On paper, even being on the back nine of his career, Sergey Kovalev should “Krush” little Canelo Alvarez. He is much bigger. Taller, great reach advantage. His, near-best in sport, jab alone should be very difficult to get past. That jab is very stiff, considered a quasi-power punch against other light-heavyweights, let alone a middleweight. Theoretically, Kovalev might be able to win his fight with Alvarez with that punch alone. Then there is the power. It’s true, Kovalev seems to have dropped some velocity on his fastball, but some of that is him approaching opponents more as a boxer—cautiously—lately. Kovalev remains one of the most potent punchers in boxing. At his best, he had all-time level power at 175. He didn’t possess any one punch as hard as Bob Foster’s left hook, but overall, Kovalev was heavier handed than Foster. That is against other light-heavyweights, not middleweights. Yes, Kovalev is vulnerable to the body, and was KO’d by Eleider Alvarez. But Canelo hasn’t stopped any top-notch opponent over 154 pounds. Alvarez is not likely to be a big puncher at 175. Less resilient or not, Kovalev will take a much better punch than Amir Khan. I can easily see Kovalev establishing the jab early and touching Alvarez enough to convince the Mexican hero and his team right away, that a grave mistake in opponent selection had been made.

On the other hand… Canelo Alvarez has matured into a very skilled, smart and well-rounded fighter. A boxer-puncher, that rare blend—aggressive counter-puncher. He also possesses some of the best defensive skills in the entire sport. Kovalev will land his jab, but the Russian will discover it won’t be easy to find Alvarez with the heaviest artillery. Alvarez is a terrific body puncher. There are a lot of questions though for Canelo going in. How will he handle 175? Forget Sergey Kovalev. How much will the weight affect Alvarez’s endurance? His quickness? Even at 160, Alvarez slows down during the middle rounds of fights. Will he carry his punch up with him? He is a good, but not huge puncher at 160. Can he dent a light-heavyweight? We don’t know. Alvarez thinks he does, but really, he doesn’t either. I suspect that no matter how well Alvarez acclimates to 175, he won’t be as good as he is at 160. A little slower, more stationary, less powerful. Alvarez does have an iron chin at 160, but Kovalev has shown that rare type of power that, against light-heavyweights, ignores chin quality. We’ve seen Jean Pascal in many tough fights handle punishment extremely well. Except with Kovalev. As soon as the “Krusher” started landing, Pascal was on rubber legs.

Another aspect of this match-up that has to be considered is that Canelo Alvarez is far too valuable, worth far too much money, to too many interested parties, to allow him to lose to Sergey Kovalev. What does this mean? It means that Alvarez will enter the ring with all his usual advantages. If the fight is within three rounds either way, Canelo will get the decision. Expect Kovalev to need nine rounds clean to get a draw. Kovalev is being paid a lot of money. Might it be, that, in order to get the fight, he had to agree not to win? Canelo himself wouldn’t even need to be aware of such an arrangement. That seems unlikely, but it’s boxing, and stranger things have happened. Let’s assume that once the bell rings, the fight is on the level, you can bet Team Alvarez has a good scouting department. They know things about Kovalev we never will. They speak to longtime sparring partners, people who have been in on his camps. They have sources none of us know about. Team Alvarez probably knows which brand, and exactly how much Vodka, Kovalev has bought weekly, for the last 9 months. It’s hard to believe they would make this fight, considering Alvarez’s value, if they weren’t pretty sure he wins it.

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The other intangible, is PED use. Alvarez may have just eaten contaminated meat prior to the Golovkin rematch. But it’s also at least possible that he was cheating and got caught. He is a short guy, going up 15lbs in weight from his natural weight class. If he comes in pumped and shredded, it will be extremely difficult, objectively, not to be very suspicious. Could Canelo Alvarez win this fight without the aid of friendly officiating and/or medical science? Yes, he could, and it would be a major accomplishment. But is it likely that he does? On paper, even for Canelo Alvarez, even slightly past his prime, Sergey Kovalev should be an uphill battle. Winning possible, but far from certain.

I’m picking Sergey Kovalev. Either by a decision in which he beats Canelo widely, inflicting the worst punishment of Alvarez’s career, or by a surprise, embarrassing stoppage. I could see Kovalev getting him early, but more likely, the Russian busts him up with the jab during the first three rounds and puts him on the defensive, progressively, over the next three, setting up a mid-rounds stoppage. I think Sergey Kovalev is able to find another close to vintage performance in the cupboard. 80% of what Kovalev was 3 years ago should be enough to prove to Canelo Alvarez that he is not a light-heavyweight.

My pick is Sergey Kovalev, KO-8.