It’s easy to get cynical when you’ve been watching boxing for a few decades. Average fighters are guided into title fights because they sell tickets, while talented kids get stuck on the small hall circuit because they don’t. At the elite level, the scene remains a deteriorating mess of belts and acronyms with no end in sight to the nonsense. There are guys ranked in top-tens who shouldn’t be anywhere near them and even world champions whose world-class credentials are incredibly weak. All this creates a fog in which true boxing excellence is often obscured. It is therefore deeply exciting when it does manage to reveal itself.
As has been made clear in the past, Turley on Tuesday doesn’t bother much with pound for pound lists. They are works of pure whimsy and I’ve always felt that life is way too short. Hey, shall we analyse all the variables and argue for hours about whether Wlad Klitschko is better than Danny Garcia? Err, no, let’s not.
Yet every now and then fighters come along who clearly mark themselves out as a cut above. Within their own division they dominate to a point where it is difficult to imagine them losing. At the moment we are fortunate enough to witness four such titans in action. They are not necessarily the most marketable, the loudest or the wealthiest, but they are patently the best at boxing. They are; Roman Gonzalez (flyweight), Guillermo Rigondeaux (super-bantam), Gennady Golovkin (middleweight) and the current WBA, IBF and WBO Light Heavyweight champ Sergey Kovalev.
This majestic quartet have a crucial role to play in the revival of the fight game, if it is to be an authentic revival rather than a cleverly packaged blip. We need real, genuine stars, not manufactured, well managed media creations. Press conferences and promo videos might have a part to play, kids enjoy them if nothing else, but it is a self-evident truth that the sport needs excellent fighters. What happens in the ring is and will always be the most important thing. Without that, the hype is empty.
Sergey Kovalev’s ascent to the summit of the Light Heavyweight rankings, where he has set up camp and looks likely to remain for a while, continues to be one of the most vivid pro journeys of recent times. On Saturday night he forced iron chinned Jean Pascal to retire, having now stopped the previously unstoppable Canadian twice in two meetings. For all seven rounds the fight lasted Krusher continued to show what he always shown – that a smooth and professional grasp of boxing fundamentals, allied to one exceptional ability – can be enough to conquer the world.
Kovalev is not a slickster like Mayweather or Rigondeaux. Despite that he rarely gets hit clean. He doesn’t have blurring hand speed like Amir Khan or Gonzalez, but still has no trouble finding the target. Most refreshingly, he did not arrive at the peak of the world through social media nonsense and careful matchmaking. Kovalev, like the other three members of the fab four, is a purist’s fighter. A no-nonsense throwback to simpler days.
The Florida based Russian has a lovely, relaxed style and a confident mastery of footwork and ringcraft. He controls the distance superbly and never looks flustered. To those who deride him as a simple slugger, a question must be posed. Have you ever seen him off balance?
Watch too, as his opponents try to launch attacks, how he uses deft moves of the head and upper body or flicks of his forearms to slip, ride, deflect, block and catch their shots. Defence does not have to be about shoulder-rolls, jitterbug feet and a snake-like waist. There is a beautiful, malevolent economy of effort in the Krusher’s work.
Years ago, before Money May started doing million-mile-an-hour padwork and everyone and their mother decided to copy it, it used to be said that the art of boxing was about ‘ME, ME’. In other words, minimum effort, maximum effect. Sergey epitomises this. He never wastes energy on pointless bouncing around, manic movement or windmilling. Everything is channelled towards the goal of victory. This is how he remains so fresh into the middle and late rounds, while his opponents wilt.
Of course none of the above, impressive though it may be, would be enough alone to create a world-class fighter, but Krusher has devised this efficient style for one purpose – to engineer openings through which to use his one, awesome, natural gift.
Some humans are born to paint, others to write or devise equations. Sergey Kovalev was put on this earth to knock men senseless with his fists. You cannot teach a shark to hunt or a tornado to wreck a town and Krusher has that same kind of primeval power – the kind that is born, not learned.
It isn’t generated through wildness or ferocity. He doesn’t swing like Wilder or club with huge weight like Lucas Browne. He has a long, rangy frame and his punching is textbook-perfect. Straight shots come from the shoulder, elbow turned over. The hips are in everything. He often doesn’t look as if he is even trying to use all his strength, but his blows leave opponents in all sorts of trouble. In 2011 he battered tragic Roman Simakov into a coma from which he never recovered.
Allied to the fluid simplicity of his boxing, the key for Krusher is timing. His unpanicked demeanour means he consistently delivers both his front-foot punches and counters with split second precision. This is the science of boxing. And it is compelling to behold.
There is talk of him fighting Andre Ward, an excellent technician himself but who would struggle to contain the sheer violence of Kovalev at 175lbs. Some even agitate for a meeting with Golovkin, based on spurious stories of what may or may not have happened in sparring. It is not a fight I am keen to see. Both are exceptional talents in their own divisions. The Kazakh is not a big middleweight however and there is surely no sense in him jumping two weight classes to fight at light-heavy. He would be giving too much away and would likely lose on size.
Instead of dreaming up fanciful catchweights, boxing politics needs to sort itself out and make the Stevenson unification, which Krusher would comfortably win, then allow the 32-year-old to rule the Light Heavyweights for as long as he can, until he either ages sufficiently or new talent emerges that means he can be eclipsed. Never mind 24/7 and The gloves are off, that is how boxing should work. It always used to.
Krusher Kovalev, Chocolito Gonzalez, El Chacal Rigondeaux and GGG. No bullshit needed. These are the men to save the soul of the fight game.
My last book ‘Journeymen, the other side of the boxing business’ has been longlisted for the William Hill Sports book of the year award and named one of the sports books of the year by The Guardian. It is still available from all usual outlets.