After back-to-back defeats to Andre Ward in 2016/17, Sergey Kovalev has simply been a shadow of his former self in the ring. The once feared Russian has regained a world title in this time, but has also suffered a devastating defeat to Eléider Álvarez, and in my opinon I thought he would never come back after that.
However, the sport of boxing can have a funny way of proving people wrong sometimes. His rematch with Colombian was a different story as he produced a mature intelligent performance as he became 3x world champion.
His most recent bout with up and coming British light heavyweight Anthony Yarde was terrific and entertaining fight for the neutrals. However, once again Sergey’s weaknesses were exposed again as he was almost taken out in a dramatic 8th round. After just surviving the round he was even warned by his trainer Buddy McGirt, if he doesn’t show him something in the next round he is stopping the fight. Kovalev managed to get a second wind from somewhere and ended it with a dramatic 11th round KO with a piercing strong jab that left Yarde with no hope of getting up. (Watch the highlights here)
From these performances alone, most will not give Kovalev a chance against the Mexican boxing star who is very much in the prime of his career. His former opponent Andre Ward recently gave his thoughts on the match up to ESPN:
“It’s a lot of variables but right now I’m leaning Canelo Alvarez. Sergey Kovalev is no longer ‘The Krusher,’ he’s simply Sergey Kovalev. And Sergey Kovalev by himself is a formidable guy, he’s still dangerous, he’s still tough, but it’s only for the first half of the fight.
“If Canelo Alvarez doesn’t try to go overboard and try to put on some enormous amount of weight and mass, I think he’s gonna wear Kovalev down. We know — everybody knows — that Kovalev can not take it to the body, nor does he know how to defend himself when somebody comes inside. I can see Canelo stopping Kovalev late, somewhere around the 11th and the 12th round because, listen, Sergey Kovalev is in his mid-30s, this is a cash-out fight for him. I’m sure he’s gonna try to win but he’s not ‘The Krusher’ anymore, it’s as simple as that. He’s had tough fights, tough lifestyle outside the ring — I’m leaning towards Canelo Alvarez for a late round stoppage.”
The question for me now is if he is no longer the once feared ‘Krusher’ what can he do to prove the doubters wrong and get a win over Canelo Alvarez. Here are 4 areas below I feel Kovalev will need to do to get the win over the Mexican.
1. Take advantage of the weight
Kovalev has been fighting at light heavyweight for all his career and he knows the weight category inside out. Canelo will be jumping up two weight divisions and I personally feel the jumping around weight groups will not do him well in the long run. Canelo will have to put more weight than ever before for a fight and we have seen the Mexican tire at times in his 12 round fights.
This will obviously be natural to the Russian who will be more than comfortable making weight and already know what it takes to fight at 175lbs. Because of this he needs to take use this bully and make Canelo work harder to see how he copes with extra weight – something a younger Kovalev would’ve taken advantage of.
2. Feights & Accurate Jabs
Kovalev’s feights are probably one of most under appreciated parts of his boxing style and technique. The Russian is excellent at making his opponent hesitate. Now obviously Canelo is an excellent counter puncher, but he will be up against a much bigger puncher than usual and arguably as strong as GGG. The Krusher’s feights will be key for him landing a big shot on the Mexican.
The Russian’s accurate jab will also be key in the fight as I think he has one of the best jabs in boxing when he works it alongside his troublesome feights, which will definitely help put Canelo on the back foot. I feel if Kovalev does this it will help him set up his very powerful right which the Mexican will want to avoid. (check out an excellent video at the bottom on this article to see it in action)
3. NOT fighting on the inside
As Andre Ward said in the quote above, we all know Kovalev’s biggest weakness is taking shots to the body – he simply can’t handle it. In those fights with Ward we saw the frustration of Kovalev and he ended up being tied in on a fight on the inside which resulted in him taking lots of body shot and in a sense him giving up. (Ward vs Kov 2)
Sergey is best when controlling the centre of the ring and maintaining the distance. This will probably be Team Canelo’s plan to target the body and get up close, therefore Kovalev will need to prepare for how the Mexican will come out. By pushing him back himself and putting him on the back foot.
4. Prepare for the KO
Considering all the above, Canelo will want to take the Russian into the deep rounds as this is when he tends to fade. Kovalev has always been a fast starter and maybe this is the perfect match up to really put it on Canelo in the opening rounds and see if he can handle being at light heavyweight weight division.
The other alternative which I can’t see happening is taking Canelo out in the later rounds himself. If the Russian manages to do to this it will be no doubt his greatest moment of his whole career.
Canelo vs Kovalev takes place on 2nd November at Madison Square Garden. I expect a compelling contest which will really test both fighters and will definitely be tuning in. I’ll be doing another fight preview before the big event so make sure to give me a follow on Twitter for more updates here
You can watch the fight on DAZN – US/Canada and on Sky Sports in the UK.
For more why not check out my in depth article on Canelo’s boxing style here for more insight. Or check out HaNZAgod’s excellent video below showing Kovalev devastating jab. (below)