WBO light heavyweight titleholder Sergey Kovalev battles Colombian-born contender Eleider Alvarez on Saturday, Aug. 4 at the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino in Atlantic City, New Jersey. Kovalev vs. Alvarez will be presented live on HBO in the U.S. starting at 10 pm E.T. as part of its World Championship Boxing series.
Kovalev (32-2-1, 28 KOs) is a heavy favorite in the fight. Top boxing betting sites list the 35-year-old Russian anywhere between -500 and -600 on the outright win market with the 34-year-old Alvarez (23-0, 11 KOs) following suit between +300 and +400.
Kovalev has been one of the best fighters in boxing over the last five years, winning every fight except the two consecutive times he lost to Andre Ward in September 2016 and June 2017. Ward is a once-in-a-generation type of fighter who Kovalev admittedly (and amazingly perhaps) didn’t take as seriously as he should have, and even if he had, it’s hard to envision a scenario where a prime version of Ward takes a loss in a prizefight between 168 and 175 pounds.
Kovalev fought Ward to a standstill in the first bout. Some fight observers even believe the Russian deserved the nod over the American from the ringside judges. But Ward won the second fight more convincingly and stopped Kovalev in eight round.
Kovalev subsequently ditched trainer John David Jackson for countryman Artur Tursunpulatov, who Kovalev likes more because Tursunpulatov speaks Russian and prefers more aggressive on offense than did Jackson. Moreover, the losses to Ward seem to have reinvigorated Kovalev’s lifestyle outside the ring to the point where he’s fully engaged in training to be the very best fighter he can be. He’s scored two stoppage wins over fringe contenders Vyacheslav Shabranskyy and Igor Mikhalkin, and looks to be fighting in his best form.
Alvarez has been the No. 1 contender to Adonis Stevenson’s WBC light heavyweight title but has chosen step-aside money in lieu of making the fight. That usually happens when a fighter’s handlers knows their man isn’t capable of winning, so it makes little sense to back Alvarez over any legitimately elite light heavyweight.
Alvarez is coming off a 14-month layoff. He barely snuck by former titleholder Jean Pascal in his last fight, a fighter Kovalev knocked out twice when Pascal was in better form. Alvarez looked great in February 2017 against Lucian Bute, but Bute was overrated at peak form and has been relegated to the realm of domestic contenders since suffering his first loss to Carl Froch way back in 2012.
That’s bad news for Alvarez, the undefeated contender fighting out of Canada. Alvarez is a good boxer. He’s a careful stylist capable of knocking his opponents out with one punch if he lands right on the button, but that’s a pretty tall order against a fighter as skilled as Kovalev. Alvarez just isn’t the same level of fighter as Kovalev, and will likely find himself in very deep waters on Saturday night.
The televised undercard features WBA light heavyweight titleholder Dmitry Bivol facing veteran title challenger Isaac Chilemba. That’s important information because television networks and promoters often make showcase bouts for fighters they wish to pit against each other in the near future, and they go to pretty great lengths to make sure the money fighters don’t spoil the bigger promotion by losing beforehand.
Such is the case with this card. Boxing betting strategy reaffirms Kovalev as the favorite in a big way and Bivol in an even bigger way. There’s nary a high-value bet to place on either Russian to win by any result, and there’s really nothing in either opponent’s history to suggest the bookies are wrong.
Kovalev will probably stop Alvarez. Alvarez has been hit too clean by lesser opponents, and Kovalev’s power is significantly more than the power of any other fighter Alvarez has faced. The only real question heading into the fight is when the end will come. Some get a taste of Kovalev’s thudding punches and go to the mat pretty quickly. Others stick around and get pummelled into submission by an accumulation of punches. It’s always hard to gauge how an undefeated fighter like Alvarez will react when facing the end of feeling invincible.
In Kovalev’s last 10 stoppage wins, the average duration of the fight has been 4.5 rounds. Over that stretch, which starts with Kovalev’s third round knockout of Cornelius White in 2013, Kovalev is 12-2 with 10 knockouts. The two losses came against the previously mentioned Ward. Regardless, the only fighters not named Ward to survive a bout against Kovalev were Bernard Hopkins in 2014 and Isaac Chilemba in 2016. Hopkins is one of the craftiest fighters in boxing history, and Chilemba is renowned in the sport for his toughness and ability to get through fights he’s losing.
In short, this is not a fight to bet to go the distance.
The easiest money on the board comes from Ladbrokes. There you can split your money evenly between two round group options with Kovalev in rounds 1-6 at +260 and Kovalev in rounds 6-12 at +200. That pays an okay return no matter when Kovalev knocks Alvarez out, so in my mind it’s as close to free money as exists.
Still, some people like more risk and higher returns, so for me that’s loading up on the first option or something like Ladbrokes +1600 option for Kovalev in round 4. Alvarez has been a decent contender over the course of his career, but the way he’s been cautiously handled makes me think he’s more show pony than racehorse.