Kovalev Crushes Cleverly

By Matt McGrain on August 17, 2013
Kovalev Crushes Cleverly
Saturday night, Cleverly had been spilled by a puncher, yes, but also by a superior boxer.

Cleverly is first and foremost an athlete and one who has been given to walking into his opponents punches and machine-gunning when he should snipe…

There was a strange occurrence in Cardiff, Wales tonight as Nathan Cleverly, The Transnational Boxing Board’s #5 light-heavyweight, risked his alphabet bauble against the division’s #4, Sergey Kovalev. “Good matchmaking” you might say to yourself, and you’d be absolutely right. But Cleverly’s promoter, Frank Warren, is notorious on these shores for his conservatism—a man who knows the fight game inside and out, Warren is nevertheless known for standing with fingers pressed firmly in his ears for at least the first two years during which any one of his charges starts demanding “meaningful fights.” Cleverly has been treading water in protection of a mediocre “title” against capable fighters, but not the best this suddenly simmering division has to offer. Talk of matches with Bernard Hopkins, Jean Pascal, Chad Dawson and even new king Adonis Stevenson has remained just that. Then, quite suddenly, Cleverly was matched with Sergey “The Krusher” Kovalev, a fight that Frank Warren admitted made him “quite nervous.”

His nerves were more than justified.

Aptly named, Kovalev is the division’s most menacing puncher but has remained below the radar despite a record without loss (one draw) with 19 of 21 wins coming by way of knockout. Hyper-aggressive without perpetrating abandonment of his technical prowess, Kovalev is anything but a typical Warren opponent. Some noise has been made regarding a possible propensity to punch himself out, but he is busy and powerful, a combination that leaves the end of the 12th a distant shore for any opponent with a series of very hard punches thrown in varied bunches between the cliffs of the opening bell and salvation. Middleweight Gennady Golovkin has broken the United States and a series of top-class chins with his enviable combination of abilities. Kovalev is not far behind him.

Cleverly began quite aggressively, showing little foot movement but rather trying to box the Russian at long and three-quarter range, relying upon speed of hand and foot to maintain control. Kovalev looked momentarily baffled by this approach before settling into his rhythm, a power-boxing style that ranks amongst the most intimidating when done right. And Kovalev does it right, sacrificing speed on the altar of destruction, dolling out thudding punches that did not need to land clean to cause harm, going up and down and working the angles against an opponent that was supposed to be using them to outbox him.

The British press repeatedly overstates Cleverly’s “boxing IQ” as a reason for possible victory as though his possession of a degree in mathematics combined with a name which contains the word “clever” is overwhelmingly convincing to them of something that simply isn’t true. Cleverly is a brilliant young man, but as a fighter he is first and foremost an athlete and one who has been given to walking into his opponents punches and machine-gunning when he should snipe. Nevertheless, boxing had to be the plan for a fighter who could not possibly hope to swap heavy punches with such an opponent.

Cleverly did show good discipline through the first, an alarming if spritely shuffle backwards in front of Kovalev’s most menacing swarming attack, a series of one-twos stitched together by excellent balance and buoyed by the lurking possibilities of the winging punches Kovalev uses to dismember the hurt animals he has shared the ring with aside. It was this one-two that began the downward spiral for Cleverly in the second, glancing across his bows and occasionally stinging him directly as he tried to reorganise his hybrid plan around the numbing messages of pain he was receiving. The Welshman landed two nice right hands in the round and even cut the Russian above the right eye in the line of the brow, a minor injury that failed entirely to throw him off the scent of a now slightly skittish opponent. Clubbing punches, of the kind Kovalev had been throwing since the first thirty seconds of the fight, were working on Clevelry’s legs and heart, a diminishing combination that left him foraging with his jab alone as the round ended. Kovalev worked his own jab, a punch that dropped Cornelius White for a count in June.

The third, which should have been the last, was a tempestuous and revealing round and one that Cleverly will not enjoy watching back whenever that private moment comes. 

With a minute remaining, Kovalev breached Cleverly’s defense with a right hand that was chucked, but chucked with precision. Too thudding to be deemed a stylist, those who want to deem Kovalev a bore should have a close look at this punch which bridges the gap between thug and surgeon as completely as anything in boxing today. Cleverly had been spilled by a puncher, yes, but also by a superior boxer, and one who may come to dominate this division.

Dropped again by the type of winging punches Kovalev can be seen missing in the early part of his career, Cleverly was already too far gone to parry the blows which the Russian is now experienced enough to uncork only when literal or figurative blood has been spilled. Questionably allowed to continue even after he stumbled and grabbed for Kovalev after absorbing a brutal shot to the body, Cleverly was very badly hurt as the final seconds of the round trickled away. Unable to defend himself properly and at terrible risk against a brutal puncher, referee Terry O’Connor did the right thing and stepped in to stop the fight—but was interrupted by the bell. Apparently thinking better of waving off the fight at the very end of the round, O’Connor abandoned his stoppage and could then be seen literally lifting the Welshman back to his own corner, having originally stepped in to separate him from his tormenter and return him to his corner the loser. He seemed in that moment a member of Team Cleverly rather than a neutral official as he placed the stricken fighter gently on his stool and strode away, leaving the corner to work feverishly before sending the broken fighter back out, the proverbial lamb to the slaughter.

