Three years is a lifetime in boxing. That’s how long contender Eleider Alvarez waited for his mandatory title shot against WBC and lineal titleholder Adonis Stevenson. Alvarez accepted step-aside money twice in those three years with the understanding he’d eventually get his chance. Then for reasons that have never been specified, the Stevenson fight never materialized. Alvarez then received a new opportunity against WBO titlist Sergey Kovalev after Marcus Browne, the original title challenger, was scrapped after accusations of domestic violence surfaced.
KOVALEV: There is no debate about who the superior puncher is. Kovalev has won 28 of his 32 fights by stoppage, including his two most recent opponents after losing back to back fights to Andre Ward. He can hurt his opponent with either hand. However, his most underrated weapon might be the jab, which can function as power shot when it lands.
Following the Ward defeats, Kovalev sacked trainer John David Jackson in favor of Artur Tursunpulatov. The latter not only speaks Kovalev’s native Russian but has refined his style to be more aggressive with a significant increase in punch output. In his last bout against Igor Mikhalkin, Kovalev averaged 77 punches per round (light-heavyweight average is 52) while connecting with 62% of his power shots.
Finally, few active fighters can match The Krusher’s championship experience. Saturday night will mark his 14th consecutive title fight dating back to 2013. He has seen every style and outside of Ward, conquered them all.
ALVAREZ: What the challenger lacks in brute strength he makes up for in speed and accuracy. Alvarez stuns many of his foes with his quick counter-punching, most notably a scythe-like right hook. Although not known as an inside fighter, he can unleash creative uppercuts downstairs when opponents least expect it.
Also troublesome for Kovalev will be Alvarez’s combination punching — the Colombian challenger likes to let his offense go in bursts which can sway the judges.
VERDICT: Be careful what you wish for. Alvarez waited three years for a title shot that now comes under less than ideal circumstances. Waiting on Stevenson kept him sidelined and he now has to face a murderous puncher with 12 months of ring rust.
Alvarez tends to stand his ground and wait for countering opportunities, but that strategy is unwise against Kovalev’s power. That means Alvarev likely fights off the backfoot against a Kovalev that’s shown increased accuracy since the Ward defeats. In addition, I have questions about how well Alvarez’s chin will hold up against a puncher of this caliber.
While both men tend to slow down in the latter half of fights, I like Kovalev’s heavier hands coupled with his accuracy to do more damage. Kovalev UD
DMITRY BIVOL VS. ISAAC CHILEMBA: This isn’t about who’ll win — Dmitry Bivol should do that handily. The question is can he look impressive against one of the biggest spoilers in boxing?
Chilemba has one stoppage blemish on his resume and that was from a broken hand retirement (against Oleksandr Gvozdyk in 2016). He’s been able to survive punchers like Kovalev due to his quick feet and awkward upper body movement. He’s not an easy target to land clean on and Bivol, who is a seek and destroy fighter, will be frustrated trying to trap Chilemba.
If Bivol had more experience, I could see him scoring a stoppage. But with only 11 fights and Chilemba being his most accomplished foe, I see this becoming a valuable learning experience in going the distance with a veteran contender. Bivol UD
The Kovalev-Alvarez card airs live on HBO at 10 p.m. ET