Why Kovalev Is A Live, Dangerous Fight For Belt King Canelo

Why Kovalev Is A Live, Dangerous Fight For Belt King Canelo

Sergey Kovalev, 36, has bounced back to win his last two fights (Image © PA)

IT is a little over three years ago that boxing’s biggest star, Saul “Canelo” Alvarez, was fighting in the light-middleweight division against Britain’s Liam Smith.

In his last big date against Daniel Jacobs last May, meanwhile, Mexico’s Canelo went collecting belts in the middleweight division. Now comes daunting new territory – a step up into the light-heavyweight ranks to face the veteran great Sergey Kovalev at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas on Saturday.

Four divisions up from that contest against Smith in 2016 and 15lbs up from that unanimous decision win against Jacobs, he has an opportunity to add further lustre to his name. But he is also taking a major risk.

Such a big climb up the weight ladder always creates an unknown X-Factor. Although the ringside view is that Canelo will win and, although the top boxing bookies make him a big favourite, there is still a lot of anticipation surrounding this fight.

Kovalev vs Canelo Betting Odds

Method of VictoryOddsBookies
Alvarez by Points or Decision1/1Betfair
Alvarez by KO/TKO2/1Royal Panda
Kovalev by KO/TKO6/1BetVictor
Kovalev by Points or Decision9/1Coral
Draw28/1Black Type

Alvarez is 29, in his prime and seeking further greatness by aiming to win a world title in a fourth weight class. Kovalev, 36, has a huge reputation, but is on the downward curve of his career after three defeats in three years.

Some will look at those circumstances and believe that Canelo - (51-1-2, 34 KOs) - is simply indulging in some clever match-making by catching a major name at just the right time.

That is not an unknown tactic in boxing and Canelo has a huge contract with the DAZN broadcast network to fill with big name opponents. Out in America’s glittering fight capital, however, the majority view is that this is still a live and dangerous fight for him.

True enough, most believe that Canelo’s age, talent, soaring profile, and, in particular, his body-punching ability will prevail. But many also argue that Kovalev - (34-3-1, 29 KOs) - has enough left after two comeback wins this year to make this one of the most intriguing and exciting contests of the year.

Kovalev: 'Never Was Attacked By Body Shots'

The Russian is naturally the bigger man with a heavy punch, a fine jab and masses of experience at elite level, though Canelo insists that his work to the body will settle everything on the night.

"Without a doubt. It's one of the most important punches for any fighter, and not just in this fight, in all fights," he said recently “But, of course, it is even more true with this fighter because that's a weak point that he has. So we're going to try to penetrate with the impact to the body."

Kovalev replied: “Why does everybody think I have a problem with the body shot? Why? I never was attacked by body shots. I don't know where these opinions come from."

The Mexican’s plan for global super-stardom does not include defeat on nights like this. But Kovalev is surely going to make him work very hard for his next big prize.

Is Canelo Under-Priced At These Fight Odds?

Betfair, Ladbrokes and Bet365 all make Canelo the 1/4 favourite. With same three UK bookmakers, Kovalev is the 3/1 outsider. The US sportsbooks hover around the same numbers. However, with the scent of a surprise in the air, it may be that the Russian’s chances are being under-valued.

At the very least, this will surely be no routine job for Canelo simply because of the challenge involved in a leap of two weight classes against a bigger, highly-seasoned opponent, who has been a light-heavyweight throughout his whole career.

Certainly, you imagine that the suits at DAZN want value for their money after handing Canelo the richest contract ever signed by an individual athlete. They are not paying him £285 million so that he can enjoy too many easy nights.

True enough, the opening fight of the package, a simple three-round knock-over of Britain’s Rocky Fielding last December was a mismatch.

But the TV subscription service saw it as a showcase – an advert, almost - staged in New York rather than Canelo’s US Latino heartland, as a way of broadening his appeal and introducing the 11-fight schedule to new viewers.

It also handily delivered him the WBA “Regular” super-middleweight title to add to his varied collection at light-middleweight and middleweight.

The follow-up against Jacobs in May was at middleweight and was much more demanding, with Canelo scoring a unanimous decision win to add the IBF middleweight title to his WBA and WBC belts.

Ruiz Already Signalled Mexico's Rise Last Year

It is six years now since Canelo's only defeat against Floyd Mayweather jr in September, 2013.

In that time, he has established himself as the biggest name in the game – with his close re-match win against Gennady Golovkin the highlight after they drew first time out.

His appeal is such that he has remained seemingly untouched by a six-month drugs ban served last year after he failed tests for the banned stimulant Clenbuterol.

If he takes the WBO light-heavyweight belt from Kovalev, he will be only the second Mexican to reign in the division. It would be a timely achievement after Andy Ruiz jr became the first Mexican heavyweight champion by defeating Anthony Joshua last June.

Canelo declined the opportunity of a third fight against Golovkin to take on Kovalev instead, because after a run of 31 straight victories, in which he won multiple light-heavyweight world titles, the Russian has lost three of his last seven dates.

Kovalev was twice beaten by Andre Ward in 2016 and 2017 and also succumbed to a seventh round knockout against Eleider Alvarez in 2018 – although he avenged that setback with a points win in the re-match last February in which he also re-claimed the WBO title belt.

That was followed by an 11th round stoppage of London’s game but inexperienced Anthony Yarde in Russia last August. Kovalev endured a torrid eighth round that night, but recovered to impose himself powerfully.

It poses the double-edged question; did his struggle expose damaging signs of ageing? Or did his late recovery display how much he has left in the tank?