Sergey Kovalev retained his WBO light heavyweight title today in Chelyabinsk, Russia, stopping unbeaten but previously untested Anthony Yarde in the 11th round.
The win keeps Kovalev (34-3-1, 29 KO) quite viable for a possible future fight with Canelo Alvarez, which was explored for this fall without a deal being made. The 36-year-old Kovalev, though, showed real signs of aging once again, and there’s no question after this fight that he’s past his prime, and possibly ripe for the picking in a money fight with the Mexican superstar, despite the fact Kovalev would have advantages being a natural light heavyweight, which Canelo certainly is not.
Kovalev had a bit of trouble early with the speed of Yarde (18-1, 17 KO), and in the eighth round, Yarde went to the body and hurt the veteran, landing a lot of good shots and doing clear damage, with Kovalev staggering around the ring enough that trainer Buddy McGirt threatened to stop the fight if the punishment continued.
Kovalev, to his credit, took McGirt very seriously, got back on his jab, and controlled the remainder of the bout, before dropping and stopping Yarde on a stiff jab in the 11th round. It was probably less the impact of that single punch than the fact that Yarde had been huffing and puffing since the fifth round or so, calling into question his unconventional and widely-discussed training routines, which include a lack of sparring.
Kovalev was the more polished boxer throughout pretty much the entire fight, and at range, there wasn’t a lot Yarde could do with him. When Yarde did get inside, he was able to find some success, but he seemed to run out of both gas and ideas as it went along, and he just didn’t have the experience necessary to beat Kovalev.
It’s worth wondering, though, what the 28-year-old Yarde might be able to do, at least for a couple of years, if he were to train in a more traditional manner. He did better in this fight than Eleider Alvarez did in his rematch with Kovalev in February, despite being down 97-93 and 98-92 on the two unofficial Bad Left Hook cards. He did have Kovalev in a real spot of trouble in the eighth round, and he did show up and probably did the best you could expect of someone with basically no amateur background and no fights against anyone close to being a contender in the pros.
Kovalev will no doubt look for a big fight next; whether or not he gets Canelo is up in the air, but if he doesn’t, Top Rank’s Bob Arum has already said they’d love to match him against Gilberto “Zurdo” Ramirez or Jesse Hart, and both of those could be really tough fights for an aging “Krusher.” There’s also the potential for a unification fight with the Beterbiev-Gvozdyk winner or Dmitry Bivol, all of which would be a big ask for Kovalev at this point.
But for at least one more night, Sergey Kovalev remained a world champion simply by being better than the man across the ring.
Ilunga Makabu MD-12 Aleksei Papin
Nice road win here for Makabu (26-2, 24 KO), the cruiserweight veteran from Congo who successfully defends the WBC “silver” title. This was a really good fight, hard-hitting, became a war of attrition down the stretch, and the scores in the end were 114-114, 115-113, and 115-113. Bad Left Hook had it a bit wider for Makabu, scoring it 116-111, with a 12th round knockdown of the brave Papin (11-1, 10 KO), who suffers his first pro defeat.
Papin did good work in this fight and with a bit more polish, even at 31, he could be a really interesting player at cruiserweight for at least a few more years. Makabu really deserves to get his crack at a world title sooner than later — the WBC belt is currently vacant and will be decided in the Briedis-Dorticos WBSS final, and Makabu should really be in line next. He’s been a good contender for years now, always puts on a good fight, and is worth tuning in to see.
Evgeny Romanov TKO-1 Dario German Balmaceda
The stream started 10 minutes ahead of schedule because the Russians do not give a F about American TV plans, so I missed this, but reports from the live thread are that it was One of Those, where Balmaceda (19-18-2, 13 KO) was going down from glancing blows, and Romanov (14-0, 10 KO) didn’t get real work. Russian heavyweight Romanov is unbeaten and all, but he’s also 34 and still fighting aging .500 record Argentine cruiserweights.