When it comes to leaving his mark on the sport over the past year, unbeaten light heavyweight titlist Sergey Kovalev has made the leap from relative unknown to one of boxing's most exciting fighters with the same sudden impact as one of his powerful right hands.
Kovalev (23-0-1, 21 KOs) not only announced himself in 2013 by scoring four knockouts and winning his first world title, he extended his record to 11-0-1 with 11 KOs over his past 12 bouts.
While the majority of fans would give just about anything for a chance to see him face division champion and fellow power puncher Adonis Stevenson in a 2014 superfight, a big hurdle remains in the way for now.
That doesn't mean Kovalev, 30, is worried. Instead, the native of Russia is focused exclusively on Saturday's title defense against fellow unbeaten Cedric Agnew (26-0, 13 KOs) at Boardwalk Hall's Adrian Phillips Ballroom in Atlantic City, N.J. (HBO, 10 p.m. ET).
Why was Agnew the right opponent for you at this point?
It's the job of my promoter. They found him and I have big respect to Cedric because he is ready to fight with me and nobody wants to fight [me]. Everybody only wants to get big money and no fight.
Which one of Agnew's strengths will you need to be most aware of in the ring on Saturday?
I'm waiting for his big maturation to get my title but I will not give him the opportunity because I want to keep my title. I like his ability to box and his zero [on his record].
Have you been working on anything new in training camp for this fight?
I do the same work that I'm doing right now because this work has given me good results. I have the WBO title. I'm doing the same thing [as always]. Little bit more people in my camp for things like massage therapy and diet, but everything is the same.
Which part of your skill set have you improved upon most in the past year?
That's not my job, you know? I'm going to the ring just for boxing. If somebody sees [improvement in] speed from me, it's OK. If someone sees a hard punch from me, it's good, too. I'm going to the ring [focused] just on boxing and to do my job. It's what I have been doing in the gym all my life.
Which one of your victories are you most proud of in terms of your performance?
The fight against [Nathan] Cleverly [in August 2013] was a very important fight in my career and in the past year because I [achieved] one of my dreams. This year I have more dreams and I'm working toward my next dream. I will show what I came to do on March 29 in Atlantic City.
How has your life changed the most since you won your first world title against Cleverly?
Life has changed to the better side. I have more responsibilities now. More hard work comes with more fame. There are more interviews now and more work. I like it and I'm happy but everybody sees the results of my job.
Are you getting sick and tired yet of being constantly asked about Adonis Stevenson?
I don't want to speak about another fight. I am focused only now on my next fight on March 29. I don't want to speak about another fight. We can speak [about Stevenson] only after this fight.
You scored four knockouts in as many fights in 2013 and quickly made a name for yourself. How many times are you planning on fighting this year?
I'm ready to fight a minimum of four fights. I would like to, but we will see what will be.
Considering Agnew is an opponent most fans haven't heard of, are you concerned at all about a potential letdown on Saturday?
I'm not worried about anything. I'm just keeping focus to my next fight and doing my workouts every day. This is what I came to do and what I want to do. I'm trying to increase my sparring so I can show it in the ring on March 29. I just keep working and you will see my results.
On a personal level, what do you do for fun outside of the ring?
Right now I'm only doing workouts and lying on my bed. When I'm not preparing for a fight, I like fishing and riding the bicycle and spending time with my family. Sometimes I am flying to Russia to visit my parents and my friends. My family is very big in Russia. Only my wife is with me [in the U.S.]. I spend some fun time [with family], but that time is very short because if I want to fight four or five times this year, there is less time for this. Maybe two weeks and no more and again start more workouts.
Just two of your 24 professional fights have taken place in front of your home fans in Russia. How important is it for you to fight there again?
Yes, of course, I would like to fight in Russia [again] because a lot of my fans have asked me when I will. I have a lot of fans over there. Also, I want to show to my family my life of boxing. Not just like on TV. Right now my mom can't get a visa to watch me fight.
What would be the perfect ending for you in Saturday's fight with Agnew?
I don't like to say predictions but I can say only one thing: The fight will be interesting ... you will see good action.