Arguably the best light-heavyweight of the decade and at one time found on many pound-for-pound best fighters rankings, Sergey Kovalev suddenly is the marquee B-side attraction for his next title defense against Saul “Canelo” Alvarez.
Canelo Alvarez (-400) vs. Sergey Kovalev (+300), Saturday at 10 p.m. ET (DAZN)
When one agrees to face boxing’s most popular fighter, such is the role champions like Kovalev accept. Previous accomplishments don’t matter. Although he is the defending champion, Kovalev receives second billing.
Welcome to the world of fighting Alvarez that Kovalev and other fighters enter because of the lucrative payday awaiting them.
Alvarez dictates terms, such as his decision to challenge Kovalev on Saturday night in Las Vegas. The native of Mexico seeks to win a fourth weight-division title against the 36-year-old Kovalev at the MGM Grand Garden Arena.
“Canelo has nothing to lose in this fight, he has a chance to make history,” Kovalev said. “But I have to defend my title. This is the biggest fight of my career. I’ve never been in this situation, where someone is coming from middleweight.”
Despite Alvarez’s two-division ascent to face a fighter accustomed to his weight, oddsmakers continue to make him a solid favorite to dethrone Kovalev. Several New Jersey bookmakers have Alvarez winning at -400 odds.
“I don’t worry about if I’m the underdog or not,” Kovalev said. “I just feel like we will be in the same ring, and everybody will be in the same position one-on-one, one against one.”
Kovalev (34-3-1, 29 KOs) is in his third reign as light-heavyweight champion. The native of Russia defeated Colombia’s Eleider Alvarez by unanimous decision to re-claim the World Boxing Organization (WBO) belt Feb. 2. Alvarez knocked out Kovalev in seven rounds six months earlier.
Canelo Alvarez vs. Sergey Kovalev, total rounds: Over 10.5 (-200), Under 10.5 (+150)
Many star fighters wait for the appropriate opportunity to target matches and Canelo Alvarez has such clout. Alvarez (52-1-2, 35 KOs) and his team are fully aware that a fighter with substantial ring mileage like Kovalev might have regressed from the perch that once featured him among the elite. In addition to his knockout loss to Eleider Alvarez, Kovalev was stopped by Andre Ward in June 2017. Ward ended Kovalev’s first title stint with a disputed unanimous decision the previous year.
In his recent title defense Aug. 24, Kovalev scored an 11th-round technical knockout over Anthony Yarde but not before withstanding 11 physical rounds. Kovalev does not foresee the short turnaround time between fights as an obstacle Saturday. He credits his training team, overseen by Buddy McGirt, for helping him prepare for Alvarez in the quick span.
“We have a great camp with Buddy McGirt,” Kovalev said. “I had a short rest since my last fight. But I think that’s better. My body feels really good, and I’m ready for this fight.”
With a career highlighted by two knockout victories over Jean Pascal and a convincing decision against Bernard Hopkins, Kovalev acknowledges that defeating Alvarez will outshine any previous accomplishment.
“It’s nice that this is the biggest call in my boxing career, and to face Canelo, I’m happy,” Kovalev said. “This is a big test for me – to prove one more time, I’m the best light heavyweight in the division.
“Canelo is really talented and really famous, so this is a lot of pressure to me, but believe me, I’m in boxing already since I was 11 years old and I should be fine.”
Although Alvarez stresses the importance of moving two divisions for the fourth division championship goal, the bout with Kovalev is not his first above the middleweight class. Last December, Alvarez stopped Rocky Fielding in three rounds to claim a second-tier sanctioning body super-middleweight belt. Alvarez returned to the middleweights in May and retained his title with a unanimous decision victory over Daniel Jacobs.
The move to face Kovalev also cost Alvarez one of his sanctioning body middleweight titles. The International Boxing Federation (IBF) removed Alvarez as champion by not fighting mandatory challenger Sergiy Derevyanchenko. Derevyanchenko instead fought former champion and previous Alvarez foe Gennadiy Golovkin in a vacant title bout and lost a close unanimous decision Oct. 5.
“I’m entering his zone of comfort but we’re ready for this,” Alvarez said. “We have the intelligence and skill to beat Kovalev and win the fight. It’s going to be one of the most important fights for me and my career. This title is very important, to be a four-time world champion in different divisions.”
Alvarez’s strategy to defeat Kovalev will likely feature boxing skills that have helped him to junior-middleweight and super-middleweight championships. The taller Kovalev is expected to use his jab to set power shots.
“We know what he has and what this challenge represents,” Alvarez said. “We know he has long arms, his jab is really strong, and he knows how to move, but we’ve trained for this. He’s my strongest opponent without a doubt and it’s a huge risk for me but we’re ready.”
Alvarez will not disclose his plans beyond Saturday’s bout. In multiple interviews, Alvarez has devalued the importance of a third fight against Golovkin. Golovkin and Alvarez fought to a draw in their first bout in 2017 before Alvarez ended Golovkin’s 20-fight middleweight title run with a majority decision win last year.
“For me, that fight presents no challenge to me right now,” Alvarez said. “We fought two times, 24 rounds. I beat him, so he represents no challenge. However, what he does represent is some good business, so if they offer me something really good, maybe the third fight can happen.”