Sergey Kovalev dominates Eleider Alvarez
By Eric Thomas: Sergey Kovalev evened the score with Eleider Alvarez by beating him in a one-sided fashion last Saturday night,in winning a 12 round unanimous decision to regain his WBO light heavyweight title on Top Rank Boxing on ESPN+.
Just six months ago, Kovalev (33-3-1, 28 KOs) lost to Alvarez in an upset seventh round knockout on August 4 in their first fight. This time, Alvarez wasn’t going to be able to score an upset, given that Sergey was ready for everything that he brought to the table last night.
Kovalev did what he pleased in controlling the fight from the outset, and never really allowing Alvarez to get into the fight like he had last time they fought. Kovalev’s work rate was much higher than Alvarez. He was hitting Alvarez with jabs, and quick left-right combinations the entire fight.
Alvarez hit Kovalev with some big right hands in the 6th and 7th rounds, hoping to knock him out like he did the first time they fought. Kovalev was able to withstand the heavy shots from Alvarez in those rounds, and continue to fight well like he had in rounds 1 through 5. Alvarez wanted to duplicate the seventh round knockout that he had in the first fight, but Kovalev was able to take everything that he dished out.
A lot of credit for the improvement in Kovalev’s game must go to his new trainer Buddy McGirt. He made a lot of changes in Kovalev’s style of fighting, having focus more on using his jab, and less on his power punching that he’d been doing throughout his career. Kovalev feels that McGirt brought him back to the way that he’d been fighting as an amateur in Russia where it was more about being technical, using a jab, and less about trying to knockout his opponents. McGirt helped Kovalev get back to what he was good at as an amateur while at the same making improvements in his conditioning, which was a weakness for him in his fights against Andre Ward, Issac Chilemba and Alvarez.
Kovalev out-landed Alvarez by a wide margin last night. Kovalev connected on 213 of 816 punches for a connect percentage of 26, according to CompuBox’s stats. Alvarez landed 111 of 369 punches for a connect rate of 30%. Although Alvarez connected with a higher percentage of his punches in the fight, he wasn’t busy enough for him to impress the judges and win the rounds. One reason for that is Alvarez didn’t pressure Kovalev enough to get in range to land his shots.
Alvarez fought like he didn’t want to get hit with Kovalev’s punches to get near enough to land his hard shots. Alvarez found himself waiting until Kovalev would throw a shot before he would try and counter him. That’s not a style that worked for Alvarez last night. Moreover, the 34-year-old Alvarez failed to make adjustments in his game when he started falling behind in the first after the first 6 rounds. It was clear by that point in the bout that Alvarez wasn’t going to win if he didn’t start coming forward looking to pressure Kovalev, and throw more punches. Alvarez’s game plan appeared to be based on the belief that Kovalev would gas out after 7 rounds, and would be vulnerable to getting knocked out.
Last night, Kovalev, 35, showed vast improvements in his game in beating the previously unbeaten Alvarez (24-1, 12 KOs) by a 12 round unanimous decision by the scores 120-108, 116-112 and 116-112 in front of a crowd of 4,877 fans at The Ford Center at The Star, in Frisco, Texas.
Going into last Saturday’s fight, Kovalev had described his previous loss to Alvarez as “an accident”, saying that he had run out of fuel in his gas tank in the second part of the contest due to him having done too much in training camp. The excuse was not a popular one with Alvarez or the boxing fans, who saw Kovalev as someone who couldn’t admit that he had lose to the better man in the first fight. Kovalev didn’t have to make excuses this time, as he never tired and governed how the fight played out from start to finish.
After the fight, Kovalev said he wants to take on the other world champions at light heavyweight for a unification. Whether that’s possible or not is to his management, and the other champions. If a unification match against 175 lb champions Dmitry Bivol, Oleksander Gvozdyk or Artur Beterbiev isn’t possible, then Kovalev can always fight Alvarez a third time in a trilogy fight. The two fighters are 1-1 now in their rivalry. A third fight would decide who the better fighter is of the two. If Kovalev fights the way he did this time, it’s going to be difficult for Alvarez to win the third match.
“Who’s ready for a unification fight? I’m here to make history for me and my fans,” Kovalev said afterwards.
There were a lot of boxing fans and experts that doubted Kovalev could avenge his loss to Alvarez. One of them was former two division world champion Andre ‘SOG’ Ward, who twice beat Kovalev in the past. Ward said before the fight that Kovalev would lose again to Alvarez. Ward doubted that Kovalev could improve his game enough to get the ‘W’, and he felt that he would do worse than last time. Like other doubters, Ward turned out to be wrong. He had greatly underestimated Kovalev, but you can’t blame him. Kovalev had been underwhelming in his two fights with Ward, and his previous match against Alvarez.
Kovalev built up a wide lead going into the later rounds of the fight last night. Despite the wide lead, the fight was still far from over. Kovalev was ahead on all 3 of the scorecards after the sixth round in his previous fight against Alvarez, and he yet he was still knocked out in the 7th round. Kovalev stayed relaxed in the rematch, and he didn’t try to do too much to put empty out his gas tank, and give Alvarez changes to land one of his hard sneaky right hands. Alvarez was trying hard to land one of his shots, but Kovalev was ready for everything that he threw. It was only on rare occasions where Alvarez caught Kovalev with hard punches that appeared to take him by surprise last night. Alvarez’s nose was bloodied in the 9th round after Kovalev hit him with a cracking right hand. Although Kovalev did look like he was tiring 9th, 10th and 11th, he still had enough energy to move well on his feet, and hit Alvarez with nice shots when he would try and come forward. Alvarez wasn’t going to risk getting knocked out by walking into Kovalevs power ally to try and land something. His defense wasn’t good enough for him to plod straight into the teeth of Kovalev’s offense. Andre Ward able to do that, but only because his defense was good enough for him to elude Kovalev’s heavy shots for the most part. Ward was knocked down by Kovalev in their first fight in 2016 when he tried walking him down in the 2nd round.
Kovalev fought well in the 10th round in hurting Alvarez with a 1-2 combination in the late going of the round. Alvarez looked exhausted and focused at that point of the fight. The energy wasn’t there for Alvarez, and he just looked like he had no plan in how to get to Kovalev’s chin to reproduce the knockout of the first fight.
Going into the 12th round, Alvarez’s corner tried to motivate him to go for the KO by telling him that he needed to stop Kovalev to win the contest. Alvarez came out fast at the start of round 12 attempting to fulfill the wishes of his training team, but he wasn’t able to get close enough to land his best shots. Kovalev stood on the outside, jabbing and throwing long right hands. When Kovalev would willingly come in punching range, he would shoulder Alvarez, and hit him with left-right combinations at close range. The shots had excellent power on them. Alvarez was able to land shots in return, but he didn’t have the hand speed or the volume punching for him to get the better of Kovalev.
“I have no excuses,” Alvarez said after the fight. “I know if it went the distance he would be the favorite so I tried to press the fight. I thought I put on a good performance, but I just did not get the result. I don’t see myself as a loser, but I do give him credit. He went out and proved he wanted to win the fight.”
Alvarez failed to mention whether he’l try and get a third fight with Kovalev. That would be the logical direction for Alvarez to take his career. A third fight is always a possibility unless Kovalev’s promoters at Main Events and Top Rank has other things in mind in terms of a unification fight.