Photo by Bob Levey/Freeland –  Main Gym fighter out to end Houston’s title drought

Cedric Agnew (26-0, 13 KOs) challenges Russian Sergey Kovalev (23-0, 21 KOs) for the WBO light heavyweight title on Saturday at the Boardwalk Hall in Atlantic City on Saturday. The fight, scheduled for 12 rounds, will be aired on HBO.

Kovalev will enter the bout a heavy favorite. Agnew, 27, has more fights on his dossier but Kovalev, 30, has fought higher caliber opponents. And as his knockout percentage suggests, Kovalev has a huge advantage in punching power.

“I don’t see myself as an underdog,” Agnew said. “He’s undefeated but so am I. I’m coming to this fight like I do each and every fight – looking to beat the man.”

Agnew said he was not be intimidated by Kovalev’s punching power despite his 91 percent knockout rate.

“I’ve fought guys with all kinds of power since the amateurs,” Agnew said. “It doesn’t bother me at all if you’re strong.”

A native of Chicago, Agnew relocated to Houston’s Northside to train at the Main Boxing Gym in 2009. He became a regular fixture on the Texas fight scene but rarely received much worldwide exposure.

Kovalev, on the other hand, quickly captured the spotlight on the world stage courtesy of his propensity to render opponents horizontal. He won the title via fourth-round TKO over Nathan Cleverly of Wales last year.

“I don’t feel no pressure and I’m taking it one day at a time and concentrating on this fight as just another fight,” Agnew said.

Standing six feet tall, both boxers are the mirror images of each other, but are as different as fire and ice style wise. An aggressive boxer-puncher, Kovalev fights at a torrid pace using a busy jab to set up power punches. Agnew, by contrast, patiently counter punches from a defensive shell and is equally adept at fighting from a southpaw or right-handed stance.

“I’m going to win by using my brain and outthinking him,” Agnew said. “The smarter fighter wins every time. I always find a way to win a fight.”

In preparation for Kovalev, trainer Bobby Benton enlisted Medzhid Bektemirov (13-0, 10 KOs), Quantis Graves (9-0-1, 4 KOs) and Larry Pryor (7-9, 3 KOs) as sparring partners.

“They’ve emulated (Kovalev’s) style like I wanted,” Benton said.

Kovalev’s vaunted power is overrated, Benton added, and Agnew, unlike Kovalev’s previous opponents, will be unfazed by it.

“Everyone can punch,” Benton said. “Cedric’s not afraid of this guy. Everybody he’s fought was scared to death before they stepped in the ring.”

However, Cornelius White, who has traded punches with both fighters, describes Kovalev’s power as “remarkable.” A former sparring partner and stable-mate of Agnew, White (21-3, 16 KOs) was stopped in three rounds by Kovalev in June.

Nevertheless, White said Agnew has the style and skill set to defeat Kovalev as long as Agnew utilizes them strategically and avoids the same mistakes he made against the hard-hitting Russian.

“He pretty much just has to be Cedric,” White said. “His defense is what’s going to save him.”

The longer the fight progresses, the better it will be for Agnew, White added, since Agnew has gone the 12-round distance twice before while Kovalev’s longest fight lasted eight rounds.

“The first four to five rounds, he needs to be defensive – just jab and move and not be a stationary target like I was,” White said.

A victory for Agnew would mark an end to a world title drought that has afflicted Houston since Juan Diaz lost his three lightweight belts in 2008. Junior middleweight Jermall Charlo (17-0, 13 KOs) was scheduled to fight for a world title earlier this month but the bout was cancelled after his opponent was arrested two days prior to fight night.

“When I win it’s going to mean everything to me,” Agnew said. “It’s been a long time coming and I’d like everybody in the world to know who I am.”

More Information

Title time

What: Cedric Agnew (26-0, 13 KOs) vs. Sergey Kovalev (23-0, 21 KOs)

On the line: WBO light heavyweight title

Where: Boardwalk Hall in Atlantic City

When: 9 p.m. Saturday, March 29