A Russian triumphed over an American this past weekend. World Light Heavyweight Champion Sergey Kovalev soundly defeated Cedric Agnew. Meanwhile Russia seems poised to regain its status as a world power, to the embarrassment of the United States.
After a week of President Obama fecklessly alternating between weak insults and moralistic assertions, and even as Secretary of State John Kerry walked away with no resolution from another Sergey—Sergey Lavrov, the Russian foreign minister—Kovalev scored a resounding win—a win for the boxer, and also a win for the many Russians in the audience.
The fight happened this past Saturday, March 29, at Boardwalk Hall in Atlantic City. A rainy, windy, miserable day meant that the bleachers and ringside seats were scarcely filled for the undercard fights. By the time Michael Buffer stood in the ring and intoned his usual “Let’s get ready to…” the audience had filled close to capacity, including a large Polish-American delegation that came to cheer an undercard boxer, and even more Russian-Americans and Russian tourists. It was easy to overhear conversations in Russian throughout the event, and many attending carried Russian flags, along with Russia’s unmistakable double-eagle emblem (a throwback to the imperial Romanovs) emblazoned on their shirts.
It was easy to see this as a conflict between East and West. In spite of John Kerry’s insistence last month that the tension between the U.S. and Russia need not resemble the Cold War, and that the current situation “is not [like] Rocky IV, believe me,” this particular fight was definitely “Rocky IV”-esque. The parallels were obvious—Agnew even entered the ring as James Brown’s “Living in America” played over the loudspeakers. The song was a bad omen—Apollo Creed, the first American to fight Russian boxer Ivan Drago in “Rocky IV,” entered his fight to that music, and died at his Russian opponent’s fists.
Both men walked into the ring with perfect records: no defeats, and many wins by TKO’s—21 for Kovalev, including one man who died after his knockout.
Kovalev, clad in black and silver trunks and black gloves, fought deliberatively and surgically, constantly probing with left hooks, exploiting Agnew’s defense by remaining consistently on offense. Agnew, a heavily tattooed southpaw, took a defensive posture, frequently backing himself onto the ropes and favoring a high guard that left him open to body shots, particularly kidney blows. When Agnew did emerge from his retreat, it was usually abrupt, in a flurry of punches, though rarely in the form of a timely counterpunch. Certain audience members murmured with disgust that it looked like Agnew was throwing the fight, and agitatedly shouted at the ring, imploring Agnew to “Punch!” “Use your fists!” “Punch him!” As testament, the post-fight totals indicated that Kovalev threw 300 more punches than Agnew, and landed 70 more. Fifty-six of the hits were to Agnew’s body.
The men fought as dueling chants of “USA! USA!” and “Ra-see-ah! Ra-see-ah!” resounded across the audience. A low blow sent Kovalev to the mat in the first round, and Kovalev put Agnew on the floor in kind during rounds two and three after landing left hooks to Agnew’s eye. Kovalev hit the mat again in round four, his face bruised and gashed by an accidental headbutt. In rounds five and six Agnew appeared to be losing steam, but still managed to land a number of good counter-punches and combinations on Kovalev, favoring the Russian’s head as a target.
Agnew’s high guard made him slow to protect against Kovalev’s blows to his gut, and when a strong punch hit there in the seventh round, Agnew fell to his knee, his head down in pain even after referee Samuel Viruet counted down and ended the fight. As a physician attended to Agnew, Kovalev was swamped by his entourage, and the Russian contingent of the audience gathered at the side of the ring and along the bleachers to cheer his victory. One of his entourage proudly carried a Russian flag into the ring.
Meanwhile, Vladimir Putin has occupied Crimea, and Ukraine appears to be at the forefront of his attention. He has allegedly began withdrawing some of the troops he placed at the border between Russia and its former satellite, but Vladimir Putin, whose first name can mean either “ruler of peace” or “ruler of the world” in Russian, has accomplished his goal. In spite of all of the posturing of the West and its representative, Barack Obama, Putin seems to have achieved a net gain. Sanctions and declarations that his nation is but a “regional power” have bounced off of him. Leadership consisting of concessions, cuts to our military, “resets,” and promised flexibility has emboldened him. Kovalev saw weakness when Agnew left his gut undefended, and Putin sees weakness in inept American governance. And whereas Kovalev has spent some time in the United States and appears to be a good sportsman (a profane diss at the end of the fight aside), Putin has no such bounds.
Here’s hoping that American leadership will stop neatly paralleling Cedric Agnew’s last match. Otherwise, as TAS editor R. Emmett Tyrrell already fears is the case, America’s foreign policy is in the hands of the KGB.