Winner: Sergey Kovalev W12 Bernard Hopkins
Unlike some of the other categories for 2014, Performance of the Year posted a strong field of candidates come awards season. Manny Pacquiao and Roman Gonzalez demonstrated they stand head-and-shoulders above most of the elite prizefighters in their weight classes. At the same time, Naoya Inoue and Kell Brook earned the biggest wins of their careers (so far) with impressive displays over proven, durable opponents. However, the prize for best Performance of 2014 has to go to Russian badass Sergey Kovalev.
While Kovalev climbed into the ring in Atlantic City as a slight favourite, the way he dominated Hopkins was entirely against the script most “experts” had written for the fight. Based on his certified punching power, Kovalev was expected to pummel away at Hopkins, while the challenger was supposed to put on a boxing clinic to have any chance of success against the Russian Krusher. However, with complete aplomb and even a certain elegance, Kovalev outboxed an All-Time-Great boxer in Bernard Hopkins. Due to his record at the time of 23 KOs in 25 fights, fight fans were not used to seeing Kovalev expertly handle timing and distance while nullifying his opponent’s skills, but that is exactly what we witnessed.
Despite being shorter both in reach and in height, Kovalev relied on exceptional footwork and timing to always punch first and then move out of range to deny Hopkins any chance of using his time-tested tactics of clinching and holding to better land his own punches. The performance effectively changed our perception of Kovalev, as it allowed us to see an entirely different facet to his game. Not only is the Russian light-heavyweight titlist a fearsome power-puncher, but he can also be a very smart and disciplined boxer if the occasion calls for it. To sum things up, The Krusher’s defeat of Hopkins offered a dominant victory against one of the sport’s biggest talents at the same time it redefined and enhanced Kovalev’s reputation. This is exactly why we’re calling it the performance of the year.
Needless to say, Kovalev’s defeat of Hopkins is a watershed in “The Alien’s” career as well. It’s true the Philadelphian has tasted defeat before, but never had he been as emphatically dominated as he was by Kovalev. A man so used to querying his opponents with apparently unsolvable riddles was rendered mute by Kovalev’s patient but merciless display of The Sweet Science. Justifiably, “The Krusher’s” win over Hopkins has further boosted the case that Kovalev is indeed the uncrowned champion of the light heavyweight division, while the calls for a showdown with lineal king Adonis Stevenson become louder by the day. We can only hope we finally get to see that dream-match sometime in 2015.
— Rafael Garcia