Pressure on Sergey Kovalev to deliver memorable KO win Saturday

Kevin Iole
Yahoo Sports

There is a number on Blake Caparello's record that should be flashing like a big red light to Sergey Kovalev.

Caparello is unbeaten, as everyone connected with Saturday's WBO light heavyweight title fight has taken great pains to point out.

A little known Australian who has never previously faced a top-10 opponent, Caparello is 19-0-1, apparently his main qualification for getting a title shot on HBO.

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But the number that really matters is six, as in the number of knockouts Caparello has had, even against the very limited opposition he has faced. It's been more than two years since he scored a knockout.

Numbers can lie, but those six knockouts in 20 fights suggest very strongly that Kovalev doesn't have to worry about wading in and getting caught with a punch that knocks him out.

That in turn dramatically increases the pressure on Kovalev, who is one of the game's hardest punchers pound-for-pound, to get in there and get rid of Caparello.

Kovalev, who holds the WBO light heavyweight belt, is still trying to build a name for himself in the U.S. and land a bout against one of the high-profile 175-pounders.

Those opponents are going to do a risk-reward calculation. They're well aware of how hard Kovalev hits and they have an idea of what to expect in terms of payday and exposure.

Sergey Kovalev reacts after knocking out Cedric Agnew in March. (AP)
Sergey Kovalev reacts after knocking out Cedric Agnew in March. (AP)

But if Kovalev manages to grab attention with a dramatic knockout and convince a skeptical audience that he's a light heavyweight version of Mike Tyson, he could yet get the super fight he desires.

It's essential for Kovalev to go out and put on a show, and it wouldn't hurt if Caparello hung around and made it competitive for a bit.

Kovalev is a whopping 12-1 favorite, but Kovalev trainer John David Jackson said Kovalev's intensity will be high.

"Blake is a decent puncher and boxer," Jackson said. "Sergey understands this. He knows we have to break down Blake slowly. He is not overlooking Blake. He trains very, very hard. I just try to prepare him so he can go on to bigger and better things.

"You can't sell Blake short. Nothing is outstanding, but he is very good at what he does. Sergey needs to cut the ring off and he has done very well against southpaws. Once Blake gets hit and feels Kovalev's power, all his game plans are going to go out the window. I don't think this is going to go 12 rounds."

Promoter Kathy Duva certainly hopes it does not. Unless it's a reincarnation of one of Matthew Saad Muhammad's classic bouts, Duva desperately needs Kovalev to come out of this with another knockout.

She praised HBO for adding the Kovalev-Caparello bout to its schedule after the debacle of trying to land a bout with WBC champion Adonis Stevenson.

Duva concedes it's hard to draw in the summer, which is why Gennady Golovkin's ratings had such a significant drop in his bout last week against Daniel Geale compared to his previous HBO fight against Curtis Stevens.

But she said that she favored keeping Kovalev as busy as possible, and potentially absorbing a low rating, rather than having him sit on the sidelines waiting for a big fight.

"It's something we wrestle with a lot," Duva said. "If we wanted to make sure we always give our fighter the highest possible ratings, we'd have him fight twice a year and certainly not in the middle of the summer in July or August. When you keep him active, there are going to be peaks and valleys in terms of the ratings, but at least he's out there, improving his game, getting in front of people and creating some buzz.

"Basically, do you want to hit a home run every time up or are you content getting a double or a triple a couple of times but staying active and remaining in front of the audience?"

She concedes, though, that Kovalev would do himself a massive favor by going in and taking care of business against Caparello. And that doesn't mean dancing his way to a one-sided decision.

Sergey Kovalev leaps over Ismayl Sillakh after knocking him out in November. (AP)
Sergey Kovalev leaps over Ismayl Sillakh after knocking him out in November. (AP)

Kovalev is a seek-and-destroy guy and he needs as many of those crushing knockouts and knockdowns on his sizzle reel as humanly possible.

It puts the pressure squarely on Kovalev to live up to his nickname, "The Krusher."

"That nickname has kind of been a blessing and a curse to him," Duva said. "He acknowledges it. We gave him that after watching him over time and saying, 'Wow, this guy really crushes the people he faces.' And he has to live up to that, whether it's a guy who comes running straight at him and wants to slug with him or whether it's a left-handed boxer like Caparello.

"I remember back when my husband [Dan Duva] was still alive and he called Pernell Whitaker to tell him about a fight we'd made. He'd had all these tough fights and Dan said, 'Pete, this isn't as much of a test and it might only go four or five rounds.' And Pete got upset and said, 'I only want to fight the best. It's hard to get up for these other guys.' And Sergey is the same way, but we have to take the fights we can get and the people who will fight him, so he does have that pressure on him."

Kovalev, much like Golovkin, is one of the hardest hitters and most exciting fighters in the world. But like Golovkin, he doesn't have a slew of classic opponents to face.

So while he waits for the two big names, Stevenson and Bernard Hopkins, who are out there, it's on him to keep racking up those highlight-reel knockouts.

And then he has to hope that enough people notice and create a public demand for the big show.

It may be the only way to get either Hopkins or Stevenson into the ring.

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