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Sergey Kovalev Nominated as New “Baddest Man on the Planet”

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ATLANTIC CITY, N.J. – Evil Empire? What Evil Empire?

Not only are the Russians coming, they’re already here. This might come as a surprise to those who remember then-President Ronald Reagan’s description of the “Red Menace” that Americans had to be prepared to combat, but the Russkies are increasingly popular in the United States and Canada … just about everywere, in fact, where fight fans attach higher importance to a boxer’s excitement quotient than his originating country.

WBO light heavyweight champion Sergey “Krusher” Kovalev (23-0-1, 21 KOs) met with the media here Saturday afternoon, a few hours before the HBO-televised tripleheader headlined by a title defense by WBA/WBO super bantamweight champion Guillermo Rigondeaux against Joseph Agbeko, and he stood as living proof that, well, the Cold War – at least in the ring – has thawed considerably.

A little more than a year ago, the now-30-year-old Kovalev was a free agent whose manager, Egis Klimas, was pitching his guy to any American promoter who would listen. Most of them said thanks, but no thanks.

And now? Kovalev, if not the very hottest property in the fight game, is raising his personal heat index with each spectacular knockout. On Nov. 30, he needed less than a minute into round two to bomb out challenger Ismayl Sillakh in Le Colisee de Quebec in Quebec City. The other 175-pound titlist fighting that night, WBC champ Adonis “Superman” Stevenson (23-1, 20 KOs), didn’t work quite that quickly, taking Tony Bellew into the sixth round before taking out the Englishman.

Amazing, isn’t it, that the fight everyone now wants to see is something hardly anyone knew they would want to see 17 months ago, when Kovalev was a virtual unknown, at least on this side of the Atlantic Ocean.

Clearly, power-punching guys are easy sells. If there is anything that seems absolutely certain, it is that a slugfest between Kovalev and Stevenson, if and when it occurs, will not go the distance.

Until that happens, we will have to settle for the standard war of words. Stevenson has said his preference is that his next opponent be nearly-49-year-old Bernard Hopkins (54-6-2, 32 KOs), the IBF light heavyweight champ, or England’s Carl Froch (32-2, 23 KOs), who would be moving up from super middleweight.

“They don’t seem too interested (in fighting Kovalev just yet),” Main Events president Kathy Duva, Kovalev’s American promoter, said of her inquiries to Stevenson’s promoter, Yvon Michel. “I spoke to Yvon a couple of days before the fights in Quebec. But once Sergey’s fight was over, I tried to speak to him again and I couldn’t get him to talk to me. I kind of took that as a sign that he has other plans for Stevenson.”

Klimas said he thinks he knows the reason why Team Stevenson is looking elsewhere.

“For Stevenson, we are changing Sergey’s nickname. He’s not going to be `Krusher’ Kovalev. He is going to be `Kryptonite’ Kovalev. Kryptonite brings down Superman, yes?”

Entering the last few weeks of 2013, both Kovalev – a resident of Fort Lauderdale, Fla., by way of his native Chelyabinsk, Russia — and Stevenson, a native of Port-au-Prince, Haiti, who now calls Longueuli, Quebec, home, are strong candidates for Fighter of the Year. Each has been exceptionally busy for world-class fighters, logging four bouts apiece, totaling eight KOs between them.

“It’s not just that Sergey wins; it’s the way he wins,” Duva said of the new lead pony in her promotional stable. “It’s just so compelling. You can’t look away. And Stevenson is like that, too.

“Everybody wants to see that fight. I can’t believe that if you saw the two of them fight separately last week, you wouldn’t want to see them fight each other. But who knows when it will happen, or even if it will happen. That fight might be worth more later, I don’t know. My fear is that we have captured lightning in a bottle and if we don’t make that fight soon, it might not ever happen.”

To understand just how far and how fast Kovalev has come, you have to go back at least to June 2012 or, if you really want to be precise, to late 1989, when the first wave of fighters from the old Soviet Union came to America to the kind of hostility generally reserved for hated enemies of Our Way of Life.

A California-based promoter, Lou Falcigno, brought over the first wave of Russian fighters – lightweight Sergei Artemiev, middleweight Viktor Egorov and heavyweight Yuri Vaulin — to the U.S. in December 1989. Their ring appearances in this country were greeted with chants of “USA! USA!” and undisguised animosity.

