Cleverly falters at the first hurdle after Welshman floored by dangerman Kovalev
By Declan Warrington - dailymail.co.uk
Nathan Cleverly’s reign as WBO light heavyweight champion came to a devastating end on Saturday night after 29 seconds of the fourth round at Cardiff’s Motorpoint Arena.
Cleverly had long spoken of wanting to truly test himself against a proven world contender and this was his chance but, just as with many of Sergey Kovalev’s victims before him, he was stopped with less than 12 minutes gone.
Frank Warren had said this could be Cleverly's 'Calzaghe-Lacy' moment – the point at which the decorated Welshman established himself as a truly elite fighter beyond even the slightest doubt – yet if he looked nervous at ringside then that was understandable given, as with Lacy, Kovalev was considered a significant risk.
Warning signs: Sergey Kovalev (R) knocks Nathan Cleverly down in the third round
Front foot: Kovalev goes on the attack against Cleverly
In previous fights Cleverly has often taken unnecessary punches – sometimes lazily – knowing his punch resistance could be relied upon but on Saturday night, and against Kovalev, the reality is that was not nearly the case.
If the opening round was close – and it was one Kovalev appeared to edge on work rate – it gave the Welshman reason to be confident if he could take the fight down the stretch. His punches were crisper and cleaner, he was the better mover and he made Kovalev miss, but as so often in the fight game it was one exchange that changed both the atmosphere and the direction of the action.
The second round was a better one for the Russian, even if he suffered a cut over the right eye.
Had enough: Referee Terry O'Connor stops the fight
Cleverly would have acknowledged that and potentially targeted it as the fight went on – his greatest chance came in forcing Kovalev to go the distance and maintaining his typically high, often unrivalled, work rate – but he refused to be flustered and briefly appeared to have hurt Cleverly with a combination while backing him up against the ropes.
What came next simply wasn’t so predictably. Cleverly had never been down in his career before and it’s one that has been – and most likely will continue to be – full of bravado. The fight’s pattern continued for the opening of the third until a potent left-right combination from Kovalev rocked the Welshman in a way that hasn’t been seen before and a flurry from the Russian then forced Cleverly to take a knee.
The look on his face said it all: Cleverly knew he was in trouble and was in unchartered territory having never been down before. He rose to his feet to continue but hadn’t recovered and the biggest crisis of his career followed.
Kovalev sensed a finish could be near and he sought it relentlessly. Within a flurry another right hand to the top of Cleverly’s head again forced him to take a knee and in reality he was lucky to survive to the end of the round.
All Cleverly could do was hold on to his opponent and listen in desperation for the bell. Another combination left referee Terry O’Connor on the brink of intervening and while the Welshman again somehow managed to hold on, Kovalev broke free and resumed hurting his opponent in a way that almost routinely calls for a fight to be waved off.
Just champion: Kovalev celebrates with his corner after beating Cleverly
Disappointment: Cleverly sits dejected in his corner after defeat
Few fighters have ever been so fortunate to survive such a one-sided round. Cleverly knew it, Kovalev knew it and O’Connor – whose arm appeared to be beginning to wave the violent affair over when the bell to end the third round rang – also knew it.
The world champion had a minute to clear his head, reassess his approach to the fight and attempt to regain some confidence but it was nowhere near enough.
Almost as soon as the fourth began Cleverly was again in trouble having not recovered from the beating he had taken throughout the third. Cleverly had nothing to offer when the end came, he was trying only to survive and with him repeatedly taking Kovalev’s concussive punches – and almost certainly in the knowledge that he was so close to ending the fight in third – O’Connor was after 29 seconds forced to wave for the end of the fight, Cleverly’s undefeated record and his reign as WBO light heavyweight champion.
‘Kovalev’s a puncher, and that’s what happens with punchers. Punchers start fast, and he started fast,’ Warren said afterwards with Cleverly unable to comment.
‘Nathan didn’t stick to the game plan, the game plan was to use the jab more but he didn’t do that.’
New champion Kovalev said: 'I came here and nobody believed I beat their champion but everywhere else in the world they knew already how good I was.
'I knew he couldn't take my power. The fact the fight was televised on HBO in the United States was very important for me.'
‘We thought it was going to be the third round,’ added Kovalev’s promoter Kathy Duva. ‘But yeah, otherwise that’s exactly what we were expecting.
'Nathan’s very talented, but even for someone with five defences he’s still very inexperienced. He’ll come back. I’ve seen lots of fighters like Nathan before and he’ll be back again.'
Earlier there was an excellent win for the former WBO cruiserweight champion Enzo Maccarinelli, who after a largely even affair in the 11th round stopped Ovill McKenzie on his feet with a powerful left hook.
There was understandably some concern at ringside for McKenzie’s condition given the unusual nature of his sudden decline but Maccarinelli, almost certainly sensing the fight had been won, withdrew from throwing any further punches as referee Phil Edwards intervened with 16 seconds of the penultimate round remaining.
