Sergey Kovalev’s reputation is hanging by a thread as he takes on Eleider Alvarez in a career-defining rematch. Even though Oscar Valdez’s featherweight title defense against Carmine Tommasone is officially recognized as the main event in Frisco this weekend, all eyes will be on the WBO light-heavyweight clash between current champ Alvarez and former king Kovalev.
Kovalev is not used to being second best in the ring or on the betting sheets. Betting closed on the first fight with Alvarez +400 and then-champion Kovalev a -600 favorite. This time around Alvarez enters as a -165 option. Kovalev is +135. Alvarez is not widely regarded as a big puncher (holding a 50% knockout ratio). Two of his best wins have come on points, against Jean Pascal and Isaac Chilemba respectively. A 2017 KO of ex-IBF king Lucian Bute coupled with a heavy stoppage of Kovalev in their first clash shows he can bang when required.
Kovalev’s Issues In and Out of the Ring
As if Kovalev’s problems in the ring weren’t bad enough, his exploits outside of the ropes also cast doubt on whether he can reignite a flagging career. News broke recently that Sergey faces a felony charge with a potential four years in prison after being accused of assaulting a female last summer. Add this to his notoriously volatile personality, heavy drinking habits, a constant change in trainers, and the issues are quickly mounting up. Kovalev fell out with long-term trainer John David Jackson around the time of the Andre Ward rematch. A move to Russian coach Abror Tursunpulatov garnered two victories against lesser opposition before the loss to Alvarez. Kovalev has now teamed up with expert trainer and former world champion Buddy McGirt. Buddy is a fine coach, but just how much any trainer can get through to a headstrong character like Kovalev is open to debate.
Upon moving to the States in 2009 the Russian made his name as a destructive force. Playing the role perfectly as the mysterious villain sent to America to destroy prospects and decapitate champions, Kovalev shredded through challenges displaying heavy hands and no shortage of boxing ability. Not many were willing to give him a chance in the early days before he struck up a relationship with Main Events and Kathy Duva. Kovalev wasted little time in detonating the heavy shots on US undercards, displaying the type of ruthlessly efficient punching power that still leads punters to fancy a flutter on the KO.
While Alvarez is the betting favorite, Kovalev is enticing at -165 for the knockout. Will the power of old resurface and destroy “Storm” Alvarez? Given Kovalev’s wear and tear, combined with the fact that Alvarez is huge for the weight, taller, and fresher, it could be a long night for Kovalev.
At 34, Alvarez is a year younger. Significantly, he has not been in as many tough battles as his opponent. The second Andre Ward fight took a lot out of the Krusher. Alvarez, meanwhile, had been ticking over whilst chasing down the fleet-footed former WBC king Adonis Stevenson. A Colombian based in Canada, Alvarez showed in the first Kovalev bout that he can hang around whilst being outboxed and retain composure and finishing instincts when the time arrives. In their first meeting, Kovalev had boxed his way back into the contest after suffering some early damage. He then got caught with the old clichéd shot that you don’t see coming.
The Russian’s Air of Invincibility has Gone
Alvarez has been more vocal in the lead-up to this return fixture. He has promised to “batter” Kovalev, which would indicate a man entering the ring with little to fear, despite holding the world championship and thus having the stereotypical target on the back for hungry challengers. Those who write off Kovalev as a one-dimensional brawler with an explosive punch, but little else, are way off the mark. At his destructive best Kovalev had great timing, a solid jab, mixed with sound fundamental boxing skills. The way Kovalev took Nathan Cleverly’s best shots before breaking him down in front of his home crowd and winning the WBO title was brutally efficient. Kovalev was immense that night.
Admittedly the aura of invincibility has gone since his three losses (Andre Ward burst the bubble before defeating the Russian in a rematch), but Kovalev still swaggers around like the king of the 175-pound division. When someone stands up to a bully, however, they have a tendency to wilt. Kovalev has been stood up to three times and has wilted twice (the first Ward fight was extremely close, with many, including HBO scorer Harold Lederman, feeling Kovalev had won on points).
Kovalev has always been suspect to the body, even during his wrecking ball years. Alvarez’s freshness, confidence at being one of the title holders, and a diminished Kovalev output should ensure that the champion retains. Whether by knockout or points a fourth loss for the Florida resident could spell the end of his tenure at the sport’s highest level.