Sergey Kovalev got his redemption, whether he wanted it or not. Kovalev (32-3-1, 28 KO) has carried himself of late like a man losing his battle with gravity. His entire aura has just seemed, well, heavier. It’s as if he’s been forced by an unforgiving god to walk through life with one of Chris Arreola’s lunches hanging around his neck but without the army of picnic ants to help carry the load.
There have been rumors of hard living. There’s the pending assault case in Big Bear, California alleging the boxer punched a woman in the face and kicked her dog, which coincidentally is how Ricardo Mayorga proposed to his wife. There’s the weight of being nearly 36 years old in a far younger man’s game. There’s the big ugly “3” in the loss column of his record that for over three-quarters of his career held a far more palatable zero. All threats to his comfort. Some imagined, some very real.
The direst of these increasingly urgent perturbations, however, was the man who almost six months ago to the day sent Kovalev crumbling to the canvas like one of Chris Arreola’s stool samples, where he would stay until the referee ended his night early: Eleider Alvarez.
Once Alvarez (24-1, 12 KO) had fully unscrewed the bolt of Kovalev’s tenuous aura of invincibility, loosened the year prior by Andre Ward, the balding Russian took on the role of the vanquished schoolyard bully. To make matters worse, the once adoring public seemed to relish the opportunity to rub sand in his face, which coincidentally is how Ricardo Mayorga wakes his wife up in the morning.
It’s not an exaggeration to say that Kovalev’s entire career was on the line in their rematch Saturday night at the Ford Center in Frisco, Texas on ESPN+. A loss would spell the end of his career at an elite level. A knockout loss would spell the end of his career altogether. A brutal knockout loss would erase the years of dominance from his career and brand him as a cautionary tale of the dangers of riding dirty and punching ladies in the face when you should be training.
He would need to be at his very best just to give himself a chance. Luckily, Alvarez was more than willing to lend him a hand.
The opening round was a classic feeling out process with the added caveat that every punch Alvarez threw or landed was closely examined by everyone watching to see how Kovalev would react. The smallest stumble or backward step was interpreted as a warning that the end may well be near. What little offense Alvarez did manage to generate was absorbed handily by Kovalev as he took the first couple rounds simply on activity alone.
As Kovalev continued stalking forward and throwing jabs to the pit of his opponent’s stomach it was clear Alvarez was holding back or at least conserving his energy. At first glance, this would appear to be a smart strategy when you have a fast starter like Kovalev in front of you. Wait him out, take him to the proverbial deep waters and then drown him. This tactic is pointless, however, if you never leave the shallow end of the pool.
Whatever Alvarez’s Plan B was it never manifested itself. I’m not entirely certain there even was one. Shit, I’m not even sure he had a Plan A.
Over the course of the fight, Kovalev threw 869 punches, landing 213 of them. Not even close to the higher end numbers of his glory years but still a very respectable output. Alvarez, on the other hand, threw only 369 punches and landed 111 of them. Not quite Broner levels of moribund inactivity, but not far off either. I won’t spoil the end of the fight for you but you can imagine how well getting out-thrown by 500 punches worked out for him.
As the fight entered its second half, the intrigue lay in whether Kovalev would gas out and if Alvarez’s game of paraplegic possum would bear fruit. To be honest, it was a fair question. Heading into the 7th round of their first fight back on Aug. 4, 2018, Kovalev was ahead on all official scorecards and all it got him was a trip to the hospital and career crisis the likes of which few ever recover from. Would he suffer the same fate in the rematch? Would history repeat itself?!
No. It would not.
Kovalev survived the 7th round with little fanfare other than short uppercut on the inside toward the middle of the round. There was still half of a fight left but making it out alive from a place you almost didn’t the first time is a moral victory in itself, not unlike the two times I walked in on Chris Arreola preparing his stool sample.
