Saul Alvarez vs. Sergey Kovalev – preview

We recently sat down with Chip Mitchell of The Fight Journal to discuss the November 2 WBO Light Heavyweight Clash at the MGM Grand Garden arena between Saul Canelo Alvarez and Sergey “Krusher” Kovalev. Mitchell provided us with three compelling keys to victory for both fighters. Here is our story from the discussion:

Let’s start our three keys to victory by with the champion…. Ahh, caught you sleeping! They are BOTH champions.

So, let’s begin with Canelo 52-1-2 (35 KO’s) the WBA Super, WBC “Franchise” Middleweight champion and the current face of boxing. Canelo is 3-0-1 in his last four fights coming off an extremely close UD win in May over Daniel Jacobs. Two official cards scored the fight 115-113 while the third scored it 116-112 for Canelo.

The first key to victory for Canelo is to cut off the ring. Canelo needs to take away Kovalev’s considerable height and reach advantage and force the fight inside. Canelo stands at five feet eight inches while Kovalev is six feet tall. Kovalev has a considerable four-inch height advantage. Canelo’s reach is measured at 70 ½ inches and Kovalev is 72 ½ inches. Canelo faces the challenge of cutting off the ring and getting inside of the physically bigger fighter.

Canelo must close the gap and force the fight inside where he’ll have a considerable advantage over Kovalev. Canelo has a good jab, but “Krusher” Kovalev has a longer more lethal stick; Therefore, Canelo must throw and double up his jab. At times, Canelo will have to triple his jab and throw it at different levels mainly the head and chest area to keep Kovalev off balance and find success to get inside. Once inside, Canelo needs to really rough Kovalev up because Kovalev, most of the time, has challenges fighting on the inside. An effective inside game by Canelo should create many counter-shot opportunities. Kovalev will get frustrated and it will negate Kovalev’s reach and the lethal intent of his jab.

The second key to victory is Canelo must stay busy. Canelo likes to show off his defensive skills and seemingly take time off during rounds. He has also been known to run out of steam during fights. When he goes through a stretch like this and he’s just moving and trying to get out of the way, he doesn’t throw punches. Against “Krusher” Kovalev, this could be dangerous.

In this fight, Canelo must show the aggression he has displayed in recent fights. Canelo is on a streak where he’s been ultra-aggressive. He was the aggressor in the second fight with GGG, Canelo spotted Khan a few rounds then started to attack, he was aggressive against Junior, and he attacked Fielding from the start and got him out early. Before that, it was Liam Smith and James Kirkland. Had some of those fights gone further, I think Canelo would’ve gassed.

You must believe Kovalev’s camp has seen the same, so Canelo needs to be the aggressor from the start and have enough in the tank to finish. Now, if he feels he can score the KO, he should go balls to the wall and go for it. If not, he needs to be wise with his aggression and remember Kovalev is 36 years old. Canelo will have opportunities to score. Kovalev is dangerous, but not as dangerous as he was two or three years ago. Canelo is in his prime.

Speaking of attack, the third and final key to victory for Canelo is place large investments in body work. Canelo must pound Kovalev in the breadbasket early and often. This will be the key to Canelo’s inside work and work rate. Kovalev should be boxing and trying to keep Canelo on the end of his jab. As we stated earlier, Canelo needs to get inside and just pound the body of Kovalev just like Andre Ward did in his second fight with Kovalev. Work the body and wear “Krusher” down. Canelo is a very good body puncher and will need to be effective in this fight. Canelo needs to punch to the body when he has opportunities, including using a down jab when he can’t completely close the distance. If all else fails, Canelo can go to Plan B. Plan B is to stay outside and use speed and elusiveness to counter and potshot his way to an unpopular victory. It’s a style that will surprise many people, who think Canelo’s only shot is on the inside.

How about the other champion? Sergey “Krusher” Kovalev 34-3-1 (29 KO’s) is the WBO World light heavyweight champion. Kovalev is coming off a thrilling August win over previously undefeated and young Anthony Yarde. It was the 17th straight title fight Sergey was in.

