Two defeats to now-retired superstar Andre Ward seemed a crushing blow for one of boxing’s most popular active figures. But Sergey Kovalev has taken little time in re-igniting his career and taking back his place as the best Light Heavyweight on the planet.
On Saturday night in Atlantic City, Kovalev and fellow Russian Dmitry Bivol will each make their respective title defences ahead of what many are expecting to be a unification fight later this year or early in 2019.
But while Bivol is heavily favoured to deal with well-respected and capable Isaac Chilemba in a test that basically every top level 175lber must overcome, the task in front of Kovalev 32-2-1(28KO’s) is far more dangerous.
All fighters – even Eleider Alvarez himself – know of what Chilemba brings to the table (both Alvarez and Kovalev were pushed hard to come away with points wins) but the Colombian born Canadian in front of Sergey has no sense of an opponent mentality. Alvarez is an unbeaten prospect, who has bided his time – and often been forced into that by the WBC – taking in all that has taken place around him as he has patiently waited for his opportunity.
Alvarez has served his apprenticeship, outside of Chilemba, beating the likes of Ryno Liebenberg (TKO 7), Lucian Bute (KO 5) and Jean Pascal (MD 12).
Alvarez 23-0(11KO’s) has been avoided by WBC kingpin Adonis Stevenson for some time, but his opportunity has now come to beat the cream of the crop and WBO ruler at 175, as well as an instant chance to wholly change the dynamic and Eastern bloc domination in the division.
Alvarez is a patient boxer, who doesn’t carry as much pop as his fighting style would suggest. But a solid output is going to be crucial against a man who can win rounds on reputation alone.
Kovalev may rush his work at times here as he opts to make a statement in his toughest test since being stopped in the rematch with Ward.
Alvarez is likely to have every intention to take this fight late, but in order to come out on top he must have a good work rate early – to avoid giving up a large advantage – and will need to bring Kovalev out of his comfort zone, make him use those legs, while countering away and targeting the mid-section when Kovalev is inevitably right in front of him.
But while Alvarez is ready for his meeting with destiny, having it come in the form of a beast like Kovalev certainly won’t help his cause.
He will win early rounds, and can nick a few in the middle stanza’s, but down the stretch it will be Kovalev, driving forward with more vigour in his work, who takes command and ultimate walks away with a narrow but fair points win.
Bivol 13-0(11KO’s) dominated his match with Sullivan Barrera (TKO 12) last time out, before he shocked all in Madison Square Garden with a stunning knockout in the final round. Against Chilemba he may be looking at a similar contest this Saturday.
Chilemba 25-5-2(10KO’s) has only been stopped once – and that came when he retired on his stool, citing a broken hand for his lacklustre showing against rising Oleksandr Gvozdyk in 2016. That was the last of three straight defeats, but he has no shame in his fine efforts against both Alvarez and Kovalev in his opponents’ back yards.
Bivol does little wrong in the ring, and while he carries power across all 12 rounds, he has yet to be pushed out of his comfort zone, and while at this stage of Chilemba’s career he is unlikely to get the sternest of tests, he will see different looks against a man who is notoriously hard to look good against.
An awkward customer is exactly what Bivol needs, but should he catch and hurt Chilemba in the latter stages, it is hard to see the 31-year old African making it to the final bell.
As his career winds down, he deserves to take Bivol the distance, but expect the WBA champion to make some noise with a 9th round stoppage.