Light Heavyweight Unification Possibly Coming to Boxing

Photo Credit: Mathieu Belanger-Reuters

Photo Credit: Mathieu Belanger-Reuters

After a year of dominant performances from its champions, boxing’s light heavyweight division appears to be heading towards unification in 2014.

Currently, there are three light heavyweight world champions in boxing: Bernard Hopkins (IBF), Sergey Kovalev (WBO), and Adonis Stevenson (WBC). Obviously two unification bouts will be needed with three men holding titles; both could and should happen next year.

One of those unification bouts will very likely be Kovalev/Stevenson. I base that belief off of two things: they have been the two most dominant light heavyweights of 2013 and both scored knockouts back-to-back last weekend on a card in Quebec City, Quebec, Canada. The fact that both of these light heavyweight champions were booked on the same card was no coincidence.

Looking at it from a promoter’s point of view, this was simply an experiment to see if both could display the dominance they have possessed in the ring throughout 2013 and to give people the impression that these two would be battling soon by booking both on the same card instead of having each in the main-event of separate cards.

Stevenson successfully defended his title over Tony Bellew in the night’s main-event. The win moved Stevenson to 23-1 as a pro with four wins in 2013. For the record, Stevenson’s only career loss came against Darnell Boone in April 2010 with Stevenson avenging that loss via knockout in March of this year.

Stevenson approached his bout with Bellew the same as he did every bout: cautious, staying outside while loading his left for big punches usually to the body, and aiming his right hand high. Bellew seemed to feed off of this strategy early and was able to land some nice punches in the first couple of rounds, even giving Stevenson a bloody nose in round three. That in itself made this bout more competitive than Stevenson’s bout with Tavoris Cloud in September.

That bloody nose seemed to be like a bull seeing red as Stevenson got very aggressive and very punchy for the remaining two-plus minutes of the third round. Most of that time saw Bellew in retreat mode, dancing away from Stevenson around the ring while Stevenson chased and unloaded with some big punches that found their mark. Maybe he was angry about bleeding or that was simply what flipped his switch, but this bout was Stevenson’s from that moment on.

Stevenson’s big left found pay dirt around the mid-way point of round six and sent Bellew to the canvas. Shortly after the knockdown, two more big lefts from Stevenson had Bellew practically out on his feet in a corner, forcing referee Michael Griffin to stop the bout.

Bellew went to 20-2-1 with the loss.

Kovalev’s win came against Ismayl Sillakh while defending his light heavyweight title. The win kept Kovalev undefeated as a pro at 23-0-1 . More importantly, the win sent the message that Kovalev’s ability to get things done in the ring is only getting better.

Sillakh’s strategy was simple: stay away from Kovalev’s power by implementing a stick-and-move strategy. It worked pretty well in round one thanks in part to some good footwork from Sillakh. He didn’t try to box inside or get too close to Kovalev, winning the round in the process.

Unfortunately for Sillakh, once Kovalev landed something big, it was all she wrote for this bout.

Early in round two, Kovalev landed a right that caught Sillakh on the ear, compromising his equilibrium. Kovalev also landed a short left on Sillakh’s nose. The punches sent Sillakh stumbling to the canvas with his nose beginning to bleed noticeably. The moment referee Marlon Wright restarted the action following the knockdown, Kovalev charged in and blasted Sillakh with a powerful one-two combination that sent him to the canvas, stopping the bout. Kovalev even seemed to land another left for good measure as Sillakh was falling.

The loss dropped Sillakh’s record as a pro to 21-2.

Stevenson/Kovalev would be a good first unification bout because it would be the combination of light heavyweight champions that are the most similar.

For starters, both men would be worthy picks for boxer of the year in 2013. During this year, both men have won four bouts and have won all of them in dominating fashion by knockout or TKO. This also shows that both possess plenty of power and the ability to dominate and/or finish a bout quick, something that is always a big positive in the fight game.

Another element that would make this bout a good one would be the slight differences between the two inside the ring. Both of them have some swagger and insert some emotion into their bouts, but in different ways. For example, Kovalev was jawing at Sillakh after the first knockdown, moments before finishing him off. Stevenson on the other hand, was jawing, leaning in real close with his head, and doing some Muhammad Ali-like dancing during his bout with Cloud. Also, there’s Stevenson’s celebration of his title win over Chad Dawson in June, the greatest in-ring boxing celebration in years in my opinion.

Another really good reason that Stevenson/Kovalev would be a good first light heavyweight unification bout is that neither would have to face Hopkins first.

Yes, waiting in the wings after that bout–should it happen–would be boxing’s ageless wonder. Hopkins’ career over the last eight years or so has truly been something to behold. The man doesn’t seem to age, his skills don’t seem to diminish, and his in-ring intelligence seems impossible to duplicate outside of a few boxers in the whole sport. Every time Hopkins is getting ready to face a boxer much younger than him, quicker than him, and supposedly in line to take him out, Hopkins more often than not embarrasses that younger, quicker boxer. Such victims over the last decade have been Antonio Tarver, Kelly Pavlik, Jean Pascal, and Cloud.

The punching power that Stevenson and Kovalev possess would make them great opponents for Hopkins if only because they’d be the first opponents in years that have the power to knock Hopkins out with one punch. I’m not saying that would happen if either faced Hopkins, but nobody who has seen Stevenson and/or Kovalev in the ring in 2013 can deny that it’s a possibility. Stevenson would be a more appealing pairing against Hopkins because of the personalities of both men while Kovalev would be a better opponent in the boxing world simply because of the age difference with Kovalev being 18 years younger than Hopkins and six younger than Stevenson.

The year 2014 is shaping up to be one that sees the light heavyweight division fully take over as the most intriguing division in boxing. That is only if the necessary bouts are made and unification becomes a reality. Otherwise, it’ll likely be another year of Kovalev, Stevenson, and Hopkins dominating with each laying claim to boxing’s light heavyweight title.

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About The Author

Combat Sports Editor

I am an editor at Player's View as well as a contributing writer. I have been a combat sports fan for many years who has written about combat sports for almost as long. I graduated from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee in 2011 with a bachelor's degree in creative writing. I have written about pro wrestling, mixed martial arts, boxing, football, and other sports for a number of websites over the years. Such sites include Inside Fights, The Wrestling Press, The Pigskin Report, MMA 101, Boxing 101, and Total Wrestling Magazine.

  • concretejimmy

    So glad to see Dennis back.