As the rounds ticked by, the prospect of Alvarez unleashing some secret gameplan became less likely with every unthrown punch. That’s probably not a word, but much like Eleider Alvarez, I didn’t really put together a plan for doing my job tonight either.
There are situations in life where doing nothing is actually a useful strategy. Getting dealt an 18 in black-jack, surviving a bear attack, and when your girlfriend asks how many sexual partners you had before her. Unfortunately, a fucking fistfight isn’t one of those situations. Unless you’re punching a brick wall, which coincidentally is how Ricardo Mayorga prepares for sex with his wife, chances are that while you’re not throwing punches your opponent is. If this event I’ve just described happens enough times, guess what? You just lost a fight.
And that’s exactly what happened to Alvarez.
After a surprisingly effective 12th round for Kovalev the scores were read, all in his favor (116-112, 116-112 and 120-108). The shutout was probably a little wide but to be honest the other two are probably a bit close. I had it 10-2 but goldilocks that shit however you want and the somewhere in between is the right score. Regardless, the right guy got the decision and that’s not a thing that’s been happening as often as it should in 2019.
The future for Sergey Kovalev is wide open. There’s no shortage of marquee-ish names at 175 he can choose from and you’d have to make him even money against almost any of them. He’s a dynamic yet fundamentally sound fighter whose vulnerability likely makes him somehow more marketable. He’s no longer the boogeyman of the light heavyweight division and shedding that cloak might just be the best thing for him.
For Eleider Alvarez, well, he’s back to where he was last summer. He dabbled at the elite level and inexplicably gave away what he worked so hard to earn. A rubber match with Kovalev makes sense, but it feels inessential. In the 19 and change rounds, they’ve fought Kovalev has probably won 14 of them. Of course one of those ended with Kovalev slumped over, bloody and drooling, not unlike Chris Arreola providing a stool samp — you know what? Forget it.
Alvarez an exciting fighter when he, you know, fights. He has options but there’s going to be a bit of a stink on him after this outing. He’ll be okay, but he’s now a name on Sergey Kovalev’s resume and not the other way around.
We live in a clickbait culture, and rumors have taken the place of actual news so who knows who the real Sergey Kovalev is once the gloves come off. He’s likely not going to win any Nobel Peace Prizes soon, but he probably isn’t going to be sharing a cell with El Chapo either. Like everything, the truth is generally somewhere in between.
Sergey Kovalev wasn’t looking for redemption per se, but he may have completed if only temporarily, the unlikely journey from lauded hero to hated bully to a fighter with something resembling a clean slate.
At this point, he’ll take that.
- On the undercard of Kovalev/Alvarez II scorching hot prospect Teofimo Lopez (12-0, 10 KO) sent the always tough Diego Magdaleno (31-3, 13 KO) straight to hell with two monstrous left hooks in the 7th round of a fight that should’ve been stopped about two rounds earlier. He probably deserves some of the hell he’s catching for his borderline tasteless celebration over the corpse of his vanquished opponent but if that’s what you walked away from this fight upset about, buddy, get your shit together
- Also on the undercard of this split site fight that ESPN did with itself (look it up, you wouldn’t believe me even if I could explain it) Ghanaian lightweight Richard Commey (28-2, 25 KO) scored a sensational 2nd round knockout of Russian Isa Chaniev (13-2, 6 KO). Commey apparently lined up a unification fight with Vasyl Lomachenko which is punishment for adultery in some countries but I guess is something he actually wanted.
- Side Note: I’m not sure if they start smoking in the womb over in Ghana but every fighter from over there looks like an extra from season 4 of The Wire yet has the voice of god damn Frank Pentageli. It’s a weird phenomenon that I absolutely refuse to research any further.
- The main event of this card started just past midnight central time. I’m not trying to tell boxing how to run its affairs, but it would stand to reason that in a consumer-based marketplace one would benefit from presenting their product at a time when consumers aren’t, you know, fucking asleep.
As always, I’m on twitter at @ratcatchermpls and I absolutely do not want to hear from you.