Light heavyweight titleholder Sergey Kovalev is a punching machine, one of boxing's biggest hitters and most explosive performers who has not allowed an opponent to survive through four rounds in six consecutive fights.
Many expect him to have another quick night of work when he makes his second title defense against little-known Cedric Agnew on Saturday night (HBO, 10 ET/PT) at the Adrian Phillips Ballroom at Boardwalk Hall in Atlantic City, N.J.
The plan devised by Kovalev promoter Main Events and HBO was showcase Kovalev against the light-hitting Agnew, and then promoter Yvon Michel and the network would do the same with light heavyweight champion Adonis Stevenson's defense against Andrzej Fonfara on May 24 in Montreal.
With victories, Stevenson, who is also a brutal puncher and knockout artist, and Kovalev would then fight each other for division supremacy in the fall in one of the most anticipated fights in boxing. It would be the culmination of what began in November when Kovalev fought on a Stevenson undercard and they both scored big knockouts in title defenses.
But after what happened earlier this week the Stevenson-Kovalev fight is as dead as a Floyd Mayweather Jr.-Manny Pacquiao showdown is at this point. Stevenson, adviser Al Haymon and Michel tried to get more money from HBO after the deal had been agreed to and, when the network wouldn't give in, reneged and accepted an offer from rival network Showtime.
Even with Stevenson out of the picture there is still the matter of Kovalev's fight with Agnew, a showcase fight but now one with no payoff bout in the pipeline.
"Now we are stuck with what we've got and we have to move forward," Main Events chief executive Kathy Duva said. "Al Haymon is the guy who makes it so people don't get the fights they want to see, but I expect Sergey to deal with it, to deal with the disappointment of not getting the fight with Stevenson. But even if it's an emotional letdown, he still has his fight with Agnew on Saturday. Agnew will come to fight. Sergey is a pro and he will act like one even if this situation is very disappointing.
"He has a multi-fight deal with HBO. Sergey, [manager] Egis [Klimas] and I met with [HBO Sports president] Ken Hershman and he assured us that HBO is behind Sergey 100 percent. Sergey will have a long and successful career with the company [HBO] that built every big star in boxing and I expect that this will look like a bump in the road when all is said and done. For now, Sergey's focus is on Cedric Agnew who, unlike Adonis Stevenson, is not afraid to fight him."
In the co-feature, junior welterweights Thomas Dulorme (20-1, 14 KOs), 24, of Puerto Rico and Karim Mayfield (18-0-1, 11 KOs), 33, of San Francisco square off in a scheduled 10-round bout that could propel the winner into a June 14 shot against titleholder Ruslan Provodnikov.
Kovalev (23-0-1, 21 KOs), 30, who is from Russia but lives in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., and has fought almost all of his fights in the United States, said many times that he wanted to fight Stevenson, but he didn't have much say about being left at the altar.
"I never go into the ring thinking about someone else," Kovalev said. "I want to say good luck to Adonis in his career but someday he will meet my punch. We will talk about it after the fight."
Duva is happy to hear that from Kovalev.
"I keep warning Sergey that he needs to concentrate long and hard about the guy in front of him and not think about stuff down the road," she said. "We have seen the way Adonis has responded every time Sergey's name has been mentioned to him, stuttering and he doesn't want to talk about it. It is quite obvious that there was one thing left to do for him to get out of this fight and that was to sign with the guy [Haymon] that was well-known for making sure the public never gets to see the fights they want to see. Nobody was surprised when the news came out that he had found new management after a multimillion-dollar deal had been made on his behalf. He just doesn't want to fight Sergey. He's running.
"For them to run from this is disheartening and a sign that clearly Adonis Stevenson is scared to death to fight Sergey Kovalev. As well he should be. In the light heavyweight division Sergey is the best fighter in the world. I think we have to give Cedric some respect because he is coming in with such conviction and an undefeated record, which was one of the reasons he was chosen as an opponent. It is always difficult to find opponents for Sergey but Cedric was willing to fight him without hesitation. We have a young man here who clearly has no fear. We don't overlook anybody."
Agnew (26-0, 13 KOs), a 27-year-old from Chicago, is not a well-known contender but owns wins against former title challenger Yusaf Mack, Daniel Judah and Otis Griffin, experienced second-tier opponents.
While few fighters seek out Kovalev as an opponent, Agnew asked for this fight. Repeatedly. His promoter, Malcolm Garrett, sees that as a positive sign.
"I have learned when you have to convince a fighter to take a fight you are already in trouble," Garrett said. "I was encouraged when Cedric took the fight without an ounce of hesitation. He wants this fight and he knows he's ready.
"We are ecstatic to be fighting on HBO. This is what we have been working towards for a long time. This is like a dream come true for him. This is a fight this kid wanted. This is a fight he plans to win. We are glad that everyone in the media, and hopefully Kovalev, has overlooked him. I know Cedric can't wait for the fight to begin. Cedric has trained hard and is the hardest-working fighter I have ever worked with."
Agnew brushed off the notion many hold that Kovalev will walk through him.
"I am ready to go out there and show the world what I am capable of and show the naysayers what I am capable of," Agnew said. "There are always going to be naysayers out there and people who overlook me. I say nothing to them and I will keep doing what I am doing. Saturday, I need to fight smart and always be the smartest fighter in the ring. Sergey is a pretty good fighter. He is a tough guy. He is a world champion. He earned that spot. Come Saturday night I will earn mine."
Whether Stevenson was still in the picture for the fall or not, Kovalev knows he must win Saturday to keep his momentum as one of boxing's hottest fighters going.
"I don't have any predictions for this fight. He is an undefeated guy and so am I. He has big motivation," Kovalev said. "He is on HBO and it is a title fight. I am going to do my job. Short fights are the result of my job and my work in the gym. I am only boxing. I go into the ring to show good boxing. I want to show the people what they want to see in the ring from me."
That means a knockout, and he usually delivers.