Round one started at a fast pace. Cleverly opened with his jab, firing it in multiples while rocking back and forth awkwardly on his toes behind a high shell guard. Kovalev used his hard jab right down the middle with aplomb. Cleverly used his high guard as a shield in order to keep the fight at mid-range rather than make the older Kovalev miss and tire out over the long haul. That strategic choice would prove costly as Kovalev found the range, hammered the guard and punctuated most attacks with a hard left to the body on the oft-stationary Cleverly. By the middle of the first, Kovalev had seized control of the fight with Cleverly offering offense in spurts. Cleverly also displayed down the stretch of the first the posture that would get him hurt and stopped later in the fight. In a crouch, he would lean over at the waist, legs wide apart and leave himself open to shots from underneath or to the top of the head in this posture.
Cleverly seemed a bit tentative with his punches in the second round; jabbing but not shooting through the target. Rather, he would punch and pull back or he’d throw and shell up immediately. Cleverly stayed in close with his high guard, following, jabbing and taking the same kind of punishment from Kovalev as in the first. Kovalev, light on his feet throughout, stayed consistent. Hard jab and right hand into the guard, uppercut to the gut or left hook to the ribcage, rinse, repeat.
A cut over Kovalev’s right eye received in the second round was only a factor in that Kovalev started the third round hot. He punched a right into the guard of Cleverly and then ripped into the space underneath his ribs with a left hook. He ripped two more in succession up Cleverly body and kept the pressure on. Cleverly bulled into him and they were separated. Kovalev bided his time behind the ever present hard jab to the head and gut. Kovalev’s offense was a study in calm, cool, economically sound violence.
Cleverly tried some feints in the third but he hadn’t landed anything of note thus far and so he hadn’t earned any respect. Kovalev moved with him and jabbed instead of falling for feints. Cleverly landed a left hook with little more than a minute to go in the third and it got Kovalev’s attention. Standing off to Cleverly’s left at the perfect angle, he unleashed a hard jab and right hand that briefly folded Cleverly’s head onto his shoulder. His legs buckled and his gloves moved to catch his fall but Cleverly steadied himself and backed up. Unfortunately, Sergey Kovalev was still in front of him when he did. Left hooks and right hands hammered in as Cleverly moved to the ropes; he teetered to his right in that foreshadowed crouch and Kovalev helped him down with a whacking right hand.
The young man rose bravely but the end was near. Kovalev moved in and battered Cleverly once again as he fell to the canvas on his knees. As he did, Cleverly took a blow to the head that could have been grounds for disqualification. But referee Terry O’Connor ignored the infraction and Cleverly set about surviving the rest of the round on unsteady legs. There was only 15 seconds left in the round when Cleverly was met center ring by a left to the body from Kovalev and he fell again. The ref missed that, too. As the bell neared, O’Connor stepped near the men to break them, his arms upraised. Which was perfect because he easily transitioned to helping Cleverly to his corner.
The young man’s team feverishly worked to awaken the young man, shouting instructions and words of encouragement. He nodded his head in reassurance to them that he had this. But he didn’t.
Kovalev bounced into range to start the fourth and let the combinations fly behind his hair trigger hammer of a jab. At :29 of the fourth, O’Connor finally had seen enough and called a halt to the action. The silence was deafening.
Main Events’ CEO Kathy Duva leaped into the ring and hugged her fighter who celebrated with his trainer, John David Jackson and manager Egil Klimas. With the win, newly crowned WBO light heavyweight champion Sergey Kovalev has announced his arrival to the upper echelons of the light heavyweight division; a welcome, all-action addition to a division that is heating up.