Ludicrous, absurd, and comical were just some of the adjectives floating through my mind when the rumours first circulated around social media of a potential matchup between Canelo Alvarez vs. Sergey Kovalev. I recall it was on 25th, July 2019 when Mike Coppinger broke the news on Twitter. The laughable notion that this would be a reality never crossed my mind. Surely, Canelo is far too small to take a risky fight like this against a powerful, bigger puncher like Kovalev, I mean there are weight classes for a reason.
It finally began to sink in, Canelo and his team saw something, a weakness, in the declining Kovalev and looked to capitalise in a sensational move. So, the fight finally materialised and was announced on 13th, September 2019 for a fight to take place on the Mexican holiday, “The Day of the Dead” on Saturday 2nd November 2019 at the MGM Grand Arena, Las Vegas, the cash-cow disregarding his usual Mexican independence weekend.
The question, a cherry-pick or daring to be great move? Yours truly places oneself somewhere in the middle. To call this a cherry-pick is unjust to Canelo, more so to Kovalev, it is discrediting him as a fighter and his achievements in the division. Even in the twilight of his career, he has come back from defeat twice and put a beautiful punch-perfect performance on previously undefeated Eleider Alvarez to become three-time light heavyweight world titlist. Most recently, through adversity he knocked out a game, strong and undefeated contender in Anthony Yarde in his last outing to retain his crown. Clearly, Kovalev has something left in the tank to perform at the elite level and is still a top dog in the division.
However, this is evidently a strategic move from the Canelo camp and Golden Boy for the following reasons: Kovalev at the advancing age of 36 is no longer in his prime, with visible weaknesses that can be exploited, a household name in Russia, and the most accomplished when compared to the other prime and intimidating champions like Artur Beterbiev and Dmitry Bivol. All the ingredients to make it viable financial proposition for all parties concerned.
Saul ‘Canelo’ Alvarez vs. Sergey Kovalev is a fight for the ages, it joins a list of fights whereby middleweights have dared to be great by moving up to light heavyweight. Here we have a nostalgic look at fights throughout history of legendary fights and fighters and how this fight stacks up.
Sugar Ray Robinson vs. Joey Maxim – 25th June 1952 – Yankees Stadium, Bronx, New York
In the sweltering heat of 106 degrees, the bout took place Yankees Stadium. The illustrious Sugar Ray Robinson fought Light Heavyweight World Champion Joey Maxim. In front of raucous crowd of 43,000 in attendance to witness the spectacle of the exceptional Sugar Ray Robinson on the hunt for a world title in a third weight class after beating Rocky Graziano for the Middleweight Title. Both men were in the prime of their careers with Ray Robinson aged 31 and Maxim 30.
The ever-charismatic and classy pugilist from Harlem, started as the slight betting favourite. Weighing in 157lbs to Joey Maxim’s 173lbs, undersized and an upheaval task. Sugar Ray began in excellent form, moving in perpetual motion, outboxing the larger Joey Maxim with crisp clean shots, the nimble footwork was on full display. The slower and sluggish Joey Maxim struggled to land effectively, tying up the smaller Sugar Ray in multiple clinches and leveraging his size.
On the verge of creating history, the fight was one-sided up until round thirteen. Sugar Ray had built up a commanding lead on all three judges’ cards. As Sugar Ray plunged himself to his corner, the intense temperature finally took its toll and in unfortunate circumstances, he was unable to answer the bell for the next round as he collapsed, suffering the only knockout of his career. The fight somewhat challenged the old boxing adage, “a good little man does not beat a good big man” had it not been to the environment out of his control.
Dick Tiger vs. Jose Torres –16th December 1966 – Madison Square Garden, New York
Before the Nigerian heavyweight nightmares of Ike Ibeabuchi and Samuel Peter and today’s upcoming prospect Efe Ajagba, we had Dick Tiger. Born as Richard Ihetu, was twice an undisputed middleweight champion and much like Canelo moved immediately to fight Cus D’Amato’s fighter Jose Torres from Puerto Rico after losing the WBA, WBC, Ring Magazine and lineal middleweight titles to Emilie Griffiths. Aged 37, Tiger was the underdog and appeared to be washed up.
