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Kovalev vs Alvarez: Fight preview and matchup

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Sergey Kovalev returns to face Eleider Alvarez on Saturday.

Sergey Kovalev

Sergey Kovalev v Vyacheslav Shabranskyy Photo by Abbie Parr/Getty Images

Record: 32-2-1 (28 KO) ... Streak: W2 ... Last 5: 3-2 ... Last 10: 8-2 ... Stance: Orthodox ... Height/Reach: 6’2” / 72½” ... Age: 35

Thoughts: Kovalev is in the back end of his career, but he’s still at worst the second-best light heavyweight in the world, and I think he’s still the best, because losing a couple fights to Andre Ward doesn’t drop him much in my estimation, certainly not below Adonis Stevenson’s résumé. But that’s just me. It’s totally understandable to see Stevenson as No. 1.

Anyway, since losing the fights to Ward, which have been discussed to death, Kovalev is 2-0. He stopped Vyacheslav Shabranskyy in his comeback bout last November, finishing him in two easy rounds. Igor Mikhalkin followed in March of this year, and hung around for seven, taking punishment until finally getting stopped.

With the win over Shabranskyy, Kovalev got the WBO title, so he was right back on top, more or less. There have been some questions about his performances in those fights, about how much he has left after the losses to Ward. He won, and won without trouble, but how good did he look? That’s a fair question.

But I think Kovalev has looked fine. Not in his prime anymore, but still one of the best in the world at 175. Certainly enough that he deserves to be the favorite against Alvarez, who has hung around the middle of the division’s top 10 for years now without ever making much real forward progress.

Eleider Alvarez

Adonis Stevenson v Andrzej Fonfara 2 Photo by Minas Panagiotakis/Getty Images

Record: 23-0 (11 KO) ... Streak: W23 ... Last 5: 5-0 ... Last 10: 10-0 ... Stance: Orthodox ... Height/Reach: 6’0” / 75½” ... Age: 34

Thoughts: Alvarez is a good fighter, don’t get me wrong. He’s unbeaten, he was WBC mandatory to Adonis Stevenson for 13 decades, and he never got that fight. And he was never going to, apparently, because instead of that, he’s here to fight Kovalev.

Alvarez’s best wins have come over Isaac Chilemba in 2015, and over faded versions of Lucian Bute and Jean Pascal in 2017. He hasn’t fought in 14 months, which probably isn’t SUPER ideal going into your biggest and toughest matchup ever, but it is what it is.

At times, Alvarez has failed to impress me despite being a legitimate contender. He doesn’t always shine. He didn’t really shine against Pascal or Chilemba. But he did against Bute, where he showed a meaner streak than normal and knocked Bute out in the fifth round. It wasn’t just that Bute doesn’t take shots all that great, it was a different, more aggressive approach from Alvarez that got the job done. It was really impressive, even against an opponent who had seen better days.

Alvarez will probably need some of that against Kovalev, at least if he wants to give himself a chance to win. Kovalev is a bigger puncher and is probably even a bit better a boxer. Alvarez will need to dig to a new level to win this fight, and showing some of the nastiness he did against Bute might get him knocked out, but also might be his best chance to win.

Matchup Grade: B. It’s a nice matchup, even if Kovalev is the clear favorite here. But there is some argument that maybe he shouldn’t be that clear a favorite. Alvarez is, on paper at least, a step up from Shabranskyy and Mikhalkin, and Kovalev’s best opponent since Ward. It could wind up a lot better than it seems, and it seems pretty damn good.

Undercard

  • Dmitry Bivol vs Isaac Chilemba: Bivol (13-0, 11 KO) is the big favorite here, defending his WBA “world” light heavyweight title, with the idea hopefully being if he wins here as he expected, he’ll face the Kovalev-Alvarez winner next. Chilemba (25-5-2, 10 KO), though, can be tricky, can make fights awkward and even a little dull. You only have to ask Kovalev about that. When Kovalev was stomping everyone, he went 12 with Chilemba. And he gave Alvarez a good fight, too. The only time he’s been stopped, it was because of a broken hand. Bivol should win here, and should do so without much serious trouble, but Chilemba is a good next step for him. Grade: C+