The questions were simple: would Sergey Kovalev's power translate against a better class of opponent, and how would he handle being hit back by a good fighter? We found out that the answer to the first is yes, and the latter question never was addressed, as Kovalev smashed Nathan Cleverly to win the WBO light heavyweight title in four rounds today in Cardiff.
Kovalev (22-0-1, 20 KO) looked relaxed and in control from the opening bell, whereas Cleverly (26-1, 12 KO) looked nervous and a bit jittery, keeping a really high and tight guard, trying to avoid Kovalev's much-hyped power shots. Kovalev would occasionally look to the body to get Cleverly to drop the guard, and that may have played a role by round three, when Kovalev caught Cleverly hard, putting him down twice, and really the fight should have ended there.
Instead, referee Terry O'Connor basically made himself a hazard with his arms waving all over, far too close to the action if he wasn't going to stop the fight, as Kovalev tried to finish it off during the end of round three. O'Connor then basically carried a clearly beaten and damaged Cleverly back to the corner after the bell, where Cleverly was plopped down into his stool and sent back out for the inevitable finish.
It wasn't long into round four when O'Connor had no choice but to end the fight, as Cleverly went down again. He just had nothing left, couldn't protect himself anymore, and wasn't fighting back. He was just plain beaten by a stronger, superior fighter.
"This is the first title in my collection," Kovalev, 30, said plainly after the fight, making his future ambitions clear in just a few words.
"We kind of knew from the very first time we saw him that this was his destiny," promoter Kathy Duva said. "I'm just delighted to work with him." When asked why other promoters passed over a chance to sign Kovalev, Duva replied, "I can't speak for anyone else's failures, only our success."
Duva then said that HBO would be signing Kovalev to a contract, and I think we can all agree that it's the right call. This is an exciting, powerful fighter who is now fully established. As for Cleverly, it's back to the drawing board, without question. Whether or not today's result was simply a reflection of how dominant and overwhelming Kovalev can be remains to be seen. But one thing that I might observe, being an observer, is that Cleverly was simply not properly prepared for the fighter he faced today. This was a long way up from Robin Krasniqi, Tommy Karpency, and Shawn Hawk. Cleverly didn't pass this test.
"He'll have to regroup from this defeat. It's not the end of the world. He's a young man, he's only 26. He can come back. He's got to learn from it," promoter Frank Warren said after the fight.