LAS VEGAS (AP) — Sergey Kovalev beat the ageless Bernard Hopkins and stopped Jean Pascal before his hometown fans in Montreal.
But the light heavyweight champion has never headlined a show in the boxing mecca of Las Vegas.
That changes Saturday night when Kovalev puts his various 175-pound titles on the line against Nadjib Mohammedi in a fight that matches a power puncher against a nearly unknown challenger who is a heavy underdog.
For the Russian who lives in Florida, it’s just another step in a late-blossoming career that appears to be taking off at just the right time.
“Some of my dreams in boxing and my goals are not finished,” Kovalev said. “For my dreams, my goals this Saturday is the next step in my career.”
Pascal will fight on the same card at the Mandalay Bay hotel, possibly setting the two fighters up for a rematch of the March 14 fight in Montreal that Kovalev won by knockout in the eighth round. Pascal takes on Yunieski Gonzalez, an unbeaten Cuban who lives in Florida.
Both fights will be televised on HBO, beginning at 10 p.m. EDT.
“I think I’m the best light heavyweight in the world,” Pascal said. “I just had a bad night.”
Kovalev, who didn’t turn pro until six years ago at the age of 26, is coming off wins over Hopkins and Pascal that cemented his status as the best fighter in his division.
He won every round on all three scorecards last November to beat Hopkins, then showed off his crushing power when he and Pascal traded huge punches before he finally stopped him in the eighth round.
Now he tries to make his mark in Las Vegas, where he fought once on an undercard four years ago.
“Bernard Hopkins said to me that Sergey is getting better with every fight,” promoter Kathy Duva said. “He is powerfully fast and shockingly dominating. He is the kind of guy that people want to see. Hopkins warned Sergey not to get complacent. I think a mark of a great fighter is no matter what you do you are never satisfied and that is the best way to describe Sergey.”
Kovalev is undefeated in 28 fights, with 24 knockouts, after a long amateur career in Russia. Mohammedi is 37-3, with most of his fights coming against mediocre opposition in his home country of France.
The fight is mandatory defense for Kovalev, who owns three 175-pound titles.
“I have been around a lot of fighters and I know heart when I see heart, and determination when I see determination,” said Vince Caruso, co-manager of Mohammedi. “I know all the intangibles fall on Sergey Kovalev’s side of the table but I am going to ride this guy (Mohammedi) all the way to the championship.”
Pascal returns to the ring for the first time since being stopped by Kovalev. He meets Gonzalez, who is 16-0 with 12 knockouts.
“Every fighter on my level wants to fight at least one time in Vegas,” Pascal said. “This is my chance to make a statement on Saturday night. I know I am still among the best in the world and best in my division.”
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