(Ismayl Sillakh in happier times, left, Sergey Kovalev right; photo credit: Ed Mulholland, HBO)
Light heavyweight king Adonis Stevenson finished up a stellar 2013 campaign with another smashing knockout Saturday on HBO, the kind he has made routine along the way to building his case for Fighter of the Year.
But a contender for his light heavyweight throne, Sergey Kovalev, did some nasty damage of his own on the undercard. And that crown on Stevenson's head is going to lose some of the luster it only recently acquired if Stevenson avoids the man they call Krusher for very much longer.
Let's talk about the aspirant first: Ismayl Sillakh gave Kovalev some difficult with his movement, speed and counterpunching for one whole round, but in the 2nd it was "do svidaniya." The Russian sent him down with a well-timed right hand from which the bloodied Sillakh never recovered, and the two rights and glancing left that Kovalev decked him with for the second knockdown was almost academic. "Almost," because it gave Kovalev a highlight reel sequence that spun Sillakh nearly backward and left him stumbling nearly out of the ring as he crawled up to his knees. And with that, Kovalev demonstrated again, visually, what everyone already knew: He is a bad, bad man. Now, Sillakh never had a real chance in my book — Sillakh had lost by knockout to Denis Grachev, who's a fraction as bad a bad man as Kovalev. But some thought he was a live underdog, and for those who did, this was all the more impressive.
It would've been hard for Stevenson not to be upstaged by that showing. But he held his own. Against the better opponent the two KO artists would face, Stevenson didn't make such easy work of Tony Bellew. Bellew came out with a game plan based on trying to take away counterpunching opportunities for Stevenson, which sadly also meant he didn't throw many punches. It was a flawed plan, sure, yet worth a try. And it won him the 2nd round on my scorecard, as he kept his right glove up for Stevenson's big left hand and then countered with rights and lefts to the head and body. But Stevenson closed the distance in the 3rd, no longer reaching with his shots against his taller, backpedaling foe; feints and alternating jabs to the head and body helped Stevenson find a home for his mean left. Bellew had to trade a bit more in the 4th, and was doing all right with it, even seeming to score a knockdown in the eyes of some observers until replays definitively showed their feet got tangled and the blow that landed was on the back of Stevenson's head. But he went back to trying to box after that and it was no longer working.
In the 6th, Stevenson dropped Bellew with — you guessed it — a left hand, and the ref let him continue until Stevenson landed a series of lefts that robbed him of his legs and left him trapped in the corner, doomed to be hopelessly fucked up until the ref stepped in to save him, which he did with perfect timing.
So, good ending to a good year, Stevenson. Great year, even. Next year? It has to be Stevenson-Kovalev. And Stevenson made in the post-fight interview like that was the last fight on his list, talking up Carl Froch and Bernard Hopkins and asking the fans in Quebec City if that's who they wanted. They didn't back him up so much. He did say he'd be willing to fight Kovalev if HBO ponies up some big money. We'll see if they do, and should they, if Stevenson means what he says. And if Stevenson goes from a 2013 where he became the lineal champion and might have had the best year of any boxer, it would be a shame if he spent 2014 in, well, shame.