Vaulin (as a cruiserweight) and Artemiev, who was forced to retire after suffering a brain bleed in his final fight against Carl Griffith, each fought and lost in bids for USBA championships, but they never came close to making the sort of impact here and around the world that Kovalev, junior welterweight Ruslan Provodnikov (Siberia) and middleweight Gennady Golovkin (Kazakhstan) are making now.

“Five years ago, when we started with Tomasz Adamek (of Poland), we were told that an Eastern European could never be successful in America,” Duva said. “That’s one of the reasons you never saw anyone from that part of the world fight on HBO, or hardly ever. If one of those guys did fight here, it was as the opponent. They weren’t the one being built up.

“Now the perception has changed dramatically. It’s not about your ethnicity; it’s about how much excitement you generate. If you’re exciting – and Sergey is definitely exciting – none of that other stuff matters. We live in a different world now.”

Kovalev, for sure, didn’t get any big build-up. He was being offered around by Klimas, whose entreaties were mostly met with disinterest.

“Egis had literally brought Sergey to every promoter in the United States and been turned down,” Duva recalled. “He met with us one day and said, `I have this light heavyweight. All I ask you is to put him in a fight, with anybody you want. If you don’t like when it’s done, we won’t bother you again.’”

Duva figured, what the hell. She put Kovalev in against an opponent, Darnell Boone, he’d struggled with nearly two years earlier in winning an eight-round split decision. This time, Kovalev destroyed Boone in two rounds.

“We don’t often see Russell (veteran promoter J Russell Peltz, who serves as matchmaker for NBC SportsNet’s fight series) get excited, but he came tearing across the arena, ran up to me and said, `Who is that guy? He’s amazing!’”

With each emphatic knockout registered by Kovalev, Provodnikov and Golovkin, another brick gets chipped out of what remains of the wall that once separated these United States from the erstwhile Evil Empire.

“Sergey appeals to everybody,” Duva said. “He transcends nationality. He’s so warm, so approachable. He’s not anything like Ivan Drago (the remorseless Soviet heavyweight portrayed by Dolph Lundgren in 1985’s Rocky IV). Until the bell rings, that is. Then he becomes Drago.”

We now open our arms to the Dragos, just as we opened them to homegrown fighters and those from other countries that bring some needed buzz to a sport that cherishes punching power regardless of what flag the big hitter is flying.

“At the postfight press conference after one of his fights, a reporter asked a question about what Sergey had said to the guy after he knocked him down. He said, `What did you want him to do at that point? Did you want (the referee to step in and end) the fight? Sergey said, `No, I wanted him to get up so I could hit him again.’

“Roberto Duran was like that. Mike Tyson was like that. There are few guys who you could call the baddest man on the planet. I can’t think of anyone since Tyson that you could give that moniker to, but Sergey just might be that guy.”

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Fast Results From London: Joshua Takes Out Povetkin in the 7th

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UK sporting

It was a very wet night at Wembley Stadium, but the dampness didn’t diminish the enthusiasm of the crowd which welcomed UK sporting hero Anthony Joshua into the ring with a thunderous ovation. And Joshua didn’t disappoint. After six relatively even rounds, he found his range in the seventh and became the first man to stop Alexander Povetkin. A three punch combo that began with an overhand right sent Povetkin sprawling into the ropes. The Russian beat the count, but Joshua smelled blood and as soon as the ref allowed the proceedings to continue he moved in for the kill. The official time was 1:59.

Povetkin started fast and in the eyes of many observers won the first three rounds. A sharp right hand in the waning seconds of round one reddened Joshua’s nose which leaked blood in the next round. The tide began to turn in round four when Povetkin suffered a cut above his left eye.

Povetkin (now 34-2), was the lighter man by 23 pounds. Joshua had a four inch height advantage and a seven inch reach advantage. And it mattered greatly that AJ was the younger man by 10-plus years. Povetkin wasn’t intimidated by Joshua and had several good moments but, at age 39, his reflexes betrayed him once the fight had crossed the midpoint.

