Sergey Kovalev faces his ultimate challenge
By John J. Raspanti
Once upon a time, Sergey Kovalev was the most feared light heavyweight on the planet. He was compared to a hitman lurking in the shadows, ready to attack. His right hand was like dynamite. Many said he was unbeatable.
In 2013, he picked up his first world title by beating up Nathan Cleverly in four dominant rounds. He had entered the ring an underdog-exited it a champion.
Over the next few years, he scored impressive victories over future Hall of Famer Bernard Hopkins, and former champion Jean Pascal, whom Kovalev sent to Dreamland twice. Hopkins was supposed to show Kovalev what real boxing was all about. Even at age 49, Hopkins would be far too crafty. He’d use his superior technique to frustrate the champion. Sounds good, right?
A minute into the fight, Hopkins found himself on the canvas, courtesy of a right hand. Kovalev won every round, showing a versatility that many thought he didn’t possess. The beatdown was the worst ever suffered by Hopkins.
In 2016, Kovalev faced another undefeated fighter by the name of Andre Ward. Most experts considered the fight a toss-up. It didn’t look that way in the first round when Kovalev floored Ward with a wicked right hand to the mouth.
Ward got up with a smile, and proceeded to rally, capturing a razor-close, and very debatable, 12-round decision. The bout was competitive and edgy. Kovalev’s great start was chilled by Ward’s grittiness.
Kovalev rightfully demanded a rematch. The sequel, which went down roughly six months after their first affair, was similar to fight one, except Kovalev didn’t knock Ward down. He never came close. Each round was close. Ward had the edge heading into round eight. Kovalev was tired. Ward’s grittiness was sapping his strength.
A huge right hand by Ward in round eight shook Kovalev badly. His legs went all rubbery. Ward attacked. Did a few punches stray below the belt? Yes, especially the last punch, but Ward would have likely won anyway.
Kovalev grumbled for a few days after the fight, and then took a vacation. He visited a monastery to clear his head. Kovalev returned to the ring five months later against Vyacheslav Shabranskyy. He stopped his overmatched opponent in two heats, winning the WBO light heavyweight title.
Four months later,he faced old friend Igor Mikhalkin. The fight was more workout than war, with Kovalev winning the fight by stoppage. But sharp eyes spotted issues. Kovalev was hit far too much by the underwhelming Mikhalkin. His defense was as leaky as a Washington politician.
Still, he wanted to stay active. He signed to fight Eleider Alvarez, who had been ducked by WBC light heavyweight champion Adonis Stevenson. Kovalev looked relaxed and confident at the weigh-in. Alvarez was edgy and determined. He had waited two years for his opportunity. He’d take out his frustration on Kovalev.
Which is exactly what he did. Alvarez, the quicker fighter, flashed fast hands in the opening round. Kovalev popped jabs to the body and little else. It was evident that Alvarez’s hand speed was already bothering him. He walked back to his corner with a puzzled expression on his face. Kovalev did better in rounds two and three. In a case of foreshadowing for later in the bout, Alvarez fired a right that rattled Kovalev.
Kovalev was back in control in round four. He went to the body and head. He hurt Alvarez with a hard right to the side of his face.
Alvarez nailed Kovalev with another right in round five. But like the second Ward bout, his body language suggested desperation He was running out of his gas, and his opponent was getting stronger.
Kovalev came out jabbing in round seven, but his punches lacked snap. His left hand dangled near his side. Alvarez, behind on the judges’ scorecards, saw this and unleashed a right hand to the temple that sent Kovalev stumbling to the canvas.
The failing champion pulled himself up, but his eyes were vacant, and he resembled a guy who had had one to many vodkas.
As he did after he lost to Ward, Kovalev demanded a rematch. Alverez quickly acquiesced. The date was set for Feb.2 at the Ford Center at The Star, in Dallas, TX.
A few weeks later, Alvarez (24-0, 12 KOs) was annoyed by what Kovalev had said during a press conference.
“The fact that Kovalev said it was a mistake and that I was lucky is motivation for me,” Alvarez said. “He is a sore loser, and I will make sure there will be a second ’accident.’
Kovalev (32-3-1, 28 KOs) ignored Alvarez’s remark.
“I will look to take back my title and put on a great show for the fans. Together with my new trainer, Buddy McGirt, I will be ready for Alvarez,"Kovalev said.
Yes, that Buddy McGirt, who has resurrected a few boxing careers in his time. Can he do the same with Kovalev?
“If he (Kovalev) sees something he doesn’t like, he speaks his mind,” McGirt told Dennis Taylor and me last month on The Ringside Boxing Show. “That’s a good thing. He’s a nice guy.”
Recently it was reported by TMZ that Kovalev was arrested last June for allegedly punching a woman-causing a concussion, broken nose and a neck injury. If found guilty of this heinous assault, Kovalev could serve a maximum of four years in prison. Kovalev posted a message a few days ago in Russian on his Instagram page, telling his fans not to make any “hasty conclusions.”
He implied that the announcement of his arrest, so close to his second go around with Alvarez, is not a coincidence.
No matter what the particulars, make no mistake about it, Kovalev’s boxing career,and perhaps life, has reached its apex.
It’s do or die time for Kovalev.