The artificially extended fight lasted a further thirty seconds almost as embarrassing and needless as the action that fostered it.

“The first title in my collection,” said Kovalev (now 22-0-1) after the fight, in English that will soon be lending itself to millions of paying American households.

“We will fight anyone in the world,” chimed in his promoter Kathy Duva, and on this evidence it is unlikely that he would be ranked as anything less than a marginal underdog against the very best of them.

“Nathan didn’t fight he should have done,” offered Frank Warren in defense of the man he matched with the savage striding from the ring with his charge’s one-time strap. Mr. Warren knows more about this sport than I do, so I’m sure he is now aware, as we all are, that Cleverly (who drops to 26-1) was at no time capable of boxing to such a plan, not at this level.

No rematch please.

Kovalev is a budding action hero, but this is one blockbuster that doesn’t need a sequel.

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Sergey Kovalev TKO4 Nathan Cleverly Сергей Ковалёв нокаут Натан Клеверли

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  1. Mike Casey 05:20am, 08/20/2013

    Like Nicky Piper and Sebastian Coe, Nathan Cleverly has always struck me as a business-minded man who is constantly on his way to something else. I suspect his next career move might now be imminent.

  2. Ted 05:54am, 08/19/2013

    Thanks Prov.

  3. Don from Prov 07:33pm, 08/18/2013

    and as the strongest old man in NH—ted sares

  4. Ted 07:18pm, 08/18/2013


  5. Don from Prov 07:15pm, 08/18/2013

    As an overall fighter (Charles) yes: but as a puncher AT lt. heavy—
    I’ll stay with Foster

  6. Ted 05:37pm, 08/18/2013

    I’d go with Ezzard Charles who also could beat Heavyweights, some Foster could never do,

  7. Don from Prov 12:23pm, 08/18/2013

    Foster was THE beast at light heavy—

    Kovalev is a puncher far different.  In fact, the whole idea is kind of interesting in that he seems “heavy-handed” but different than, say, a Foreman—not ungodly strong but he has better technique and puts punches together more economically: Some of his shots appear glancing—

    But then his opponent is wandering the ring in search of a place to fall

    P.S. Speaking of brutes—
    Ted Sares is officially the strongest old man in New Hampshire

  8. Irish Frankie Crawford Beat Saijo aka Gimpel 09:31am, 08/18/2013

    Kiko’s demolition of Romero was more emphatic….besides I’m a partisan like Roy Jones (calling good shots for Romero when he’s getting beat within an inch)....I’m partial to follicularly challenged fighters like Kiko and Kelly Pavlik!

  9. Ted 07:43am, 08/18/2013

    The fact that Kovalev has so many knockdowns affirms the fact he is NOT a one-punch KO type like GGG, Stevenson, Foster, and Hearns.

  10. Irish Frankie Crawford Beat Saijo aka Gimpel 06:52am, 08/18/2013

    I concur Doctor….Foster and Hearns were two of a kind!

  11. Matt McGrain 02:16am, 08/18/2013

    Noooooo, Bob was a sick, sick puncher.  This guy is more thudding, debilitating.  When Foster hit you you were dead, granite-chin guys were dead.  Foster was a LHW puncher so deadly that the punch resistance of the victim was of literally no consequence.

  12. Irish Frankie Crawford Beat Saijo aka Gimpel 06:50pm, 08/17/2013

    Only one question at this point….does he hit as hard as Bob Foster did?

  13. Ted 05:54pm, 08/17/2013

    The Krusher vs. Stevenson. It’s dream come true for boxing fans.

  14. Koolz 05:33pm, 08/17/2013


    and before them was Fedor(Mixed Martial Artist)
    is it a Russian thing?

    Kovalev and Golovkin both show amazing balance is that from there
    Amateur days? Notice that Kovalev knows exactly when to put his body into his punches at the exact time, it’s very natural to him he seems really realaxed.

    Wladimir is just well an amazing Athlete and boxer.

  15. Irish Frankie Crawford Beat Saijo aka Gimpel 05:33pm, 08/17/2013

    Kovalev just blew his chances of sneaking up on Hopkins….so here’s Andre Ward’s chance to make some money….he needs to jump on it! What’s a seven pound weight difference anyway in these heavier weight classes anyway….especially for the best pound for pound fighter in the world…..nothing…. other than an excuse not to fight or to bitch and whine for a catch weight.

  16. Ted 05:11pm, 08/17/2013

    Three more knockdowns in The Krusher’s astonishing number so far. Along with GGG and Lomachenko,  the Killer-Troika has arrived.

  17. Koolz 04:14pm, 08/17/2013

    and now we have the Golovkin of the LIght Heavy Division.

    But don’t think Kovalev is as talented as Golovkin because he is not.

    All Praise to Kovalev he has great boxing skills, accurate punches, great balance and nice power!

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