by Cliff Rold
Early in 2013, Light Heavyweight didn’t look like the healthiest of classes. Bernard Hopkins, one fight removed from losing the lineal Light Heavyweight crown to the quicker, longer Chad Dawson, had picked up a belt with a win over Tavoris Cloud. Dawson was still licking his wounds from a drubbing loss one division down to Super Middleweight king Andre Ward.
While the Hopkins win, given his age, made for good copy it didn’t speak much for the future. Light Heavyweight felt like a class spinning its wheels.
It needed a couple pints of fresh blood to get hearts pumping again.
It’s got them.
A lone exception to the early year lull came in the form of a performance two months before Hopkins-Cloud. Emerging contender Sergey Kovalev laid a blitz on former titlist Gabriel Campillo, scoring a nasty third-round stoppage. It created a buzz and went a long way towards validating some gaudy power stats.
Matters heated up considerably in the summer.
Adonis Stevenson, one fight after avenging the lone loss of his career to journeyman Darnell Boone, challenged Dawson for the crown at 175 in June. Faster than one could watch Tyson-Spinks, Stevenson scored his eighth consecutive knockout and took his place as history’s (and the WBC’s) new king at Light Heavyweight.
Two months later, Kovalev walked through undefeated Nathan Cleverly for the WBO crown. A month after that, Stevenson made Cloud’s 2013 even more painful, successfully defending his crown and stopping Cloud for the first time.
Heading into this Saturday’s HBO doubleheader (10:15 PM EST/PST) from Quebec, Canada, Kovalev stands at 22-0-1 with 22 stops. Stevenson is 22-1 with 19 wins inside the route. Suddenly, the division has two fresh faces that leave opponents lying on theirs.
The transfusion has occurred.
The numbers aren’t lying about how lethal both men can be. They match like fire and more fire. One can hope for combustion between the two. It just won’t happen this weekend.
Kovalev will defend against Ismayl Sillakh (21-1, 17 KO); Stevenson faces Tony Bellew (20-1-1, 12 KO). Assuming both win, and they are expected to, what comes next will speak to how much blood is really pumping in one of the game’s most storied classes.
Following his win over Cloud, Stevenson didn’t seem as focused on Kovalev as HBO would probably like. While they do their best to build public interest, it may be that this fight marinates a little longer in 2014. If both men win this weekend, November 30th isn’t the biggest date on the Light Heavyweight calendar.
January 18th might be.
That’s the day when Stevenson could see a potentially profitable, and likely less dangerous option than Kovalev, emerge. Former lineal champion Jean Pascal (28-2-1, 17 KO), whose losses have come to Carl Froch and Hopkins, will face former Super Middleweight titlist Lucian Bute (31-1, 24 KO), whose lone loss came to Froch. Their clash at the Bell Centre in Montreal is one of the biggest homegrown clashes in recent memory in Canada.
Stevenson, who fights out of Canada and made eight of his previous nine starts at Bell, will logically have a keen eye on the affair.
Stevenson-Kovalev could be a great fight. Stevenson versus the winner of Pascal-Bute could be a big fight. Big often wins over better (on paper anyways) and that makes some sense. These are men getting punched in the face for a living. The balance between making money and making war has always been there.
Hopkins and Dawson are likely to be factors somewhere along the line as well, not withstanding issues about Hopkins being on Showtime during a network and promotional Cold War.
Where Stevenson and Kovalev matter so much is in what they add to the mix. Remove them and we’re looking at retread city. Their emergence gives fans an end point to hope for while we see what interesting stops emerge along the way. As long as they keep winning, the drum beat for a puncher’s duel will grow and it won’t take long.
It might not happen right away after this weekend, but as the knockouts pile up the air of inevitability will grow. Hardcore fans already want Stevenson-Kovalev. How many more will be added to their numbers this Saturday night? How long until a great fight also becomes a big one?
The Weekly Ledger
But wait, there’s more…
Pacquiao Report Card: https://www.boxingscene.com/manny-happy-returns-post-fight-report-card--72088
TBRB Weekly Update: http://www.tbrb.info/
A rare unification match is on tap next week at 115 lbs. as WBA titlist Liborio Solis and IBF titlist Daiki Kameda lock horns. Even in hardcore circles, it’s not generating a ton of buzz. It’s a good match but the winner won’t emerge as the man to beat in the division. It’s just a step in the right direction. It says a lot about just how many belts there are these days and more about diminishing returns. This is a fight between two top ten guys in the class. That’s a good thing either way…Whether or not Manny Pacquiao’s tax issues, reported widely this week, are a serious problem or just an administrative misunderstanding, was anyone surprised to hear a fighter was having tax issues? Going back to Joe Louis and well before, the tax man has scored as many KO’s as anyone…So HBO might not show Gennady Golovkin’s next fight? That’s fine if Golovkin keeps busy. There was a time when a fighter could be an HBO staple and be seen many other places in between. James Toney did it and there’s no reason it can’t be done now. Too many guys sit around waiting for their next HBO date instead of keeping their game tight…Shane Mosley’s back giving out on him is no shock. Bad backs and old age go together. There’s only a handful of fighters who could do big things after 40. Most just take beatings. Mosley isn’t a Bernard Hopkins…If Carl Froch chases Andre Ward instead of taking an immediate rematch with George Groves, it’s hard to knock it. Ward is the real champion at 168 and a loss he’d like to avenge. If not Ward than anything other than Groves, whose controversial stoppage loss demands a rematch, would be an unfortunate turn for one of the game’s most willing warriors over the last five years…Happy Thanksgiving to everyone who takes their time to read what we have to offer here at BoxingScene...Happy Thanksgiving to everyone else too.
Cliff Rold is the Managing Editor of BoxingScene, a founding member of the Transnational Boxing Rankings Board, and a member of the Boxing Writers Association of America. He can be reached at [email protected]