Plan of Attack: Kovalev and Alvarez Strategize For Fight Night

Photo: Ed Mulholland

Photo: Ed Mulholland

By Gordon Marino

Light-heavyweight king Sergey Kovalev has a heavyweight mindset to go with

his heavyweight punching power. That said, the fact that the “Krusher” will never get a chance to reverse his losses to the now retired Andre Ward has to feel like a liver shot. Equally troubling, Kovalev has an ardent desire to unify the title and Adonis Stevenson, who owns one of the 175-pound title belts, and whom Kovalev refers to as “Chickenson,” has been avoiding the Russian destroyer for years.

On Saturday, Kovalev (32-2-1, 28 KOs) will defend his crown against another light-heavyweight whom Stevenson seems allergic in top contender Eleider “Storm” Alvarez.

Born in Columbia, Alvarez (23-0, 11 KOs) won a gold medal in the 2007 Pan American Games. Now residing in Montreal, “Storm” made his professional debut in 2009. Since then, he’s notched impressive victories over the likes of Jean Pascal, Lucian Bute, Isaac Chilemba, Ryno Liebenberg, and Edison Miranda. Despite his ledger against tough opposition, the 34-year-old Alvarez is the first to acknowledge that, “The man I am going to be fighting with. . . is the best in the category of 175 pounds.”

Ward aside, Kovalev has dominated his division to the point that he has had a difficult time landing competitive fights. However, he recognizes that this challenger is a real challenge. Assessing Alvarez, Kovalev said, “It’s a big test for me. He is very motivated. He’s hungry for this fight and for a victory. He’s undefeated. It’s not an easy fight... He’s dangerous. I cannot say whether I can knock him out or get a victory by points. It’s a good fight for the boxing fans.”

There are similarities in the styles of Kovalev and Alvarez. Both combatants boast five-star jabs. Alvarez says, "My jab is my best weapon so I am going to use it against Kovalev."

Though at six feet he is two inches shorter than the champ, Alvarez enjoys a reach advantage and has a quicker trigger. Still, Kovalev has a pulverizing lead left and has even registered knockdowns with his jab.

Both fighters specialize in explosive right hand counters over their opponent’s lead. In fact, it is with this return shot that Alvarez has set up most of his knockouts. There should be plenty of opportunities for Alvarez to answer a left with a zinging right on Saturday night. After all, Kovalev is always pumping his jab and often brings his left back just above the belt line. And yet, Alvarez had best be mindful that the low left might be one of the traps Kovalev sets to bait his prey into the danger zone.

In nearly every one of his tiffs, Kovalev’s first goal has been to cut off the ring on fighters trying to stay on the safe side of his juggernaut right. In this, the first boxing event at the Atlantic City Hard Rock Hotel & Casino, Kovalev might not have to work so hard to find his man.

While Alvarez has excellent balance and respectable footwork, he almost stubbornly stays in the pocket and he does not move his head. Pressed on whether or not he fears Kovalev’s vaunted power, the Columbian native shot back, "If I was scared then I wouldn't be boxing.”

For psychological reasons, many fighters leave the film study to their trainers, but Alvarez has been scrutinizing the Ward fights and claims to have picked up some tricks from the S.O.G. One of Ward’s greatest virtues was his unpredictable movement and punch sequences. Alvarez is predictable. Still, from watching the Ward tussles, Alvarez may have noticed that when Kovalev jabs, he often drops his right hand. Ward took advantage of this mistake and pasted Kovalev with sharp left hooks that had to make the Russian a little hesitant about letting his Susie Q fly. And yet, while Alvarez has been able to pull the trigger on his left hook inside, he has not been particularly adept at letting it go from mid to long range.  

No doubt, Alvarez also took note of Ward’s effective straight rights and left hooks to the midsection. Effective body work requires breaking the perimeter and bending at the knees on the inside. However, Alvarez tends to straighten up when he is chest-to-chest and that could negate his ability to douse Kovalev’s fiery attack.

Knockout artists often have underestimated boxing IQs. George Foreman is a case in point. Though a wrecking ball of a puncher, Big George was a sweet scientist. Likewise, don’t be misled by Kovalev’s knack for putting people to bed. He is patient and knows his craft as well as how to decipher his opponent’s style.  

After a recent workout, Kovalev confided, “Some fights, I don’t like myself – I mean my fights. I didn’t like my last fight. I didn’t like my performance. Right now, I am trying to delete these mistakes and do better every fight. Every fight, something happens. I thought I knew a lot, but something always happens new. I get a new experience from each fight and each preparation.”

In other words, don’t look for the Krusher to wilt or get flustered if Alvarez manages to add some upgrades to his boxing hard drive.