THE IBF, WBA and WBO light-heavyweight champion, Sergey Kovalev took on a tricky opponent on Monday (July 11) in Isaac Chilemba for a homecoming bout in Russia. Kovalev won the decision but questions still arose from the fight.

  1. How well does Sergey Kovalev deploy his power?

There is no doubt that Kovalev has carries genuine power in his fists. He’s looked devastating during his world championship reign. He hammered Nathan Cleverly cruelly, even Bernard Hopkins felt the weight of those punches. But he found Chilemba an elusive target on Monday. The Russian did land his right clean, and when he did he dropped and hurt Chilemba. But Kovalev became increasingly reliant on his left, throwing that right all too infrequently.

  1. Can Kovalev box on the inside?

Kovalev didn’t have much of impact in close and that’s a worry for him. Andre Ward should be his next opponent, later this year, and the American is a master on the inside. He can move his opponents, mess them around and control a fight at close quarters. Chilemba though does deserve credit. He didn’t linger too long to take repeated blows and while he couldn’t overcome Kovalev, he did create problems for the Russian.

  1. Did Kovalev tire?

Kovalev made a dramatic breakthrough in the seventh round, dropping Chilemba heavily. Sergey followed up with a furious assault but Isaac escaped. The Russian’s venom deserted him until he tried to close out Chilemba in the last round. His gloves dropped as he came forward, he seemed to be breathing heavily and that will be a concern for him and his team. He remains tough at any stage though, and that’s worth noting. Nothing Chilemba hit him with forced Kovalev to take a backward step.

  1. Did Kovalev lose focus?

He has his next fight penciled in against Andre Ward, that is the big-name showdown has been longing for. Clearly it is more important to him than beating Chilemba and there is always a danger in boxing of looking too far ahead. Kovalev appeared frustrated at times but that can’t just be put down to irritation at failing to score a quick knockout. Chilemba performed well and didn’t buckle when under pressure.

  1. Can he beat Andre Ward?

Chilemba was awkward but Andre Ward is a far tougher assignment. One of the most highly regarded boxers in the world pound-for-pound, despite being beset by inactivity he dominated at super-middleweight before finally moving up to light-heavy. Ward has a tune-up against Alexander Brand in August but then the clash with Kovalev awaits in November.

Kovalev’s latest performance may have swung many to favouring the American to beat the Russian when they meet. But one fight is no cause for panic, indeed this contest could turn out to be what Kovalev needs – a taxing 12 rounds against a tricky opponent could just be the experience, at the right time, to spur him into the training camp ahead of the most demanding fight of his career.