In the Mecca of Boxing, Madison Square Garden was the venue. Jose Torres employed a variant of the famed peek-a-boo style with his guards close to his face. The aggressive African was persistent throughout against the refined boxer Torres who was polished and well-schooled. Torres won the first few rounds with calculated accurate shots landing. Tiger, nonetheless, weathered the storm, and kept coming like a bulldog forcing the action. His resilience paid off with a unanimous victory over the champion to become the WBA, WBC, Ring Magazine and lineal light heavyweight world champion. He repeated the feat in the rematch the following year causing a huge riot from disgruntled Puerto Rican fans with bottles, pieces of chairs and other missiles being tossed into the ring and the ringside sections.
Thomas Hearns vs. Dennis Andries – March 7th, 1987 – Cobo Hall, Detroit, Michigan
One of the most celebrated boxers, ‘The Hitman’ with his tall, slim and rangy build was the first boxer to win world titles in five weight classes. In Detroit he faced the reigning WBC light heavyweight champion, the Brit Dennis Andries. Dissimilar to other fights, Hearns was not undersized physically but taller and matched up well with Andries although moving up from middleweight. This was utter destruction and domination from Hearns, knocking Andries down six times in the bout in astounding win in the tenth round via KO.
Subsequently Tommy Hearns would go on to upset the odds versus the undefeated world champion Virgil Hill in 1991 to become light heavyweight world champion for the second time. Hearns’ long-time, hall-of-fame late trainer Emmanuel Steward urged the ‘Motor City Cobra’ to retire but Hearns remained
Sugar Ray Leonard vs. Donny Lalonde – 7th November 1988 – Caesars Palace, Las Vegas.
Ray Leonard was competing against golden poster boy of Canada, Donny Lalonde the reigning WBC light heavyweight world champion. A vegan, marathon runner, and active model, Lalonde was the underdog.
Fresh from his legacy-defining victory versus Hagler, Leonard was pursuing an unprecedented fourth and fifth weight class world championships (thanks, WBC for confusing matter as usual). Much like today’s creation of the preposterous franchise belt, the WBC created the inaugural 168lbs super middleweight belt, the sport of boxing persistently alienates its hardcore fan base with the proliferation of toy belts, consistently blurring the lines between world champion and contender.
Let’s not digress. The physically imposing, powerful and Lalonde towered above Ray Leonard. The dimensions were as follows; Leonard (5’ 10’) and Lalonde (6’ 2’) similarly how Kovalev is significantly taller than Canelo however, unlike this weekend’s bout Leonard and Lalonde both weighed 165lbs and 167lbs, well within the super middleweight limit. Leonard got on the scale wearing a warmup suit and later revealed that he had silver dollars in his pockets. “I had about 40-50 in each pocket,” Leonard said. “What I actually weighed this morning was 159½.” The size would later play a role in the fight, with a slow start, the stiff upright Lalonde stalked the smaller man around the ring but consistently missing whilst the sharper and quicker Leonard caught him fast counter-combos. The chase finally bear fruit in the fourth round when the heavy-handed Lalonde caught Leonard with a right hook to the temple to put him on the canvas. Leonard later admitted Lalonde employed a thudding jab which hurt him and impacted his equilibrium. As the fight went on, Leonard grew in confidence and continue to punish the tired Lalonde. Ultimately, in round nine Leonard unleashed barrage of savage combos to end proceedings. In this instance the smaller man was able to nullify the threat of the heavier man, get on the inside and the speed and movement was key. This bears some resemblance to Canelo Kovalev especially with regards to the size.
Other Notable Fights
Lately at the turn of the century, the longest reigning middleweight champion (19 consecutive middleweight title defences) Bernard Hopkins defeated Antonio Tarver to capture the Ring Magazine title following defeat vs Taylor, later “The Executioner” would become the oldest ever world champion at 46. Likewise, former “untouchable” athletically gifted pound for pound superstar Roy Jones Jr. moved up from super middleweight to emphatically beat the “Body Snatcher” Mike McCallum for the WBC interim light heavyweight title going on to successfully reign in the 175lbs division as the undisputed champion.
