Egidijus Kavaliauskas is back in the win column—and hopeful that it’s enough to put him right back in the title picture.
It took more than a year to arrive at this point, but well worth the wait as Lithuania’s two-time Olympian and former welterweight title challenger scored an 8th round knockout of Quebec’s Mikael Zewski.
Kavaliauskas scored two knockdowns, the latter of the two prompting the stoppage at 0:07 of round eight in their ESPN+ main event Saturday evening live from The Bubble in Las Vegas.
“I wanted to do it faster but it still happened,” Kavaliauskas told ESPN’s Mark Kriegel after the win. “You can never count on the knockouts. I was applying pressure, he was slowing down round by round.
“I saw him weakened. He wasn’t throwing his same punches.”
Both were fighting for the first time in 2020, Kavaliauskas off of the biggest fight of his career while Zewski still in search of a breakthrough to the title stage. Kavaliauskas was nine months removed from a title fight knockout loss to welterweight beltholder and pound-for-pound entrant Terence Crawford, eager to return on that stage.
Zewski’s mission on Saturday was to deny such an opportunity for the two-tour Olympian from Lithuania, all while positioning himself arrive at that level for the first time in his career. He felt good about his chances while riding an eight-fight win streak, though on the shelf since a win in his native Canada last November.
Action was slow but steady in the opening round, with both boxers picking their spots but committing to every punch. Zewski connected with looping right hands over the top of Kavaliauskas’ guard, though mindful of the straight right hands coming back in return.
Kavaliauskas controlled the action in round two, concentrating on a purposeful jab and often doubling up with the weapon. Zewski countered with left hooks downstairs, though unable to pick up his guard in time defend against Kavaliauskas’ overhad right.
Zewski picked up the pace in round three. Kavaliauskas continued to work behind his jab, though far too often without following up with a right hand. Zewski connected with rights of his own, also consistently touching his left hook to Kavaliauskas’ body while keeping the action in the center of the ring.
Round four produced the first piece of adversity for Kavaliauskas, who was forced to fight through a rapidly swelling right eye. A sense of urgency overcame the former title challenger, who continued to shoot his jab and met Zewski’s incoming artillery with counter right hands in the first half of the frame. Zewski brought the heavy fire later in the round, outworking Kavaliauskas whose corner urged him to win subsequent rounds in far more convincing fashion in concern that Zewski’s superior workrate would sway the judges.
It turns out that Kavaliauskas’ trainer, Mark Contreras was on to something. Zewski was ahead 40-36 on the scorecards of Patricia Morse-Jarman and Tim Cheatham to that point, while Steve Weisfeld had the contest even at 38-38 through four.
Both boxers slowed down at the start of the second half. Kavaliauskas went into stalker mode, outlanding Zewski though not to the point of pulling away from his Canadian foe. That would come in round seven, as Zewski offered more angles and less offense. It did little to slow down the attack of Kavaliauskas, who turned the tide for good late in the round.
A right uppercut buckled the knees of Zewski, with Kavaliauskas unloading with a series of power shots to will his foe to the canvas. Zewski rode out the count all the way to nine before rising to his feet, at which point the bell rang to end the round.
Kavaliauskas (22-1-1, 18KOs) closed the show in the early seconds of round eight, flooring Zewski (34-2, 23KOs) with a right hand. This time, referee Kenny Bayless immediately halted the contest.
Zewski (34-2, 23KOs)—whose eight-fight win streak comes to a close—was ahead 67-65 on two of the three scorecards at the time of the stoppage, with Kavaliauskas leading 67-65 on the dissenting card turned in by Weisfeld. All three cards were within reason; Zewski was the busier fighter, as reflected in the final Compubox numbers where he landed 132-of-409 total punches (32% connect rate). Kavaliauskas was the more accurate of the two, landing 127-of-364 (35%) and ultimately scoring the more telling blows in the end.
“Obviously, I think it was going good. I was applying pressure,” insists Kavaliauskas (22-1-1, 18KOs), who wins for the first time since November 2018. “The guy was moving a lot and running. I was controlling the fight; I was landing the bigger punches. I was never in danger or under stressful situations.”
The only stressful situation in Kavaliauskas’ career came in a winless 2019 campaign.
The welterweight was held to a disappointing 10-round draw by Ray Robinson last March in his opponent’s hometown of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Nine months later came the aforementioned loss to Crawford, though in a bout where he appeared on course to shock the world through the first four rounds. Kavaliauskas appeared to have dropped Crawford in round three, only for the sequence to be waved off and ruled a slip.
It didn’t matter in the grand scheme of things, other than providing Crawford with a major scare for the first time at least since his memorable stoppage win over then-unbeaten Yuriorkis Gamboa in June 2014.
Crawford is still on the hunt for an opponent for the fourth defense of his welterweight title. All signs point to a potential showdown with faded former titlist Kell Brook, potentially to take place November 14 in this very venue.
Until that fight is officially signed and announced, Kavaliauskas will continue to plead his case for a second chance at a lasting impression.
“I think Crawford right now doesn’t have no other choices at welterweight,” insists Kavaliauskas. “I’m the guy he needs to face. I can ask him and his team with respect, give me a rematch. Because he has no opponents yet. I don’t see him giving Crawford a better fight than I did.”
Jake Donovan is a senior writer for BoxingScene.com. Twitter: @JakeNDaBox