Tom's Take #2 // Crafty Kovalev & Arrogant Alvarez
Depending on who you listen to Sergey Kovalev is no stranger to a bar or two - and last night it was last chance saloon that was the venue of choice. A crushing (sorry) 7th round KO loss to Eleider Alvarez back in August looked to signal the beginning of the end for the Russian’s career - and the bookies odds reflected the general consensus that this rematch would represent the final curtain.
What transpired was a contest so one-sided you might have been politely asked what you had been drinking had you predicted it. The potential of boredom represented the greatest risk to Kovalev as he jabbed the head off Alvarez, landed sharp left-right combinations to both head and body, before jabbing some more. If not a rolling back of the years to vintage ‘Krusher’ Kovalev, the unanimous points victory served as a showcase of the boxing skills honed during a stellar amateur career and often underappreciated in his time in the professional ranks. Indeed, only in the first fight with Ward have we seen a similar display of his technical abilities - and that was promptly drowned out by the noise surrounding the points scoring controversy and the subsequent counter-offensive that was launched in defence of Ward’s own skills and performance.
Unlike the rematch with Ward, Kovalev came into this one with renewed focus and lessons learned. With a knockout record like his and a dangerous opponent opposite him it would have been easy for Krusher to hit the panic button and look to blitz Alvarez out of there rather than box patiently. Particularly when he looked to be tiring in rounds 6 and 7, the inescapable feeling of history repeating itself began to surround the contest. Repeat results in rematches and a fighter with too many miles on the clock succumbing to devastating defeat are two tales as old as time in boxing. That Kovalev bucked these trends is testament to both the discipline he showed in boxing to a game plan and the class that still prevails.
Regarding the former, both onlookers and Kovalev himself have partly attributed this to the work done by experienced trainer Buddy McGirt following the Russian’s high profile split with John David Jackson. That particular divorce made Paul McCartney’s split with Heather Mills look amicable, so putting that behind him would always prove vital, but in McGirt he seems to have found the perfect foil. The American could be heard barking instructions from ringside and whenever the heat began to rise, it was this voice that seemed to act as the coolant, guiding Kovalev back onto the right track back behind that jab. Despite his success, Kovalev has never come across as a fighter that is easy to instruct, so if he has found the perfect sensei at this late point in his career, that could pay dividends.
Regarding the latter - Kovalev made it clear he’s not finished yet. His skills showed no sign of waning and the second wind he seemed to experience from the 8th round onward points towards a fitness level that was unexpected going into the bout. He can now look forward to big fights in a division stacked with talented fighters that many were tipping to leave him behind. Fellow countrymen Artur Beterbiev and Dmitry Bivol offer natural unification matches that would excite and enthral, as does recently crowned WBC champion Oleksandr Gvozdyk from Ukraine. Kovalev may not have many years left in the sport, but it’ll be fun while it lasts.
As for Alvarez? Approach such a high profile rematch with a Plan A that banked on your opponent tiring and being bowled over by one big shot - backed up with no Plan B let alone the rest of the alphabet - and you get your just desserts. Flat-footed, with no tricks to set up the aforementioned big shot, it was Alvarez that appeared drunk off the success of the first fight. If he shook up the division by stopping Kovalev the first time, it is perhaps an equally impressive achievement to have performed so poorly in the rematch that a third bout would not even be entertained, such is the feeling of inevitability about what the outcome would be. The score sheet might read 1-1, but it’s game, set and match Krusher in the all-important court of public opinion. Having shown he packs enough dynamite to wreak havoc on anyone he lands clean on and a toughness to soak up every shot that Kovalev landed, Alvarez bought himself an express ticket to the ‘who needs him club’. At 34 years of age, he looks every part the quintessential underdog who had his day and never repeated it.
There’s fine margins between glory and catastrophe in boxing - ask either of these men if you’re unsure.