By Cliff Rold
Make no mistake: big punching Adonis Stevenson is the man at 175 lbs.
He is the legitimate champion of the class, history’s Light Heavyweight king having defeated the man (Chad Dawson) who beat the man (Bernard Hopkins) who beat the man (Jean Pascal) after Zsolt Erdei vacated his only tangible link to the lineal crown and moved up while Joe Calzaghe retired with the more popularly recognized Ring title to lay his claim. Stevenson is the champion, the only one that really counts, until someone wrests the crown from him with their fists.
The man for the job might be the other titlist on the HBO card from Quebec on Saturday (10:15 PM EST). Emerging on the world stage this year with thundering fists, Sergey Kovalev hasn’t been shy about his desire to get Stevenson in the ring for a puncher’s duel.
They’ll share the bill this weekend.
They just won’t share it with each other.
Logically, the hope is there that strong showings from each will help to build anticipation for a showdown sometime in 2014. Will both men emerge unscathed?
Let’s go the report cards.
Title/Previous Titles: Lineal World/TBRB/Ring/WBC Light Heavyweight (2012-Present, 1 Defense)
Weight: 174.4 lbs.
Average Weight – Last Five Fights: 171.05 lbs.
Hails from: Longueuil, Quebec, Canada (Born in Haiti)
Record: 22-1, 19 KO, 1 KOBY
Record in Major Title Fights: 2-0, 2 KO
Current/Former World Champions/Titlists Faced: 2 (Chad Dawson KO1; Tavoris Cloud RTD7)
Title/Previous Titles: None
Height: 6’2 ½
Weight: 175 lbs.
Average Weight – Last Five Fights: 174.45 lbs.
Hails from: Liverpool, Merseyside, United Kingdom
Record: 20-1-1, 12 KO
Rankings: #4 (Boxrec), #6 (Ring), #7 (TBRB), #8 (ESPN), #9 (BoxingScene)
Record in Major Title Fights: 0-1
Current/Former World Champions/Titlists Faced: 1 (Nathan Cleverly L12)
Pre-Fight: Speed – Stevenson A-; Bellew B
Pre-Fight: Power – Stevenson A; Bellew B-
Pre-Fight: Defense – Stevenson B; Bellew B
Pre-Fight: Intangibles – Stevenson B+; Bellew B
Stevenson’s growth as a professional since his lone loss to Darnell Boone (avenged) has been remarkable. Against Cloud, he boxed well and lit his man up. Bellew is there to box and can be a good combination puncher. He’s shown some issues with physical strength (notably in his draw with Isaac Chilemba) and fell a little short versus the activity of Cleverly. The biggest issue for Bellew here: he’s been on the deck several times and against men with nowhere near the speed and power of Stevenson. He’ll need a near perfect fight to avoid those attributes here.
Title/Previous Titles: WBO Light Heavyweight (2012-Present, 1st Attempted Defense)
Weight: 174.6 lbs.
Average Weight – Last Five Fights: 173.95 lbs.
Hails from: Fort Lauderdale, Florida (Born in Russia)
Record: 22-0-1, 20 KO
Rankings: #2 (TBRB, BoxingScene, Ring), #3 (ESPN, BoxRec)
Record in Major Title Fights: 1-0, 1 KO
Current/Former World Champions/Titlists Faced: 2 (Gabriel Campillo TKO3; Nathan Cleverly TKO4)
Title/Previous Titles: None
Weight: 174.4 lbs.
Average Weight – Last Five Fights: 185.85 lbs.
Hails from: Simi Valley, California (Born in Ukraine)
Record: 21-1, 17 KO, 1 KOBY
Record in Major Title Fights: 1st Major Title Fight
Current/Former World Champions/Titlists Faced: 0
Pre-Fight: Speed – Kovalev B; Sillakh B+
Pre-Fight: Power – Kovalev A; Sillakh B+
Pre-Fight: Defense – Kovalev B; Sillakh B
Pre-Fight: Intangibles – Kovalev B+; Sillakh B-
It was but a year ago. Sillakh was widely viewed as one of the brightest prospects in the division. A stoppage loss to Denis Grachev, a fight where he had his man on the floor early, changed everything. Sillakh does a lot of things right but are we looking at a larger version of Jorge Linares in that sense?
Is he the guy who boxes beautifully but falls apart when boxing turns to fighting? Kovalev is the sort who can test the theory but many have a serious fight on his hands. Kovalev so far has answered early challenges by demolishing them but we haven’t seen how he handles adversity yet. If Sillakh can get off to a good start, Kovalev’s ability to solve him could answer some of the lingering questions about his ‘intangibles.’ The next biggest question would be his chin. Get through Sillakh and Stevenson can test that.
Is size an issue? Sillakh hasn’t fought at Light Heavyweight since the Grachev loss and has been near the Heavyweight limit in one fight. He looked ripped and ready to go at Friday’s weigh in but could stamina prove an issue as he squeezes back to 175?
So could we see an upset somewhere on Saturday night?
These might be competitive, but at the end of the day they should play out as spotlight fights.
In the main event, the challenger is in deep. Bellew showed some chops in his fight with Nathan Cleverly, but he's also shown vulnerability and there are no special effects. Stevenson improves in every outing and his speed and power are too much here. The pick is Stevenson via knockout.
The other title bout is more intriguing. Kovalev may get a bit of a test here as Sillakh can box, and box well. His defeat to Denis Grachev derailed what many thought was a rocket ship towards the top. Sillakh can't afford another loss and he knows the danger the WBO titlist presents. Knowing, and doing enough to win, are two different things. Kovalev is a bad man and should score a bad knockout in the second half of the fight.
Report Card Picks 2013: 54-24
Cliff Rold is the Managing Editor of BoxingScene, a founding member of the Transnational Boxing Rankings Board, and a member the Yahoo Pound for Pound voting panel, and the Boxing Writers Association of America. He can be reached at [email protected]