Sergey Kovalev is the 'next big thing,' if you let his promoter tell it. Kathy Duva really shouldn't be anything less than thrilled with the fighter she has in her stable, and is looking to continue riding his wave of success right into the big time (in terms of becoming a mainstream star). When describing his most recent outing against Jean Pascal, Duva offered these thoughts:
"Just total domination in the end," Duva told RingTV.com, describing Kovalev's performance. "The way he adjusts, the way you can see his mind moving and figuring out a way.
"He just keeps surprising everyone - not that he wins, because he's always been chosen to win - it's the way he wins and that's what I'm so happy about."
"Jim Lampley said he is meaner than Sonny Liston," Duva said, laughing. "That's part of his myth and his appeal and part of why he's so effective. He's mean but he's smart about it. It's absolutely thrilling to watch. It's amazing."
Duva describes Sergey as a genuinely nice guy out of the ring, so it kind of begs the question about how he ended up with Main Events when the other top-tier promoters apparently looked him over.
"When people say, ‘Why did you sign him when nobody else did?'," Duva recollected her first experience of working with Kovalev. "Nobody else bothered to look at him; we put him in a ring and watched him fight Darnell Boone"
"It was before the fight started I realized something was different about this guy because I had met this sweet, very nice, very charismatic smiling guy the day before and then he got to the ring and I saw lasers coming out of his eyes. It reminded me of Ray Leonard - not in the way he fights, or anything, except the eyes; they're the same, they never blink, they focus 100 percent. He had that look in his eyes the first time I saw him, where you literally saw this guy flip the switch and [he] goes into beast mode and then he flips it back and he's smiling and nice again when the fight‘s over. It's unnerving."
As we know though, it takes more than in-the-ring skills to make a star in this sport. You need the personality and marketability to match if you really want a shot as crossing over into becoming a mainstream attraction. And Duva thinks Kovalev has just that, which will begin unveiling itself as his English continually improves.
"Sergey is very, very glib; he's funny. As his English gets better you are all going to see more and more of that. He's one of the funniest people I‘ve ever known. His personality is going to take him very far," added Duva.
But neither Kovalev or Duva are looking to rest on their laurels, they are already planning his next bout against mandatory challenger Nadjib Mohammedi (37-3 (23 KOs), who is currently riding a 13-fight win streak. Duva was asked if HBO had already given the green light for a Mohammedi fight, to which she replied:
"They were thrilled with Kovalev; they want to have all of his fights on their network, they're totally sold. Up until Saturday I'm not sure they were 100 percent sold on Sergey but I know they are now."
But naturally, the fight everyone really wants for Kovalev is Adonis Stevenson. They've tried to make the bout before, but it takes two to tango. Apparently even the WBC agrees with Duva, but sanctioning bodies have been known to change with the wind and their opinion could switch really at any given moment...
"...the WBC has ordered the champion of the WBC to face Sergey ... assuming he wins his mandatory with Mohammedi. If Sergey is successful against Mohammedi, and if Stevenson is still champion, [he] will be ordered to face Sergey next."
"To tell the truth, if that fight happened now in Canada, Sergey would have more fans than Stevenson. The fans don't like [Stevenson], they come to watch him lose.
"He's going to become a big fan-favorite up there. We want to keep going back to Quebec because it's such a wonderful market, they're crazy for fights. It's a five, six hour drive from where we live; it's not that far away. I have a great relationship with Jean Bedard, the president from Interbox; we love working together, our staff love working together. So we're talking about doing fights together irrespective of Sergey fighting there. I'd be very happy to go there and fight there."
"Sergey's goal is to hold all the titles," Duva with a smile. "So if you want to be a light heavyweight and you want to be a champion, you're going to have to fight him."
The real question is though, can Sergey truly become an undeniable breakout star in the light-heavyweight division?