Unified light heavyweight champion Sergey Kovalev returns to the ring on Saturday to face mandatory challenger Nadjib Mohammedi in a 12-round bout at the Mandalay Bay Events Center in Las Vegas, Nevada.

The Russian Krusher

Kovalev is one of the sport’s most destructive punchers. The Russian Krusher has knocked down 24 opponents and is unbeaten in 28 fights. Kovalev is coming off an 8th round KO of former light heavyweight title holder Jean Pascal this past March. Prior to the Pascal fight, Kovalev outclassed the legendary Bernard Hopkins in what many consider to be his career-defining win.

It wasn’t because Bernard Hopkins had never been beaten before, but it was because it was the first time we ever saw Hopkins lose a bout from start to finish. Kovalev opened strong and scored a first round knockdown against Hopkins and then outboxed him the rest of the way. Kovalev won via scores of 120-107, 120-107 and 119-106.

Chasing Superman

So after taking on two giants in Hopkins and Pascal, Kovalev takes a breather of sorts when he fights the relatively unknown Mohammedi. Kovalev has long been seeking a title unification bout with WBC champion Adonis “Superman” Stevenson but that fight has remained elusive.

The two were supposed to meet in the fall of 2014 but Stevenson reneged on their agreement and jumped ship from HBO to Showtime on the advice of PBC founder Al Haymon. Then in an unprecedented move, the WBC made Kovalev its mandatory challenger despite Kovalev being a champion in three other alphabet organizations. This time around, it was the Kovalev camp who refused the offer by rejecting an opportunity to join an April purse bid, citing they want to fight at HBO and they want to focus on beating Mohammed first.

Mohammedi Mandatory

While little is known of Mohammedi, the Frenchman has an outstanding record of 37-3, with 24 KOs. Mohammedi’s 7th round TKO of Anatoly Dudchenko in 2014 put him in a position to challenge Hopkins for the IBF title but since Hopkins lost that belt to Kovalev, he became the mandatory challenger for the new title holder.

Mohammedi and Kovalev share one common foe in former WBO light heavyweight champion Nathan Cleverly. Mohammedi lost to Cleverly by unanimous decision in 2010 while Kovalev knocked Cleverly out in four rounds to take the WBO light heavyweight title from the Briton. Other than Cleverly, Mohammedi hasn’t faced the level of opposition which Kovalev has demolished.

Who Takes This?

This is not the fight that fans wanted from Sergey Kovalev but after two huge wins, it was but time to take a little breather and take his mandatory. The odds reflect that as they have Kovalev as a huge -10000 favorite over Mohammedi who is at +1600. Kovalev is widely considered as the best 175 fighter out there today, even if it’s Stevenson who holds the lineal title.

Two of Mohammedi’s three losses have been by KO and fight experts are looking at a third one against the Krusher. Fighting Kovalev is like solving a riddle. If you exchange with him in the pocket, he will knock you out. If you try to box around him, he will outscore you with a very sound boxing game. Kovalev’s attack starts with a steady diet of jabs that are strong enough to knock out a mere mortal. Once Kovalev finds his target, he will try to pummel Mohammedi with hard right hands.

Kovalev though has a tendency to be open and off-balanced while throwing combinations and it’s perhaps in this little window of opportunity that Mohammedi has a chance to counter him and put him down. Other than that, Kovalev has all the advantages. Mohammedi will try to weather the storm early, but in the end he’ll suffer the same fate as the others before him. Kovalev should win by KO within 5 rounds and go on to a mega fight with Andre Ward.

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