Russian power puncher Sergey Kovalev was supposed to breeze past Colombian Eleider Alvarez without breaking a sweat.
Nicknamed “Krusher,” Kovalev reported for the 12-round battle with Alvarez last week with a fearsome record of 32-2, 1 (draw) with 28 knockouts. He was making his second defense of the World Boxing Organization (WBO) light heavyweight (175 lbs.) crown he regained last November following back-to-back losses to American Andre Ward.
Despite the setbacks to Ward, Kovalev remained the favorite to defeat the relatively untested Alvarez. While unbeaten, Alvarez had only 11 knockouts in 23 wins. A closer look at his ledger showed that Alvarez had scored only three knockout wins in the past five years before the Kovalev fight.
The 34-year-old Alvarez was also a last-minute substitute, the original choice being Marcus Browne. When legal issues prevented the Kovalev-Browne from happening, Alvarez was tapped, albeit to play the role of sacrificial lamb to the mighty Russian.
Alas, after leading in the scorecards in the first six rounds, Kovalev succumbed to the punching power Alvarez supposedly did not have. Midway in the seventh stanza, Alvarez dropped Kovalev with a huge right hand. Kovalev failed to clear the cobwebs and was knocked down two more times before the referee pulled the plug.
Fight fans were left flabbergasted by Kovalev’s shocking defeat. A deeper analysis, however, reveals that Kovalev never fully recovered from the knockout loss to Ward and showed up in the Alvarez fight with his cloak of invincibility severely tattered.
Before the two-fight series with Ward, Kovalev was a brutal, one-man demolition crew in the ring. One of two siblings, Kovalev grew up in a poverty-stricken mining area in the Ural Mountains and took up boxing at age 11 to augment the family income. He racked up an impressive 193-22 amateur record before turning pro in July 2009.
Armed with a solid jab and a jackhammer of a right hand, the six-foot Kovalev knocked out 19 of his first 21 opponents. He initially won the WBO light heavyweight crown in 2013 and a year later added the WBA and IBF versions of the crown by beating Bernard Hopkins.
Kovalev was unbeaten in 30 fights (with one fight ending in a draw) when he dropped a controversial decision to Ward in November 2016. In the rematch held in June 2017, Ward proved the win was not a fluke when he stopped Kovalev in eight rounds. Kovalev claimed the stoppage was a product of flagrant low blows, but fight experts saw the beginning of the end for the once feared Russian puncher.
Simply put, Ward shattered Kovalev’s aura of invincibility in their rematch. Kovalev hired a new trainer after being absorbing his first knockout defeat, but it was really nothing more than a band-aid solution. Kovalev’s confidence had been shaken and Alvarez saw this dent in the Russian’s armor.
At his peak, man-mountain Kovalev just walked into his foe’s defenses and imposed his punching power. Foes cowered in fear the moment Kovalev’s punches started finding their mark. Ward proved to be the exception. In their rematch, Ward bombarded Kovalev with body shots and disrupted the Russian’s offense with unorthodox defensive tactics.
Taking a page off Ward’s strategy, Alvarez boxed well in the early rounds, repeatedly using the jab to keep Kovalev at a safe distance. In the fourth round, however, Kovalev demonstrated his power and took control of the fight. To the surprise of many, Alvarez stood up to Kovalev’s power and retaliated with the huge right hand in the seventh round. Kovalev never recovered from the first knockdown as Alvarez hammered him without remorse.
Kovalev can avail of the rematch clause for a chance to get back at Alvarez, but at age 35 and with his chin now as fragile as porcelain, the “Krusher” may have to give it some serious thought.
If there is one thing the Alvarez fight confirmed, it is the fact that nobody is afraid of the monster now.