Joshua, who owns three of the four meaningful heavyweight title belts, improved to 22-0 with his 21st stoppage. His next fight is penciled in for April 13 of next year against an opponent to be determined. His promoter Eddie Hearn has reserved that date at Wembley Stadium.

Other Bouts

In a 12-round lightweight bout, Joshua’s Olympic Games teammate and fellow gold medalist Luke Campbell (19-2) avenged the first loss of his career with a unanimous decision (119-109, 118-111,116-112) over France’s Yvan Mendy (40-5-1). This was Campbell’s second start since coming up short in a bid for Jorge Linares’s lightweight title and his first fight under his new trainer Shane McGuigan.

In their first meeting in December of 2015 at London’s O2 Arena, Mendy won a split decision that should have been unanimous. Campbell insisted that he had improved greatly in the interim and tonight’s fight bore witness. However, he needs to develop a harder punch to rank among the top lightweights in the world, a list headed by Mikey Garcia. As this fight was framed as a WBC title eliminator, Campbell is next in line to meet Garcia, but Mikey has indicated that he will pursue bigger game.

Lawrence Okolie, a 2016 Olympian who trains with Anthony Joshua, won a Lonsdale belt in only his 10th pro start with a 12-round decision over defending BBBofC cruiserweight champion Matty Askin in a messy fight. The undefeated Okolie had a point deducted in round five for leading with his head and had two more points deducted for holding, but banked enough rounds to get the nod on all three cards: 116-110, 114-112, and 114-113. Askin, who declined to 23-4-1, had won five straight heading in.

A 10-round heavyweight match between Sergey Kuzmin (13-0, 1 NC) and David Price (22-6) ended suddenly when Price retired on his stool after four relatively even rounds. The six-foot-eight, china-chinned Price claimed to have aggravated a biceps tear.

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Michael Dutchover Remains Undefeated in Ontario, Calif.

Transplanted Texan Michael Dutchover needed a little time to figure out Costa Rican Bergman Aguilar but when he did it was over quickly on Friday.

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Michael Dutchover

ONTARIO-Calif.-Transplanted Texan Michael Dutchover needed a little time to figure out Costa Rican Bergman Aguilar but when he did it was over quickly on Friday.

Lightweight prospect Dutchover (11-0, 8 KOs) knocked out southpaw Aguilera (14-4-1, 4 KOs) in the fifth round with a barrage of body blows that left the Costa Rican limp at the Doubletree Hotel.

For two rounds Aguilar used an awkward counter-punching style that had Dutchover a little tentative. But once he figured out that combination punching was the key, he opened up with barrages and floored Aguilar with body shots at the end of round four.

That signaled doom for Aguilar.

The fifth round saw Dutchover target the body with impunity as Aguilar tried holding, running and covering up with no success. Referee Wayne Hedgepeth signaled the fight over at 2:31 of the fifth round giving Dutchover the win by knockout.

In a bantamweight clash Santa Ana’s Mario Hernandez (7-0-1, 3 KOs) and Mexico City’s Ivan Gonzalez (4-1-2, 1 KO) fought to a majority draw after six back and forth rounds.

Hernandez targeted the body against the taller Gonzalez who relied on long range counters. Both found success but neither could prove superiority after six turbulent rounds.

After six rounds one judge saw it 58-56 for Gonzalez but the two other judges saw it 57-57 for a majority draw.

Other bouts

South Central L.A.’s Ruben Torres (7-0, 6 KOs) extended his undefeated streak with a knockout over Mexico’s Eder “El Koreano” Amaro (6-6, 2 KOs) in a lightweight fight. But it wasn’t easy.

Amaro switched from southpaw to orthodox and was matching Torres for two rounds until the taller local fighter began blasting away to the body and head with precision. Many in the crowd cheered “Koreano” in unison but it couldn’t help once Torres zeroed in.

At the end of the fourth round Amaro could not continue and the fight was stopped giving a knockout for Torres.

Richard Brewart Jr. (2-0) mowed through Edward Aceves (0-5) flooring him with body shots in the first round then overwhelming him in the second. After seven unanswered blows referee Eddie Hernandez stopped the fight at 1:32 of round two giving Rancho Cucamonga’s Brewart the win by knockout in the super welterweight bout.

