On HBO Boxing Saturday night, Sergey Kovalev did what he was expected to do. In his first HBO main event, Kovalev defeated Cedric Agnew, stopping the formerly undefeated Agnew in the 7th round. With that win, Kovalev improves his record to 24-0-1, with 22 KOs. Though it took a bit longer than expected, Kovalev again showed that yes, he is indeed a dangerous, powerful boxer with big things in his future.
But this brings us to the big question of Sergey Kovalev - what big things? What does the future hold for this hot talent on the rise?
The answer should be obvious. For a fighter like Kovalev, the trajectory is clear. He's been rising up the ranks, he's now a main event level fighter, and he's ready for some top level fighters. But he's not going to get them.
The boxing landscape right now is heavily divided. You have those working with HBO and those working with Showtime, and never the two shall meet. For HBO fighter Kovalev, this is a huge problem.
Until recently, the big fight being talked about in the Light Heavyweight division was Kovalev vs. Adonis Stevenson. It's a fight that makes sense - two heavy hitting KO artists that both had breakout years in 2013. There has been a bit of a bump in the road to Kovalev vs. Stevenson, as Stevenson has seemed disinterested in the match-up, but last week, that bump turned into a full on impasse. Showtime put a bid in to air the next Stevenson fight, moving him from the HBO side of the divide over to Showtime, and effectively cutting him off from Kovalev. By moving over to Showtime, Stevenson joins most of the top 10 Light Heavyweight fighters , including the division's biggest name, veteran Bernard Hopkins.
So who does that leave for Kovalev? Not many. There's Tavoris Cloud, but he is coming off back to back losses, which makes him both a less appealing opponent, and unlikely to take such a hard fight right now. Jean Pascal s a perfectly fine option, but he's just one man. After that, HBO runs out of options, and Kovalev is left behind.
The end result? A fighter who HBO has built up into a major player (and they've done a good job with that build) now finds himself with nowhere to go. It's a bad spot for a fighter who people want to see fight, but want to see against a real level of competition. And that competition is on Showtime. Kovalev is an exciting fighter who is one of those must watch talents right now. But that feeling will only last so long if he doesn't face a step up in competition soon.
HBO has a tough situation on their hands - it won't be easy to handle these next steps of Kovalev's career. Kovalev is doing his part to become a star, now let's see if HBO - the company who was until recently the undisputed king of boxing - has the resources to do their part.