Kovalev stops Cleverly to take light-heavy title
CARDIFF, Wales (AP) — Sergey Kovalev handed Nathan Cleverly his first professional loss by stopping the Welshman in the fourth round to take his rival's WBO light-heavyweight title on Saturday.
The unbeaten Kovalev claimed his 22nd win after flooring Cleverly twice in the third round before forcing referee Terry O'Connor to step in 29 seconds into the following round after the Russian unleashed a series of power shots that had his opponent wobbling.
Cleverly, whose record is 26-1, had been seeking a victory in his fifth title defense to set up unification fights in the United States, but it was Kovalev (22-0-1 with 20 knockouts) who emerged from the Motorpoint Arena in the Welsh capital with his reputation enhanced after a brutal performance.
Kovalev, who is based in the U.S., is known for his fast starts — 18 of his previous 21 wins had come in the first three rounds — and he made another here as he successfully deployed his jab to dominate the first round.
A big left rocked Cleverly in the third before he went down after a clubbing right from Kovalev. The champion got back on his feet, but was back down moments later following another blow to the head.
The bell saved Cleverly but it was only a temporary reprieve, with a right-left hook combination from Kovalev forcing the referee to end the contest.
Nathan Cleverly loses WBO light heavyweight title to Sergey Kovalev
• Welsh fighter Cleverly stopped in fourth round
• Sergey Kovalev impresses US television audience
Nathan Cleverly stumbles against Sergey Kovalev during their WBO light-heavyweight title fight in Cardiff. Photograph: Nick Potts/PA
Nathan Cleverly's unbeaten record went up in smoke as impressive Russian Sergey Kovalev took his WBO light-heavyweight title off him with a destructive fourth-round stoppage in Cardiff.
The 26-year-old Welshman had been seeking unification fights in the US and was under pressure to impress an American audience, with Saturday's fight at the Motorpoint Arena being televised across the Atlantic.
Kovalev tore up the script by flooring Cleverly twice in the third round and soon forcing a stoppage. Odds makers had struggled to split the pair before what promised to be the hardest of Cleverly's six world title defences.
The Florida-based Kovalev, 30, went into the fight with a 21-0-1 record and already has a following in the US with many fancying him to snatch Cleverly's world title in the Cefn Fforest man's backyard.
Mathematics graduate Cleverly started with the knowledge that Kovalev had a taste for quick knockouts. Indeed, the eastern European challenger was looking to land big right hands from the first minute and won the opening round quite clearly.
Cleverly was busy but made few inroads, despite somehow opening a cut over the challenger's right eye. Kovalev, meanwhile, was successfully deploying the jab followed by a driven right hand on a regular basis.
Cleverly landed a decent shot of his own towards the end of the second which was his only real moment of success up to that point. He was rocked badly by a left and went down moments later from a clubbing right. He rose to his feet but was unsteady and moments later he was down from another right to the head, made worse by Kovalev hitting him again as he sank to one knee.
He was out on his feet again and the referee Terry O'Connor was poised to stop it, only for the bell to save the Briton.
Kovalev went for it in the fourth and unleashed as many power shots as he could muster. A right and hooking left sent Cleverly wobbly again 29 seconds into the round and O'Connor this time decided enough was enough.
Cleverly's record reads 26-1, with 12 knockouts while the fearsome Kovalev moves to 22-0-1, with 20 knockouts.
The new champion said: "I came here and nobody believed I beat their champion but everywhere else in the world they knew already how good I was.
"I knew he couldn't take my power. The fact the fight was televised on HBO in the United States was very important for me."
On the undercard, Liverpool's Stephen Smith stopped Gary Buckland with a seething short right uppercut in the fifth to leave the Welsh champion out cold and win the British super-featherweight title.
The Swansea favourite Enzo Maccarinelli won the Commonwealth light-heavyweight belt from Ovill McKenzie with an uppercut of his own in the 11th round to inject new life into his career. PA
Cleverly suffers shock defeat
Nathan Cleverly has lost his WBO light-heavyweight title after being defeated by Russian Sergey Kovalev in the fourth round at the Motorpoint Arena in Cardiff.
Nathan Cleverly hit the canvas twice in the third round © PA Photos
In front of his home crowd, Cleverly was attempting to make a sixth defence of his WBO crown, but after tumbling twice in the third round after landing some heavy punches from Kovalev, he was finished off in the fourth round by hitting the canvas for a third time, and at that point the referee brought an end to the fight, reducing Cleverly to his first defeat of his career.
For Kovalev he takes the 22nd win of his career, with 19 of them being not requiring the full 12 rounds.
Cleverly had hopes of having unification fights in the United States, but in front of American pay-per-view television instead he was left shell-shocked along with the partisan crowd in Cardiff.
Cleverly fended off several Kovalev hits in the opening round, and it was evident the title holder was going to be in for a tough defence of his belt.
Kovalev then had a cut above his right eye, but the problem did not stop him from firing more powerful punches, and in the third round Cleverly after falling for a second time came close to being stopped by referee Terry O'Connor.
But with Cleverly making it to the end of the round, the fourth turned out to be the telling one as he fell for a third time to bring an end to the fight.