This weekend in Las Vegas, Sergey Kovalev looks to even the score with Andre Ward in a rematch of their razor-close bout from last November. The winner will reign as the sport’s top pound-for-pound fighter.
Forget Mayweather vs. McGregor–that’s a clown show. Forget Canelo vs. GGG–that’s a very important fight, but not at the level of this one. For the second year in a row, Kovalev vs. Ward will be boxing’s most important fight.
Kovalev’s spot in this highlights the continuing dominance of fighters from the former Soviet Bloc (Golovkin is part of the same movement). From Vasyl Lomachenko at super featherweight to Oleksandr Usyk at cruiserweight, Eastern European and Central Asian fighters are now everywhere in the rankings.
In no division is this more true than light heavyweight. Fighters from countries in the former Soviet Union dominate at 175 pounds. In addition to Kovalev, there is former Russian Olympian Artur Beterbiev, now 11-0 with 11 KOs. Ukraine’s Oleksandr Gvozdyk is 13-0 with 11 KOs. Both men are clearly in the division’s top 10.
Another member of this group has a showcase Saturday night on the Kovalev-Ward undercard, as undefeated Dmitry Bivol of Kyrgyzstan faces twice-beated Cedric Agnew.
Bivol was a two-time gold medalist at the World Cadet Games and a Russian national champion in the amateur ranks. But at 26, he is making his big move in the professional ranks at a younger age than Kovalev, Beterbiev and Gvozdyk.
So far he is 10-0 with 8 KOs. His best win to date was over Samuel Clarkson, who previously defeated Agnew by Split Decision in February 2015. Bivol jumped all over Clarkson last April, knocking him down twice in Round 1 and stopping him midway through the fourth.
Agnew is a good defensive fighter–he was able to stay away from Kovalev for six rounds in 2014. So he will be an interesting test for Bivol, who is positioned to emerge in the next couple of years as yet another light heavyweight star.