Sergey Kovalev made a successful debut in the cruiserweight division, boxing his way past Tervel Pulev over 10 rounds to win the main event of another unique and messy Triller Fight Club event.
Kovalev, 39, hadn’t fought since his Nov. 2019 knockout loss to Canelo Alvarez, which looks like it will be the final fight he ever has as a light heavyweight, a division where at one point he was the consensus No. 1 fighter in the sport.
Tonight, he boxed mostly cautiously but not without engaging, fighting smart and winning on scores of 97-93, 98-92, and 98-92 against Pulev, who suffers the first loss of his pro career in what was also the first fight he’d ever taken where he had a serious chance of losing.
Bad Left Hook scored it 97-93, for what it’s worth, which as usual we note is “nothing,” officially speaking.
Kovalev (35-4-1, 29 KO) is never going to be the “Krusher” again at this weight, unless he’s fighting over-matched opposition or others who really are light heavyweights blown up 25 lbs or so. But Kovalev didn’t become a top fighter in the sport by just crudely mauling and blasting away at opponents, either; he’s always been a very good boxer when he’s on his game, which is how he gave Andre Ward and Canelo Alvarez trouble in their fights, even if officially he went 0-3 against them.
It was getting back to boxing, even, that helped him avenge his stunning 2018 upset loss to Eleider Alvarez. In the rematch, he boxed, and won a clear decision.
Trainer Buddy McGirt drilled into Kovalev all night between rounds to keep boxing, keep using his jab, and for the most part, that’s exactly what Sergey did. His jab was effective both as a scoring punch and as a disruptive element. Shawn Porter, doing analysis for the fight, noted that Kovalev often used a trailing jab when he was moving away from Pulev (16-1, 13 KO), and that along was a major factor in Pulev, also 39, just never really getting truly into the fight, never finding the shots he needed to be a problem for Kovalev.
I think it’s still fair to say that an aged Kovalev, who is going to be small at this weight, will potentially have real trouble with top cruiserweights. But there are also very few in the division who can box with him if he stays focused over the course of a fight. For most opponents, even top 10 type cruiserweights, their best bet will be to overwhelm him with power and their natural size advantages.
All in all, Kovalev has to be happy with this performance. He’s back in the game, and his name value alone makes him a hugely attractive opponent for anyone at the weight, because cruiserweight is in one of those periods where there just aren’t any real money fighters out there, with due respect to guys like Mairis Briedis and Lawrence Okolie. There’s a reason Briedis, the consensus No. 1 in the division, has desperately, somewhat pathetically chased a fight with Jake Paul. Kovalev isn’t Jake Paul in notoriety, but he’s also not Jake Paul in the ring. (I mean to say that I’m sure he can beat people who aren’t washed-up 170 lb MMA fighters.)
“I’m just going to keep in shape after this fight, we’ll rest one week and then get back in the gym,” Kovalev said after the win, and admitted he had a bit of rust. “I worried how it was going to be in the fight, of course there was some ring rust. Without boxing at a high level for over a year — my body doesn’t like this. I want to fight every three or four months.”
Asked about his game plan, Kovalev said, “The plan was just to use the jab and distance. But I felt like I didn’t have enough energy in my body.” He added that he’d like to be a little lighter for his next fight so he can be “faster” in the ring.
“I think in my next fight, it won’t be at the highest level. Give me one more fight, and I’ll be ready,” he added. All in all, it was a pretty honest assessment of his own performance, with a lot more nuance than the glowing commentary would have led a viewer to believe was there.
Kovalev vs Pulev highlights
Not many, though, because this is a massive money-making blockbuster event, and you can’t simply give this stuff away after it’s over.
Kubrat Pulev UD-10 Jerry Forrest
Wasn’t able to watch it all unfold live with the sound on, but the pre-fight here was hilarious, a solid 90 minutes or so, it seemed, where there was some issue with Forrest’s gloves, then the only gloves in the building big enough for Forrest’s hands were Kubrat’s backup gloves, and that was a whole ordeal forever, then after killing the live crowd, the two went out to fight past Midnight ET, but 9 pm local, I suppose. Still, far later than it was supposed to be.
Forrest (26-5-2, 20 KO) started OK in this one, but eventually Pulev (29-2, 14 KO) took over and just never fully let Jerry get back into it, as Forrest gassed in the middle rounds. He never gave up on the fight, but Pulev was just better than him; once Kubrat switched it on, it wasn’t that competitive anymore.
Scores were 98-92, 99-91, and 99-91 for Pulev. At 41, he’s no longer a top contender, but he can still fight, and the Triller people seem to like him. Although who knows, maybe less after this fiasco put a screeching halt to their entire show.
Undercard highlights and results
- Emiliano Vargas KO-1 Mark Salgado
- Jurmain McDonald KO-2 Evan Holyfield: An upset for sure, with young Holyfield (9-1, 6 KO) getting chinned and face-planted on a right hand from McDonald (7-5, 2 KO). Holyfield, 24, has been matched extremely carefully for two-and-a-half years as a pro, and there’s always been the suspicion that he wasn’t too legit a prospect. That said, sometimes you do just get cracked with one. It’s not the end of the world. He’s young and can come back, we’ll see if he does.
- Fernando Vargas Jr KO-1 Terrance Jarmon
- Amado Vargas UD-4 Anel Dudo