Sergey Kovalev handed Nathan Cleverly his first professional loss by stopping the Welshman in the fourth round to take his rival’s WBO light-heavyweight title on Saturday.
The unbeaten Kovalev claimed his 22nd win after flooring Cleverly twice in the third round before forcing referee Terry O’Connor to step in 29 seconds into the following round after the Russian unleashed a series of power shots that had his opponent wobbling.
Cleverly, whose record is 26-1, had been seeking a victory in his fifth title defense to set up unification fights in the United States, but it was Kovalev (22-0-1 with 20 knockouts) who emerged from the Motorpoint Arena in the Welsh capital with his reputation enhanced after a brutal performance.
Kovalev, who is based in the U.S., is known for his fast starts – 18 of his previous 21 wins had come in the first three rounds – and he made another here as he successfully deployed his jab to dominate the first round.
A big left rocked Cleverly in the third before he went down after a clubbing right from Kovalev. The champion got back on his feet but was back down moments later following another blow to the head.
The bell saved Cleverly but it was only a temporary reprieve, with a right-left hook combination from Kovalev forcing the referee to end the contest.