ATLANTIC CITY, N.J. -- Light heavyweight titleholder Sergey Kovalev -- nicknamed "Krusher" -- did just that to overmatched challenger Cedric Agnew.
Kovalev knocked him down three times, including a fight-finishing left hand to the body, en route to a one-sided seventh-round knockout as he retained the title for the second time on Saturday night at the Adrian Phillips Ballroom at Boardwalk Hall.
It was an impressive display from Kovalev, even though he suffered cuts around both eyes and was forced to go past the fourth round for the first time in seven fights.
It would have been understandable had Kovalev been a bit distracted coming into the fight. A win was supposed to propel Kovalev into a fall fight with 175-pound champion Adonis Stevenson, as long as Stevenson took care of his own defense against Andrzej Fonfara on March 24. However, a few days before facing Agnew, the Stevenson-Kovalev fight disintegrated when Stevenson, whose team had already agreed a multi-fight deal with HBO, although it was unsigned, backed out and instead accepted a deal from rival Showtime.
Kovalev was asked about Stevenson repeatedly going into the Agnew fight and then about Stevenson backing out of their showdown. He declined to talk about Stevenson beforehand but then let him have it after drilling Agnew.
"I don't want to speak on Adonis Stevenson," said Kovalev, who then did just that. "Adonis Stevenson is a piece of s---. Oh, sorry for my English.
"He ran from me. I don't worry. I will have another opponent. I didn't think about Adonis at all."
Whatever went down with the Stevenson deal, Kovalev (24-0-1, 22 KOs), 30, who is from Russia but lives in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., didn't appear to let it bother him. He destroyed Agnew before a near-sellout crowd of 2,416.
Main Events promoter Kathy Duva, however, was a bit worried going into Saturday's fight.
"I was very concerned that Sergey would be emotionally let down," Duva said. "I think he was a little emotionally let down but he made up for it. It's impossible not to have any kind of human reaction to what happened with Stevenson. I think that Sergey had incredible pressure on him this week with all the stuff about Stevenson that was circulating around him and everyone talking about it instead of the fight [with Agnew].
"But he came in and did the job and won every round. The other kid [Agnew] was tough as nails, too tough. He kept trying and gave it his best."
Kovalev pressed forward from the outset. He landed some hard body shots and jabs in the first round, while Agnew was warned for a bad low blow in the final seconds of the round.
Agnew was not throwing many punches, instead standing with a high guard and sometimes inching forward while Kovalev was on the attack. In the finals seconds of the second round, he dropped the hammer, cracking Agnew with a clean left hook that sent him sprawling to the mat. He barely beat the count and the round ended.
Kovalev continued to pound Agnew in the third round. While Agnew would stare at him with those hands held high, Kovalev was coming forward and landing shots with both hands to the head and body as Agnew tried to hold on for dear life, at one point falling to the mat as Kovalev tried to get out of a clinch.
Kovalev suffered a gash by his right eye in the fourth round, which referee Samuel Viruet ruled was from a punch, although television replays showed the wound was clearly caused by an accidental clash of heads.
Kovalev dropped Agnew (26-1, 13 KOs), a 27-year-old from Chicago, for the second time in the sixth round, landing a hard left hand to the body followed by a left hook to the head. Kovalev, although suffering a second cut in the round, continued to destroy Agnew after the fight resumed. He was landing body shots and uppercuts while Viruet was looking closely against a near-defenseless Agnew.
"It was difficult fight tonight because I got the two cuts," Kovalev said. "One from his head and one from his elbow. I found the key -- the left to the body. This is very good for me. I was ready for 12 rounds. He is not a fighter, he is just a boxer. I tried to box with him. I found the key to the body. I found this open place in his defense and my last punch was harder."
In the seventh round, Kovalev finished Agnew, dropping him to a knee with a left hand to body and Viruet counted him out 58 seconds into the round. Agnew's promoter, Malcolm Garrett, suspected that Agnew had suffered a broken rib and a broken nose. Ringside doctors attended to him for several minutes after the fight.
"I saw he felt my punches but I took my time," Kovalev said. "My plan was 10 rounds. It's my job. He has uncomfortable style to fight and he is not stupid."
Because Kovalev suffered the cuts around his eyes, a potential May showcase fight in his native Russia will be scrapped, Duva said. She had planned to take him there for a fight outside of his HBO contract.
"We were planning to take him to Russia in May but with those cuts he can't fight in two months," Duva said. "So we're going to have to see what's next. Maybe we'll go there in the summer, maybe fight here [in Atlantic City] again. I really believe someday Sergey will be able to fill up the [main arena at] Boardwalk Hall."
Kovalev, insisting that he was unmoved by Stevenson's decision not to fight him, said he was open for whatever Duva had in mind.
"It's not my job. I am ready for anything. It's up to my team, Main events and Kathy Duva," he said. "I will fight any champion in my division. I want to get another title. I am ready for anyone. I will be great boxer. I don't want an easy fight. Only tough fights."
Asked what message he wanted to send to the rest of the fighters in the light heavyweight division, he smiled and said, "I'm here. Get in shape."