo early in the stanza with a solid right hand. Ovill was in pursuit immediately after that but Maccarinelli restored his confidence and picked up his wobbly legs under fire. Nevertheless, rounds seven and eight were in his favour. Round nine saw another turn, as McKenzie started to show signs of fatigue. The tenth stanza was mostly in Macca's favor, who was bringing heat to McKenzie with big, damaging left hooks. The eleventh round saw the former champ even stronger. Showing character of the champion, Enzo Maccarinelli landed numerous blows and got the the better of a majority of exchanges. Finally, late in the round he cornered Ovill and landed a crippling left uppercut after a right hand, which left McKenzie absolutely defenseless. Referee Phil Edwards stepped in at 2:44 to stop the contest.
Blackwood's lightweight Craig Evans improved his record to 10-0, 3 KOs, after a very dull, actionless decision over Youssef Al Hamidi (12-57-3, 1 KO). Fight records tell you everything you need to know about this fight. The sole score was 80-73 - for Evans, who is still to get a significant win.
23-year old rising welterweight Lewis Rees (8-0, 5 KOs) got an easy workmanlike decision over rugged trialhorse Dee Mitchell (9-41-1, 2 KOs), who was stopped just twice in his career (once - because of the injury). Rees easily outworked and outpunched Mitchell over eight, firing and landing much more than his defensive-minded opponent. The sole score was 80-72 - for Welshman Rees.
Junior welterweight Rhys Evans (1-0) made his pro debut and won a four round decision over Matt Seawright (5-80-5). The sole score was 40-36.
Middleweight Aled Cook (1-0) made his pro debut and won a four round decision over Kieron Gray (5-20-1, 1KO). The sole score was 40-36. This talented eighteen year old welterweight has light heavyweight backing in WBO champion, Nathan Cleverly – his manager.