SERGEY KOVALEV is a dangerous boxer-puncher whose ring craft tends to get overlooked. He is mobile, athletic and intelligent – not stiff like some Eastern European boxers. His jab has been one of boxing’s most effective weapons for the better part of a decade. Thrown to the head and body, it disrupts the opponent’s balance and rhythm, dictates the range and tempo of a fight, and sets up the Russian’s potent right cross. Kovalev also likes to end combinations with the jab. For instance, by reversing the order of a traditional one-two and throwing the right cross with less weight behind it, he gains leverage for a more powerful jab. Technically, it is more of a left cross due to Sergey’s right shoulder being in front of his left before he throws it. Kovalev uses the two-one or one-two-one combination to take advantage of opponents who move straight back. Because a right cross is typically a finishing punch, the final straight left catches opponents off guard.
Adding to the effectiveness of Kovalev’s jab and cross is the way he plays them off each other to disguise each punch. One moment he is flashing a jab at the opponent’s face to hide the right hand coming behind it, the next he is faking with his right and then nailing the opponent with a stiff jab. Kovalev further deceives his rival by bringing his right shoulder closer to the target before throwing the cross. What this punch may lack in power, it makes up for in speed and directness. Sometimes if the opponent ducks under the cross, Kovalev quickly improvises and pushes down on the back of the opponent’s neck with his right forearm, which allows him to land a left hook to the body unimpeded.
Kovalev also crafts openings by deliberately throwing his right hand short of the mark and then stepping through with his back foot to build momentum for a straight left thrown from a southpaw stance. Sergey used this tactic, known as ‘shifting’, to good effect against Jean Pascal. Kovalev is equally adept at using feints to unlock an opponent’s defence, too. Most useful are his lead shoulder and foot feints, which he uses not only to keep opponents on edge (the threat of the jab alone can be enough to throw an opponent off his stride) but also to lure them into punches. Kovalev steps forward with his lead foot as if to throw a jab, hop-steps back to re-establish his range, and then catches the opponent while he is out of position.