SATURDAY August 4 sees a welcome dip in temperature. A cold Russian wind will descend upon Atlantic City as we see the return of The Krusher, Sergey Kovalev. The 35-year-old Russian destroyer’s comeback is in full swing as he competes in his third contest since the two defeats to pound-for-pound great Andre Ward.
Kovalev put the comeback wheels in motion in November 2017 with a Krushing two-round blitz of Ukrainian Vyacheslav Shabranskyy, proving without doubt that his punching power, aggression and skill were still a force to be reckoned with. What was much more in question was whether Kovalev still held the desire to compete once a contest had gone past his usual early round destruction. Could he remain disciplined and focused? Had he fixed the stamina issues which had plagued him in both contests with Ward? Kovalev’s next contest was set to answer those lingering questions. Fellow Russian Igor Mikhalkin unfortunately didn’t pose enough of a threat to substantially have our questions answered. Kovalev proceeded to batter his outclassed opponent until he finally wilted after seven rounds. So, while he is 2-0 with two KOs since the Ward saga, we are none the wiser to how much Kovalev really has left. It cannot be disputed, the 35-year-old Kovalev, after two hard fights with Andre Ward is no longer in his prime. Whether he is still the best light-heavyweight in the world however is up for debate.
Kovalev squares off this Saturday against Eleider Alvarez, a Columbian born fighter who is now based out of Canada. He comes into the contest boasting a record of 23-0 and is full of confidence. In his last contest he scored the biggest win of his career defeating the well-known Jean Pascal. While it was his best win on paper, the performance left a lot to be desired, coming away with a majority points decision. Before that fight he demolished the faded Lucien Bute in five rounds. While Alvarez comes into the fight in a good run of form, his last contest was 14 months ago. This is hardly ideal preparation going into a contest with the still very formidable Sergey Kovalev. Alvarez has yet to mix in the truly elite company that Kovalev will greet him with on Saturday, but he had been the WBC mandatory challenger for some time and for one reason or another was paid “step aside” money by WBC kingpin Adonis Stevenson to prolong the possibility of fighting. This is a genuine contender and should hopefully give us the answers to the Kovalev questions.
Kovalev is a notorious front runner. He comes out of the blocks hard and fast, he will attempt to end the fight as quickly as possible. Going up against Kovalev it is imperative that you anticipate the fast start. Being able to deal with it is another problem entirely. Alvarez is more boxer than puncher but 11 KOs in his 23 wins suggests that he punches hard enough to gain respect. That’s exactly what he is going to need to do in this contest. Gain Kovalev’s respect earlier, show him that he’s there to fight and that the Krusher can’t just walk through him. This would hopefully enable him to try and slow the fight down into more of a technical boxing match, this would not be any sort of guarantee for a win as Kovalev is no slouch in the skills department. The more I analyse this fight, I can’t see past a Kovalev KO victory. It’s been proven that it will take a very special fighter to stop the Kovalev train like Ward. I just don’t feel Alvarez is in that class.
One fighter who many believe is in that class will be performing on the undercard with a view to a potential showdown with the winner. Dmitry Bivol, the latest in the never-ending line of elite fighters from the east, will be taking on the veteran trial horse Isaac Chilemba. The 13-0 Bivol is deservedly a big favourite going into the contest. Many boxing fans are high on the baby-faced Russian destroyer right now, many view him as the eventual ruler of the division now in Andre Ward’s absence. The stakes are very high in this contest against perennial spoiler Chilemba. While Chilemba has lost to the better opposition he has fought, he has fought them well, in often close and often very dull fights. For a fighter riding a wave like Bivol, a spoiler like Chilemba could upset the apple cart and derail a potential blockbuster with the winner of Kovalev-Alvarez. I expect Bivol to deal with Chilemba in emphatic fashion like no one has previously done, setting up a unification. The light-heavyweight scene is thriving once again, the Russian boys have got it red hot.