Southpaw David Ortiz (1-0) won his pro debut by unanimous decision after four rounds in a welterweight match against San Diego’s Mario Angeles (2-11-2). Ortiz lives in Bloomington, Calif. and is trained by Henry Ramirez. No knockdowns were scored.

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Charr-Oquendo Scuttled When Charr Tests Positive; the Odious WBA Saves Face

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Manuel Charr

Manuel Charr and Fres Oquendo were scheduled to fight in Cologne, Germany, later this month (Sept. 29). Charr would be defending his WBA world heavyweight title, the “regular” version of it, not the “super” version which rests in the hands of Anthony Joshua.

The bout was quickly cancelled when it was revealed that Charr had tested positive for two banned anabolic steroids. The test was performed by VADA, the anti-doping agency identified with Las Vegas neurologist Dr. Margaret Goodman.

The 33-year-old Charr, born in Lebanon but a resident of Germany since the age of three, won the belt in his last start with a unanimous decision over 281-pound Russian behemoth Alexander Ustinov in Oberhausen, Germany. The title was vacant. Charr won the right to fight for it with a 10-round decision over Albanian slug Sefer Seferi. The victory over Ustinov elevated his record to 31-4. He has been stopped three times, by Vitali Klitschko, Alexander Povetkin, and Mairis Briedis.

If it wasn’t for bad luck, as the old saying goes, Fres Oquendo wouldn’t have any luck at all. For various reasons, his fights keep falling out. Before long he’ll be drawing social security. Well, not exactly, but he turned 45 in April and hasn’t fought in more than four years.

Oquendo has competed for this belt before. In his last ring appearance in July of 2014, he lost a majority decision to Russia’s Ruslan Chagaev in Grozny, Russia. As a concession for taking the fight on short notice, Team Oquendo negotiated a rematch clause in the contract, but a shoulder injury prevented Fres from activating it. When the injury healed, he had to go to court to compel Chagaev to fulfill his obligation. But then the Russian retired, muddling the water.

The WBA was legally bound to find Oquendo a title fight and in desperation turned to ancient Shannon Briggs. But the Oquendo-Briggs fight, scheduled for June 3 of last year in Hollywood, Florida, fell out when Briggs’ urine specimen showed an abnormally high level of testosterone.

Fres Oquendo was dogged by bad luck even before these recent developments. His professional record, 37-8, is somewhat misleading as six of his eight defeats were razor-thin including his 2003 setback to Chris Byrd and his 2006 setback to Evander Holyfield. However, Oquendo, something of a cutie, was never a crowd-pleaser and in none of his narrow defeats was there a public clamor for a rematch.

The cancellation of Charr-Oquendo cuts the World Boxing Association out of a sanctioning fee, but one would think that the WBA honchos are actually rather pleased by this turn of events. The fight, more precisely the WBA’s world title imprimatur, would have brought more unwanted publicity to the Panama-based organization.

ESPN’s Dan Rafael, who has the largest platform of any boxing writer, has been a persistent critic of the organization which once recognized 41 “champions” in 17 weight classes. In 2009, Rafael wrote, “(The WBA) has become such an absolute farce that even somebody like me, who follows boxing closely, sometimes has a hard time keeping track of all the nonsensical so-called world title belts the WBA has been doling out at an alarming rate. It almost reminds me of the ladies at Costco who hand out various samples on a busy Saturday afternoon.”

Rafael took note when WBA president Gilberto Mendoza promised to cull the herd by eliminating “regular” titles, and then became more caustic when Mendoza didn’t follow through. Recently, in one short, punchy diatribe, Rafael blistered the WBA as wretched, vile, and rancid.

Regardless of your opinion, it’s hard not to feel sorry for Fres Oquendo who keeps getting stranded at the altar. No, he’s not fun to watch and a man of his age shouldn’t be taking any more punches, but he has always been an honest workman and by all accounts he’s a very decent man. Born in Puerto Rico but raised in Chicago, Oquendo pitched right in when the island nation of his birth was ravaged by Hurricane Maria. He was personally responsible for relocating Puerto Rican boxing legend Wilfred Benitez and Benitez’s sister, his caregiver, to Chicago where their lives wouldn’t be as hard.

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