It is possible for Canelo, as he can draw inspiration from these yesteryear legends and “Dare to Be Great”
Mouth-watering clash of two pound-for-pound stars. A matchup of intrigue with so many variables, which makes it extremely difficult to predict.
Will Canelo’s power carry to 175lbs? How will Canelo deal with Kovalev’s power and probably the best hot-rod jab in boxing? Will Kovalev be able to sustain Canelo’s body attack? Kovalev will be trying to catch the constantly kinetic head movement of Canelo?
Canelo is in his prime at 29 and has been formidable since his only loss against Floyd Mayweather Jr. Since then he’s won a belt at 154lbs, moved up to 160lbs and unified, taking the scalps of GGG and Jacobs, undoubtedly, his current trajectory and ascension is admirable. Kovalev, contrastingly, is on the decline with his record reading as 4-3 in his last 7 fights.
Canelo and his team have tactically and shrewdly picked Kovalev “at the right time” like most of his career wins which carry an asterisk. The Russian has slowed down and is nearing retirement. Kovalev has secured a career high payday reportedly $12.5 million dollars and the assumption is he is “ripe for the picking”. Additionally, an interesting plot to this is the timing of the bout, Kovalev’s last bout was on August 24th 2019, this allows for a period of a total ten weeks for him to recover and recuperate from the brutal war vs Yarde, and put himself through another excruciating camp, which will be limited. A vital piece of information that maybe overlooked and could be very well the difference.
You can’t count Kovalev out just yet, a highly-skilled boxer-puncher, at 6ft has the height advantage, with a 73-inch reach advantage and a natural light heavyweight that carries vicious power in both hands, in terms of size Canelo will be heavily disadvantaged. As mentioned above, if Kovalev’s last two fights are anything to go by, then the Krusher may still have one last career defining performance in him.
Even though Canelo did not seek a catch weight for the bout in order to drain Kovalev from his natural fighting weight, there is a reported rehydration clause in the contract, neither man can weigh more than 185 pounds. Cynics will over-inflate this, but in the wider context this is nothing new, the great Sugar Ray Leonard dictated terms vs his bout against Marvelous Marvin Hagler, choosing the gloves, the 12 round fight and size of the ring. Floyd Mayweather Jr, Wladimir Klitschko and Canelo’s promoter Oscar De La Hoya all has favourable terms stipulated in contracts, this has remained a constant in historically.
As the well reputable trainer Teddy Atlas always says, the shorter and bulky Mexican will “put water in the basement”. In layman terms, Canelo will actively pierce the solar plex which is Kovalev’s kryptonite and utilise his upper body head movement to slip Kovalev’s multiple jabs. Kovalev will do what he does best, fight fluidly on the outside by maintaining mid-range distance, fight behind the jab and follow up with his 1-2 straight right hand. I feel this fight will be fireworks from the start, both predators’ instincts will kick in if they see an opening and will seize the opportunity. One thing to note, both fighters fight in spurts and do not carry the unrelenting pace or work-rate.
I boldly predict Canelo TKO in the 10th round in a tough bout for both guys.
The naysayers may argue this is a cherry-pick, with his track record of A-side” benefits with opponents making consistent concessions, controversial scorecards and clenbuterol drug scandal. Regardless, the red-haired Mexican superstar is moving up two-weight classes, fifteen pounds in weight, it is still a considerable task to beat a fierce and unforgiving knockout artist like Kovalev.
A reigning middleweight world champion challenging the current light heavyweight world champion. A throwback fight in the modern era of seventeen weight classes, thousand belts and avoidance. It’s a fight that boxing fans should cherish
If Canelo wins in convincing fashion, even as his staunchest detractor, he will comfortably be my Fighter of the Year and my P4P #1.