Russian transplant Kovalev says little, punches big

Sergey Kovalev defends his championship against Cedric Agnew on March 29. (USATSI)
Sergey Kovalev defends his championship against Cedric Agnew on March 29. (USATSI)

Sergey Kovalev has a particular economy with words.

Largely because the soon-to-be 31-year-old -- his birthday is April 2 -- spent most of his life in Russia before moving to Florida, and is still navigating his way through a new language.

So if what you’re seeking is a Shakespearian soliloquy, chances are he’s not your guy.

However, if communication is judged on an ability to render grown men semi-conscious with a similarly succinct economy of punches, he quickly elevates from novice to expert.

The latter skill will again be on display Saturday night in Atlantic City, when Kovalev risks his World Boxing Organization light heavyweight (175 pounds) championship for the second time against unbeaten American challenger Cedric Agnew at Boardwalk Hall.

The bout will top a two-fight “Boxing After Dark” broadcast set to begin at 10 p.m. ET on HBO.

The network’s initial episode of “24/7 Pacquiao/Bradley 2” will air after the fights at midnight ET.

Only two of Kovalev’s 24 outings have gone the distance since he turned pro in 2009 after a 200-plus fight amateur career, and he’s racked up his last 11 wins by early stoppage, including a 5-minute, 12-second demolition of Ismayl Sillakh in his most recent appearance on Nov. 30 in Quebec City.

That was the initial defense of the WBO championship he’d won three months earlier with a four-round TKO of then-titleholder Nathan Cleverly in Wales.

And he concedes going into Saturday that research on the little-known Agnew’s past has not been a priority during two months of pre-fight prep work, which has gone without a hitch alongside Fort Lauderdale-based trainer and former two-division world champion John David Jackson.

The six fights for which Kovalev and Jackson have worked together have gone a total of 17 rounds -- none more than four. Agnew is 26-0 with 13 KOs as a professional and is ranked 14th in the world by the WBO, but he’s faced only three opponents who’d won their previous fight. In fact, his last nine opponents had a combined record of 10-42-2 in their six fights before meeting him.

“I know nothing about my next opponent,” Kovalev said. “I know only that he has an undefeated record and that he has big motivation and that he will be ready for the fight. There’s no more info about him. I didn’t see any videos about him, none of his fights. Normally, I watch a couple rounds to understand the style my opponent is using, and that’s it. I don’t study his mistakes, his movements or his punches.

"Just what style he’s using. For me, that’s enough.”

Oddsmakers assume it’ll be enough as well, with the few that have actually posted lines on the fight installing Kovalev as anywhere from a 25-to-1 to 50-to-1 favorite.

The consensus on the 6-foot slugger is similar on a world level, and he’s slotted fourth behind WBC champion Adonis Stevenson, IBF champion Bernard Hopkins and former WBC and IBO champion Chad Dawson by the British-based Independent World Boxing Rankings – which position fighters with the aid of a computer and without regard for which sanctioning body they’re recognized by.

Agnew, incidentally, is slotted at No. 18 in the same rankings.

Either way, Kovalev doesn’t seem particularly concerned with outside perception.

He said he’s hoping to “fight only with champions,” though Stevenson’s recent alignment with manager Al Haymon presents a significant obstacle to a potential unification fight that had been anticipated when the two appeared on the same HBO broadcast in late November. Following his fight that night with Sillakh, Kovalev answered “Adonis” when asked whom he’d like to fight next.

Instead, Stevenson will defend his title against Andrzej Fonfara on May 24 on Showtime. And Hopkins, who’s also aligned with Showtime, will fight WBA champion Beibut Shumenov on April 19.

“If you think I’m the best, it’s good. If you don’t think so, that’s good, too,” Kovalev said. “From sight, somebody else has to say it about me. I’m regular man and a regular boxer.”

Weekend Watch List, 3/28-29

ESPN -- Friday, 9 p.m.

Boxcino tournament semifinals

Christopher Rudd vs. Petr Petrov -- eight rounds, lightweights

Miguel Gonzalez vs. Fernando Garcia -- eight rounds, lightweights

Telemundo -- Friday, 11:35 p.m.

Marvin Mabait vs. Alejandro Hernandez -- 12 rounds, bantamweights

HBO -- Saturday, 10 p.m.

Sergey Kovalev vs. Cedric Agnew -- WBO light heavyweight title

Thomas Dulorme vs. Karim Mayfield -- 10 rounds, junior welterweights

UniMas -- Saturday, 11 p.m.

Alejandro Perez vs. Juan Carlos Martinez -- 10 rounds, junior lightweights

Brian Viloria vs. Juan Herrera -- 10 rounds, junior bantamweights

Jose Ramirez vs. Boyd Henley -- six rounds, junior welterweights

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