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Kovalev turns on power, lights up division

1/21/2013

UNCASVILLE, Conn. -- As far as coming-out parties are concerned, unbeaten light heavyweight contender Sergey Kovalev's was something to behold on Saturday night.

In his first headlining role on American television, which doubled as his first significant step up in competition, the Russian-born Kovalev demolished the usually slick and elusive Gabriel Campillo via third-round stoppage at the Mohegan Sun Arena.

With a seek-and-destroy style and tremendous potential to become a TV-friendly fighter in the United States, Kovalev (20-0-1, 18 KOs), 29, had drawn subtle acclaim as a rising knockout artist with frightening power in both hands. But what we saw out of him on Saturday, in his third fight with trainer John David Jackson, was a complete dismantling of a game opponent.

Kovalev didn't just stalk Campillo from the opening bell with heavy combinations, he balanced his attack by mixing in the jab and going hard to the body -- a strategy that led directly to the second of three knockdowns in the third round.

"This kid dismantled Campillo by going to the body, just like we worked on," Jackson said. "Campillo was doubled over from them. In the past, Sergey was more of a headhunter. Now he understands that, as a professional, you have to go to the body. And with his punching power, his body shots are going to open up a lot of doors for him."

Jackson, a former junior middleweight and middleweight titlist who has previously trained the likes of Bernard Hopkins and Shane Mosley, was quick to point out that he never tried to change Kovalev's style since joining his camp, but has worked hard on refining his fighter's talents to complement his tremendous punching power.

"Sergey is a very intelligent and smart fighter," Jackson said. "He's learning that he can slow down more and sit down on his punches."

Kovalev was all smiles after the fight, happy to have made such a splash in a starring role. He'll no doubt gain a legion of new fans from the performance and should contribute right away to providing a shot in the arm for the light heavyweight division.

But while his power has thus far proved to be unavoidable in the ring, it could have the opposite effect outside the ropes, prompting potential opponents to sidestep him.

"It's going to be hard for Sergey to get the fights that he wants unless they are title shots or if they are mandated that he fight someone next for the No. 1 position," Jackson said. "No one wants to fight him, and the way that he destroyed Campillo tonight gave me further belief that they will not fight him unless they have to."

That's a bridge Kovalev will cross in time as he continues his climb toward a title shot. Meanwhile, he'll need to prove he's strong enough to continue toppling those in his path and slick enough to outbox the ones who won't go down.

"I don't know who will be next, but I'm ready for everyone," Kovalev said. "If you want to be the best, you need to box with the best opponents. If you want to be a champion, you must fight only champions. I think my next step will be a more important fight because I am here in America. This is, for me, an important win."