On Saturday night (March 29), Sergey Kovalev will enter the ring in Atlantic City as not just the WBO light-heavyweight title-holder, but also as the last light-heavyweight champion standing on the HBO network. This reality comes not from the power of Kovalev’s fists, but due to the current nature of “boxing politics,” which has resulted in rival Adonis Stevenson, the WBC champion, confirming this week that he’s taking his talents to the Showtime network. This is dually a good and bad predicament for the man nicknamed “The Krusher.” On one hand, Kovalev now holds the sole attention of a premium network in desperate need of a finding bankable stars to flesh out their brand. But how can Kovalev retain that network and fan attention without the elite dance partners required to make compelling fights?
Enter Cedric Agnew, a fighter whose spent much of this promotion declaring that Kovalev is an “ordinary” fighter he holds no fear of. Usually, a fighter with a 26-0 record would be a hot commodity in the sport. In Agnew’s case, the lack of credible names and recent seesawing between 6 and 12 round fights had kept him off the championship radar until now. Saturday doesn’t just represent a title opportunity, but also what would go down as an Upset of the Year pick should Agnew pull off the victory.
In this exclusive, split interview for Knockout Nation, Agnew and Kovalev give their final impressions on their bout, each other, and what the future may hold.
KO Nation: What are your impressions of Kovalev after spending an entire camp breaking down his style?
Agnew: Nothing really. Pretty much he’s just a strong guy.
KO Nation: A lot of people were impressed with his Sillakh KO. Going into your fight, he’s on a seven-fight win streak going back to 2011. What can you bring to the table to make this bout go into the late rounds?
Agnew: I feel like a lot of these guys are intimidated by this guy. They’re fighting like they’re scared of him.
KO Nation: It’s unheard of to see a fighter jump from 12 round fights back to eight and six rounders unless a bad loss occurred. What made you do this a few years back?
Agnew: The guys put in front of us basically didn’t want to fight 12 round fights. We’re always ready to go 12. We had to take what was given to us.
KO Nation: Was Kovalev your only choice?
Agnew: I was looking for anyone that had a world title. So when this fight got offered, we jumped right on it. The negotiations weren’t that difficult.
KO Nation: Considering your record, do you feel it’s justified that you’re such a massive underdog?
Agnew: Heh, not at all. There will always be naysayers as long as boxing lives on. I just don’t pay attention to them.
KO Nation: For a guy like Kovalev, is it better to test his power or simply avoid it?
Agnew: I have some Russian and American guys that can emulate his style down to a tee. We’ve had quite a few of them. From round one we’ll stick to the gameplan until the 12th round.
KO Nation: Kovalev did a lot of taunting in his fights against Cleverly and Sillakh. Has he been cocky with you outside the ring?
Agnew: We’ve always been separate except for the conference call. To each his own. Each fighter is different. People know I’m a humble guy. I don’t talk much and do all my talking in the ring.
KO Nation: For those who’ve never seen you before, what about you do you think will surprise them the most Saturday night?
KO Nation: Has it been difficult to “get up” this fight?
Kovalev: No, I don’t see this is as easy fight. Agnew is undefeated and he has big motivation because this is title fight. He wants to show…how do you say it? He wants to show what he’s made of.
KO Nation: Have you watched any footage of Agnew?
Kovalev: No, I’ve seen nothing. I don’t know nothing about his fighting style, just his record. I understand he’s a serious opponent to get to 26-0. I prepare the same. Everything same. I prepare with my style.
KO Nation: What exactly is the “beef” with Ismayl Sillakh and the reason for the taunting?
Kovalev: About me and Sillakh, it was a small war because he said a lot bad words about my fights. So he paid in the ring. Anyone who has dispute and words against me will pay in the ring.
KO Nation: Taunting is a little different from just straight trash talk…
Kovalev: Yes, I don’t mind the speaking a lot. But I’m about fighting. If you’re a man, you must speak in the fight. Anyone can talk good. Not everyone can do something good.
KO Nation: Any thoughts on Adonis Stevenson?
Kovalev: I’m sorry, I don’t want to speak about him.
KO Nation: Are you feeling the pressure to keep the KO streak alive?
Kovalev: No, I don’t feel pressure. It’s boxing; nobody knows how and who will win in ring. This is dangerous sport. People wait for the knockout in my fights, but we’ll see.
KO Nation: Can you take the punishment as good as you dish it out?
Kovalev: My chin? Yes, of course!
How has trainer John David Jackson’s influenced your style since you came to America?
Kovalev: We do a lot on the mitts. Good strategy. Everything we do is all about boxing. He helps my technique; pushes me to keep working.
KO Nation: What do you want the American audience to know most about you?
My country is nice country. Me and my people are very nice. I have nothing against any Americans. The problems between us are just the politics. Russian people work hard, the same as the Americans.
March 29 features the WBO Light Heavyweight World Title showdown between Sergey “Krusher” Kovalev (23-0-1, 21KOs) and Cedric Agnew (26-0-0, 13 KOs) from the Ballroom at Boardwalk Hall in Atlantic, City, NJ. Karim Mayfield vs. Thomas Dulorme will open the HBO Boxing After Dark telecast beginning at 10:00 P.M. ET/PT.