The first key to victory for Kovalev is to box. Meaning, use his height and reach advantages and box from the outside. Kovalev has one of the top three jabs in boxing. It can easily be argued he has one of the best. Kovalev could do a tremendous amount of damage by just keeping his jab on Canelo. Kovalev should double and triple his jab and move. Occasionally, Kovalev should hold his ground and let Canelo feel his power. This will keep Canelo off balance and rethinking his attack. It will also slow down Canelo’s deft counter game. Kovalev should keep the fight at a distance and move his head. Distance! Distance! Distance!

There are rumors about Canelo’s knee. Allegedly, the knee is causing problems and Canelo allegedly isn’t in the best shape. Canelo should test it by boxing and scoring from distance. Be the “Krusher” Kovalev which beat Jean Pascal and Bernard Hopkins.

Kovalev’s power is legitimate, and he is at his best when he boxes to set up the big punch instead of just looking for the big KO. Like Tommy Hearns, Kovalev usually uses length to catch opponents on the end of his punches. Good hand speed and power is his game. Canelo hasn’t shown the ability or needed to show the ability to cut off the ring off like GGGolovkin, and Kovalev is deceptively faster than most opponents think he is. Ask B-Hop.

The second key to victory for Kovalev is to stay active and on his toes. In order to keep Canelo outside and on the end of his punches Kovalev needs to be busy jabbing, moving, being active from a distance. Kovalev shouldn’t just move to move and waste energy, but to impose his size and frustrate Canelo. Kovalev is the boss in the Light Heavyweight Division. Kovalev should not miss an opportunity to show Canelo what a real Light Heavyweight can do. Kovalev should use his jab to set the table, move, and then thump Canelo. Reset and repeat until Canelo folds like Oscar De La Hoya did against a bigger, stronger Bernard Hopkins. Every Kovalev opponent has had trouble when Kovalev can jab and move, Canelo won’t be any different. Kovalev should take his time in there, have fun, and mix it up.

The third and final key to victory for Kovalev is simple. Kovalev must understand his own weaknesses and stay on script. Kovalev must check his ego at the door. Yes, Kovalev fights at the bigger weight class. Yes, he may be the hardest puncher in boxing and the biggest puncher Canelo has ever faced, but at some point Ego will come calling and say, Kovalev needs to teach the kid a lesson for moving up two weight classes. Canelo is still a world class and since his lost to Floyd, he is a better fighter defensively and offensively. In every fight, Canelo has more than upped his performance levels against better competition.

While many thought Canelo’s two wars with GGG could have gone either way, Canelo proved he can go 24 rounds against a bigger stronger puncher and improve while doing so. Kovalev needs to understand, while he is physically the bigger man, he must keep Canelo frustrated on the outside.

Kovalev must stick to the script. After being knocked out by Eleider Alvarez, Kovalev appeared to be finished. He signed up with James “Buddy” McGirt and the results have been transcendent. For Kovalev, at 36 (let alone at any age) to get brutally stopped then come back to completely box the ears off Eleider “Storm” Alvarez in the very next fight, is as we said, transcendent. “Krusher” Kovalev’s performance was beyond words. It just doesn’t happen in boxing.

In the Yarde fight, McGirt had Kovalev fighting brilliantly, but a moment of truth for fighter and trainer came in the 8th round when Kovalev was badly hurt after by Yarde. Even though Kovalev controlled the first seven rounds of the fight, McGirt emphatically told Kovalev “if you take more punishment like this, I will stop the fight.” Kovalev found some survival energy and eventually stopped Yarde in the 11th round. Before the fight, not may, if anyone, believed Kovalev could score a late stoppage against a young lion like Yarde. Certainly, even less thought it would occur after what transpired in the 8th but it all happened because Kovalev listened to his corner and stuck to the script. Kovalev believes in McGirt and the relationship will have to stay strong for him to defeat Canelo.