I remember the first time I saw Sergey Kovalev fight. It was a Friday night and I was in the stands of a Connecticut casino with my father. No one knew who the Russian brawler was at the time, but those who watched Kovalev that night saw a fighter who possessed a strange combination of skill and punching power.
For here was a light heavyweight who hit like a fan favorite, but who also employed patience. Kovalev was more exciting than, say, Wladimir Klitschko, that most deliberate of knockout artists, yet no one would confuse him with a wild slugger. Here, in fact, was someone who had a whole lot going for him, a boxer whose nuance could please the purists and whose sheer destructiveness could please the red meat crowd.
Walking out of the arena that night, I was indeed impressed.
And I've stayed impressed. Scratch that, I've become even more impressed since that time. For Kovalev hasn't exploded through the ranks like some might have you believe. He's carefully risen through them, fighting opponents of various styles along the way.
Take Cedric Agnew, for instance. He was an unknown commodity when he faced Kovalev last year, but the few who knew of the man assured me that he was an extremely serious fighter of considerable ability. What's more, Agnew proved to be just that - a challenging opponent. Watch the Kovalev-Agnew fight if you don't believe me. Kovalev has to make adjustments before finishing his man off.
What's telling, though is that Kovalev made those adjustments without growing frustrated or falling apart. With the help of his masterful trainer, John David Jackson, Kovalev has developed well beyond being a one trick pony.
That's why Kovelev was able to handily beat the masterful Bernard Hopkins, because he had enough experience under his belt to rise to he occasion. Oh, his natural talent helped, sure, but boxing is littered with natural talents who can't get beyond the A-minus level. Kovalev clearly wants to stand atop boxing's Mount Olympus with that handful of others who prop themselves high above the norm.
And he's willing to put in the hard work to get there. That's why Kovalev will be facing Jean Pascal this month. Because in order to be the best, you have to beat the best. Kovalev is willing to put himself out there time and time again. Money is important, sure, but you get the distinct feeling Kovalev would rather get the big wins than have the easygoing, lucrative career Adonis Stevenson has had of late.
For Kovalev has been earning accolades while Stevenson has been earning eye rolls. Stevenson may indeed be cashing in now, but which fighter do you think represents the best long term investment? There tends to be a whole lot of money at the top of the heap, after all. You just have to work your way through some serious challenges to get there.
And challenges are something the guy who calls himself "Krusher" seems to relish.