SAN DIEGO, Calif., August 23, 2019 – WBO light heavyweight world champion and former unified division champion Sergey “Krusher” Kovalev (33-2-1, 28 KOs) achieves a long time goal on Saturday with a fight at Traktor Arena in his hometown of Chelyabinsk, Russia, his first fight there as a professional.
If the “Krusher” version of Kovalev shows up, mandatory challenger Anthony Yarde of London, England (18-0, 17 KOs) will have a lot to deal with. Known for his power punching proficiency, Kovalev has blasted through the lion’s share of his opponents in both the pro and amateur ranks, and has 15 world title fights under his belt.Fight fans, arrange your weekend errands around an early card – we’ve got boxing for lunch on the East Coast and brunch on the West Coast. Kovalev vs. Yarde will stream live in the United States on ESPN+ beginning at 12:30 p.m. ET/9:30 a.m. PT.
Both fighters made weight, Kovalev at 174.5 pounds and Yarde at 174 pounds. The pair engaged in one of the longest faceoffs in memory. “There’s nothing behind it, I’m just not looking away first,” said Yarde. See it here.
The road to Russia for Kovalev and Ward
Kovalev steamrolled his way through this competitive division, set up by a solid amateur career. Then he ran into Andre Ward, and suffered two losses. The first was a highly questionable decision, the second a controversial stoppage. As Kovalev began to work his way back, he ran into Eleider Alvarez and suffered a stunning knockout loss in November 2018.
To their credit, Alvarez and Kovalev fought a rematch in February. Under the guidance of new trainer Buddy McGirt, Kovalev ignored the crowd and worked behind a snapping jab to put Alvarez in his place with a solid decision victory.
Yarde, an exciting young talent smashing his way through his opponents, is facing a huge step up in a fight against an experienced world champion on his home turf. It is the first fight for Yarde outside England. It’s fair to say he’s faced limited opposition; only one opponent was among the top 50 in a talent-laden division.
Yarde was named Kovalev’s mandatory opponent, and Saturday’s fight was schedule. Then Canelo Alvarez came calling.
Not eager for a third fight with Gennadiy Golovkin, Alvarez instead dangled the prospect of a fight with Kovalev in Las Vegas on September 14, the traditional Mexican Independence Day. Promoters and broadcast partner DAZN were reportedly all for it. But Kovalev and promoter Main Events required more money than Golden Boy Boxing and Alvarez were willing to give up. Kovalev also disliked the idea of bailing out on his long awaited hometown fight and paying Yarde as much at $1 million in step aside money. The match-up is still in play for later this year should Kovalev be successful in beating Yarde, increasing the stakes for Saturday’s title bout.
Kovalev and Yarde: Classic matchup of youth vs. experience
No one would give Yarde a chance against a prime Kovalev. But at age 36 with three losses behind him and a confounding series of disturbing behavior outside the ring without much resolution, Kovalev himself draws in doubts. But the Russian has a lot to fight for. He’s in front of his countrymen at home, with a legacy to protect and a potential major payday on the horizon in a fight against Mexican champion Canelo Alvarez. Worth fighting for? You bet.
“Everything depends on this Saturday,” said Kovalev. “ I have a focus for this fight and next I will be open for each fight, you know. Like for myself, what I see, five more fights to become the undisputed champion. I’m already old you know – 36 years old, just like a couple more years and enough,” said Kovalev.
The confident 28-year-old Yarde is only four years into his pro boxing career, with no appreciable amateur experience. But he’s got the right attitude. “I’m driven by challenges and again to me it’s just fun. Literally, all of this is just fun, going out there and fighting. From when the bell rings, nine times out of ten, everything disappears anyway. It’s just controlling yourself until that moment. Once I get going there is no stopping me.
“I’m going to be extra focused. Come Saturday night, my life changes.”
What is Anthony Yarde made of? Yarde will be made to prove his mettle. On the other side of the ring, Kovalev also has something to prove: how much gas is left in the veteran’s tank. How the script plays itself out gives fans a classic dramatic narrative in boxing.
Prediction: Kovalev by decision
Assessing the fight, Kovalev has the edge in experience, venue, and in Hall of Fame trainer Buddy McGirt. Kovalev knows what it’s like to feel the eyes of the boxing world on him and feel the pressure of expectations. He also knows what it’s like to live through and survive disappointments.
Yarde has youth on his side, which gives him the edge in conditioning against Kovalev, who’s often been criticized for gassing out in later rounds when he can’t stop an opponent. Yarde’s controversial trainer, Babatunde ‘Tunde’ Ajayi has arguably his best ever fighter in Yarde – but inexplicably, bragged they had done no sparring with opponents.
It’s in Kovalev’s best interests to dust off the Alvarez rematch game plan, refined with a few more months of work on it with McGift. Kovalev’s jab is underappreciated and nearly as hard a punch as his power shots. He can keep Yarde off with his jab and his skills all day, as long as he’s in good enough condition. He’s got the ring IQ to frustrate Yarde and draw him into making mistakes.
Yarde can punch, but you need to get to your opponent to deliver the damage. It will take Kovalev making a mistake like he did in the first Alvarez fight, leaving himself open for a punch he doesn’t expect. Yarde has the puncher’s chance, and it will be exciting to watch him try.
But Kovalev has far more to lose than the young Brit, especially the prospect of a fight against Alvarez. Forget the belts, Kovalev can end his career in the ring with Canelo if he gets past Yarde and that’s got to be highly motivating.
We agree with Kovalev’s nemesis, Andre Ward. No one knows Kovalev in the ring better than Ward, and he’s calling the fight for Kovalev based on his ring IQ and experience. We agree – Kovalev will prevail in this fight, setting up the payday he deferred with Alvarez.
Gayle Lynn Falkenthal is a veteran boxing observer covering the Sweet Science for Communities. Read more Ringside Seat in Communities Digital News. Follow Gayle on Facebook and on Twitter @PRProSanDiego.
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