He remained upright for longer than one would expect of 38-1 underdog, which might explain why he lingered so long on the canvas after succumbing to the reality reflected in those odds. In the seventh round, his insides pulped, Cedric Agnew took a knee in the ring erected in The Ballroom in Boardwalk Hall, Atlantic City, and remained there well after he was counted out—a man broken physically and emotionally by the appropriately nicknamed “Krusher,” Sergey Kovalev.
This fight was an anomaly in Kovalev’s recent history; not in its conclusion, but in the absence of excitement that accompanied it. Imagine the last gasps of a Roman Candle—still explosive, but unable to achieve the pyrotechnics of the preceding fiery bursts. Which is not to say Agnew, Chicago, Illinois, was particularly hard to kill. No, last night’s HBO main event was unremarkable because, at the very least, a fight requires two willing participants, and for much of the fight, Agnew was anything but that.
Cocooned in a high guard, Agnew backed himself to the ropes and weathered Kovalev’s volleys before sporadically exploding with combinations of his own. Trading with Kovalev might be suicidal, but in the opening rounds Agnew’s southpaw combinations presented the Russian slugger with something he rarely encounters: resistance. Still, Kovalev, Fort Lauderdale via Chelyabinsk, Russia, was landing the harder punches, and dropped Agnew with a straight left at the end of the second.
Having survived the knockdown, Agnew fought the remaining rounds with a renewed enthusiasm for defense, peeking out with the frequency of Punxsuwtawney Phil. Perhaps Agnew was looking to extend Kovalev, who had not seen the fifth round in his last six fights, to frustrate and exhaust a man accustomed to withering men from the opening bell. But Kovalev, 175 1/4, was not haphazardly teeing off, nor was he—despite the HBO commentary team’s efforts to fabricate some drama—wearing down any faster than the wincing, swelling, bleeding man before him. Fights are generally won by those affecting change through pain, and, beyond a head butt that left him bleeding over the right eye, it was Kovalev that was doing the ugly remaking.
Prying his opponent open with left hooks, Kovalev rammed crosses between Agnew’s gloves; this assault on his head left Agnew’s body unprotected, and consequently the victim of a number of wicked left hands to the ribs. While incorrectly penalized for a knockdown in the sixth round, the fact that Agnew, 175 1/2, came so close to again leaving his feet highlighted the futility of a strategy predicated on outlasting Kovalev. Minutes later, dropped by a jab to the body, Agnew was counted out at 0:58 of the seventh round.
There will surely be some backlash against Kovalev for failing to decapitate his opponent, those looking to find flaws in his game will point to Agnew’s ability to tag him with the odd right hook as evidence that Kovalev, 24-0-1 (22), has an aura as inflated as The Hindenberg (and is perhaps doomed to a similar fate). Kovalev can do little about such criticisms beyond keep punching. But against whom? With Adonis Stevenson having bolted to Showtime, Kovalev has been left standing at the altar. Perhaps the biggest fight remaining for Kovalev is with super middleweight kingpin Andre Ward. Ward however, has expressed no interest in moving up a division, and besides that, is embroiled in a legal dispute with promoter Dan Goosen. Until a more distinguished foe materializes, Kovalev is left bludgeoning the insipid ranks of a coalition of the willing. Backed by HBO, Kovalev should make a good living knocking off no-hopers while waiting for a more glamorous opponent to appear. But unlike the aforementioned Stevenson, whom Kovalev called a “piece of shit” in his endearing post fight interview, the concussive puncher thinks in terms of competition and sporting glory—not just business.
As for Agnew, 26-1 (13), his supporters will point to the rounds he lasted and the sprinkling of trouble he posed as proof that he is more than a built up B-side in a showcase fight. He probably is, despite doing little more than try and survive his greatest opportunity. Still, getting knocked out by Kovalev hardly dooms Agnew to the scrap heap; and the emotion he displayed in defeat reveals the heart of a real—though on this night, vastly overwhelmed—fighter. But while he succeeded in extending Kovalev a few rounds, he sapped the excitement from the fight. And that image, like the one of him kneeling as the referee’s count reached ten, will follow him for some time.
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