LAS VEGAS, Nevada, November 1, 2019 – Main Events CEO Kathy Duva said she knew the fight between her WBO Light Heavyweight champion Sergey Kovalev and three-division champion Canelo Alvarez was going to happen back in July. The boxing world began hearing more about it in the weeks to follow, but an anticipated August date couldn’t be made.
In the meantime, Kovalev honored his agreement for a fight with ambitious young British contender Anthony Yarde in his native Russia, and scored an impressive stoppage win in the 11th round after taking serious fire from Yarde in the eighth round.
Just a few weeks later, the championship fight between Alvarez and Kovalev was resurrected, and the closer it came, the initial reaction changed from “Say what?” “Really?” to “Huh, I actually like this idea.” Even Kovalev admits when the fight was first presented to him by manager Egis Klimas, he asked if he was kidding. Then he asked, “In what division?” Learning Alvarez was willing to come up to light heavyweight without any catchweight requests, Kovalev said to bring him the contract, “any time, any place, and we got it.”
Fast forward to Friday at the MGM Grand Garden Arena. In front of a subdued crowd with plenty of supporters for both men, Alvarez weighed in at 174.5 pounds. Kovalev initially hit the scale at 176 pounds, then 175.5 without his necklace and shorts, and 175.25 at a third try. He was given an hour to make weight, but all he needed was a quick trip to the restroom to make weight at 175 pounds five minutes later. The weight issue was reportedly due to the failure of the Nevada State Athletic Commission to recalibrate the traditional counterweight style scale after it had been moved from Thursday, when fighters were able to test it, to Friday.
New challenge for the world’s highest-paid athlete
Fans might be disappointed they aren’t getting their trilogy fight between Alvarez and his middleweight nemesis Gennadiy Golovkin, but they should embrace Saturday’s bout with the same enthusiasm as the participants. The career-changing potential of the various outcomes lends real intrigue to this fight.
Alvarez (52-1-2, 35 KOs), age 29, sees the fight as a career challenge in a way a third fight with Golovkin doesn’t provide. With a win, he would become only the second light heavyweight champion from Mexico, and just the fourth to win titles in four divisions. Even against an age-diminished version of Kovalev, Alvarez will test himself carrying more weight and navigating the style of a veteran with plenty of tricks left up his sleeve. It’s not hard to understand Alvarez deriving more personal motivation out of the fight.
Kovalev (34-2-1, 29 KOs), age 36, has accomplished a lot more than he could have expected can restore some shine to his legacy with a good performance against the popular Mexican star, and cement his position in one of boxing’s most competitive divisions.
Alvarez and Kovalev’s interactions have been remarkably relaxed and low-key. No show of menace, no Tyson Fury style braggadocio, and up until Friday’s weigh-in when Alvarez trainer Chepo Reynoso hovered over Kovalev on the scale and heckled his predicament making weight, the sides have shown plenty of mutual respect.
The stakes for Alvarez and Kovalev
Kovalev has fought significant opposition, including his two fights with undefeated Andre Ward, but without a doubt, he considers Alvarez the biggest name on his resume, “the biggest name I fought after Bernard Hopkins,” says Kovalev.
“Right now, I have a really big motivation to get victory over Canelo, because after this victory there will be more opportunities that will be in front of me,” added Kovalev, who hopes to fight two more years before retiring. Kovalev is scoring an eight-figure paycheck for this fight, which he and his family deserve. His stock could rise even in a loss if it’s close, but the money will ease some of the pain, and he’s likely to gain new fans among the Mexican and Mexican-American fans who admire warriors of any background. With a win, Kovalev becomes a serious player.
“I consider Kovalev as one of the best in his division. He is a champion and he represents a great challenge for me. I don’t see it as pressure. I see it as motivation,” said Alvarez. “You need to run risks in order to create history. It’s going to be a difficult fight for me, the most difficult of my profession. But to make history this is what you must do.”
“I always imagined the magnitude of what I could accomplish so fast, and then I discovered more things, I learned more things, and I learned there are even more things ahead of me where I can make history, and that’s what motivates me to keep going,” said Alvarez.
“I know he would like fighting with a full stomach,” joked Kovalev during a media roundtable. He might have touched on a hidden truth. Alvarez appears more relaxed and in good spirits in the weeks leading up to this bout than in many years. Was he struggling against weight enough to be perpetually hangry? If he’s feeling more comfortable in his own skin and finding new enthusiasm after more than 50 fights, Alvarez could find a second wind for the next phase of his career.
Asked how he will determine what weight division to pursue following this bout, Alvarez left his options open.
Prediction: Alvarez grinds down Kovalev to late stoppage
Both Alvarez and Kovalev are entering this fight with positive mindsets. Kovalev has apparently compartmentalized his legal issues waiting for him outside the ring. Kovalev has settled into a comfortable relationship with trainer Buddy McGirt, who gave Kovalev solid guidance helping him overcome Anthony Yarde. Kovalev needs to rely on McGirt again Saturday, and resist the temptation to turn the fight into a war he can’t win with a younger, fresher man. Kovalev has never gotten credit for his exceptional boxing skills, and he needs to turn to them behind his effective jab to win the fight one round at a time.
Alvarez says he trained smarter with less work in the ring, more strength and conditioning including weight work, flexibility and stretched, and even swimming to avoid stress on his joints. He admitted he isn’t a good swimmer and doesn’t like it, but it has been effective. The additional weight looks impressive on Alvarez. It’s hard to imagine him returning to middleweight ever again. He punches with power and speed, and the defensive skills he showed off against Daniel Jacobs will serve him well to avoid the worst of The Krusher’s power.
But if either man makes a mistake, Kovalev will pay a bigger price. He must fight perfectly for 12 rounds. Should the cards go to the Nevada judges, Alvarez always enjoys an edge; Kovalev knows what it’s like to lose a close one. Judges prefer power punching to jabs. Kovalev has to figure out how to make Alvarez look bad, or at least awkward and ineffective.
Alvarez won’t be all that bigger on the night of the bout than his customary rehydration to the 180-pound range. What’s different is that he hasn’t needed to cut weight before the fight. He looks healthy, powerful, and mentally sharp. He should be able to wear Kovalev down even if he can’t score a single knockout punch or get to the body, and Alvarez is likely to grind Kovalev down in a performance which should shut up any remaining doubters forever.
From the first formal announcement, there has been an odd coolness to the atmosphere surrounding the fight. The weigh-in was not as well attended as previous Alvarez fights, and the fans weren’t too vocal. The lack of stage lighting at the MGM Grand Garden Arena didn’t help matters. The biggest cheers were reserved for the arrival of Mexican superstar Julio Caesar Chavez Sr. for his broadcasting assignment.
As for the critics, Alvarez has words for them. “With the critics who aren’t with me, who are always going to talk about everything I do, I have nothing to respond to them with, I’ll never make them happy. I don’t try to, and I don’t hope to.”
Kovalev’s manager Egis Klimas may have said it best: “I don’t think this fight needs to be introduced. When you hear the names Canelo Alvarez, Krusher Kovalev, it says all that’s going to happen on November 2. I don’t need to talk about Sergey – everybody knows who he is in boxing, and regarding Canelo, they know what they mean when they say – grandes cojones.”
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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