Unbeaten slugger Sergey Kovalev is at a somewhat of a crossroads point in his reign as a feared light heavyweight titlist.
After seemingly coming out of nowhere in 2013 with four victories -- all by knockouts -- Kovalev (24-0-1, 22 KOs) was able to capture his first world title and the hearts of boxing fans with his explosive style. But it's clear that 2014 hasn't gone exactly to plan for the native of Russia from a business sense.
With the division's champion, Adonis Stevenson, outright avoiding him by aligning with connected adviser Al Haymon in February and subsequently taking his business across boxing's political divide to Showtime, Kovalev lost out on the most attractive opponent available to him. In fact, at the time, Stevenson-Kovalev was arguably the best realistic fight that could have been made in the sport.
Now Kovalev makes his return Saturday (HBO, 9:45 p.m. ET/PT) against Australian Blake Caparello (19-0-1, 6 KOs) at the Revel Resort in Atlantic City, New Jersey, in his second straight stay-busy fight against an unbeaten, yet relatively unheralded title challenger. Kovalev knocked out Cedric Agnew on a body shot in the seventh round in March.
At 31, Kovalev is at the peak of his absolute prime, yet lacks a direct path to an elite and marketable opponent. In talking to Kovalev, one can sense a certain level of angst caused by his current reality.
Kovalev has never been a man of many words as the weeks draw closer to his fights. Consistent with his style, he prefers to avoid talking hypotheticals regarding possible future opponents (see below) until he takes care of business in the ring with the fighter he is signed to face.
The one cure to his current situation, however, could be a fight on the horizon against Bernard Hopkins, the 49-year-old titlist, who has voiced interest of late in facing Kovalev. While he was mum on the topic in recent days, Kovalev's promoter, Main Events, released a statement on the topic weeks earlier.
"All I want to do is fight the best," Kovalev said in the statement. "I wanted to fight Stevenson but he ran away. I would get in the ring with Bernard Hopkins right now! Any time, any place! But who knows? Maybe he's just trying to get more money from Showtime? So, I am focused on preparing for my fight on HBO [on Saturday] and after we'll see if Hopkins will really get in the ring with me."
In the meantime, all Kovalev can do is take care of the matters in front of him, which in this case is the light-hitting, yet slick Caparello. The fighter known as "The Krusher" wants nothing more than to face the very best and see his name including among the sport's true elite. Hopefully for him, and his many fans who appreciate the blunt honesty with the way he finishes fights, Kovalev will get that chance.
The light heavyweight titlist recently spoke to ESPN.com ahead of Saturday's fight:
You are making another short turnaround, just four months removed from your victory over Agnew. How does it feel to be back so quickly?
It feels great. Everything is going good in training camp. I'm ready to fight.
Do you prepare any differently when facing a southpaw?
Yes, I do. I sparred with multiple guys this time and worked it special in preparing for a southpaw.
What has stood out to you in watching tape of Caparello?
I didn't know who he was. I have just seen a couple rounds of [one of] Caparello's fights. It told me enough and gave me an understanding of what he is doing and how he prepares for an attack.
How frustrating was it in your last fight when Agnew refused to engage or throw punches in return?
It was a problem for me that he didn't throw a lot of punches because he was fighting [behind his gloves]. When a boxer throws punches, he is open for [counter] punches. But he didn't throw many punches.
How pleased were you at the way in which you were able to finish Agnew?
Yeah, sure, I was happy that I had finished my fight inside of 12 rounds. And a [knockout] on a punch to the body is special. Not everybody can knock a southpaw out with a punch like that.
You haven't been pushed past eight rounds yet in your career. How eager are you to face someone who can push you late into a fight?
If it is necessary or needed, yes, I will go through all 12 rounds. But if I have an opportunity to knock him out, I will do it.
What kind of fight are you expecting against Caparello?
I don't have any expectations for this fight because this is boxing. I am interested, too, as to what will happen in the ring. But I can say one thing: It will be an interesting fight.
In what ways have you improved as a fighter in your recent bouts?
I don't know, maybe I'm a little more experienced. I don't know. Somebody needs to say that about me. I don't want to say those things about myself.
What was your reaction to Bernard Hopkins showing interest in getting a fight against you?
I don't have a reaction about Hopkins right now. All of my reactions will be after my fight on Saturday.
What are your goals for the remainder of 2014 inside the ring?
My goal is to get a very interesting fight and win one more title in this division. I also want to show the people and my fans my boxing. But I want to give my fans an interesting fight.