Jonathan Nagioff sets the scene for the intriguing Canelo Alvarez vs Sergey Kovalev clash
Mexican Independence Day weekend in Las Vegas, well specifically inside the T Mobile Arena, had just about everything you could have hoped for. Blood, guts, heart, courage and, barring the fact there was no show-reel knockout as Tyson Fury battled to a unanimous decision win over Otto Wallin, there was one additonal factor missing: Saul ‘Canelo’ Alvarez was nowhere to be seen.
Fury did his utmost to fill the void, waltzing to the ring wearing a poncho and sombrero, whilst accompanied by a Mariachi band. The traveller’s shorts were the colours of the Mexican flag and his gloves were similarly coordinated. He even went as far as to alter his nickname during fight week from the “Gypsy King” to the Spanish equivalent, “El Rey Gitano”. A typically flamboyant Fury, as we’ve come to admire over the years, was certainly pulling no punches when he announced he’d come in to replace Canelo, who had deferred his usual festive bout.
A multi-weight world champion, Canelo has become accustomed to gracing the ring on Mexican Independence Day weekend, having faced Gennady Golovkin in two successive encounters deliberately to mark this historic moment in his native country’s history. In fact, some of his most significant bouts have fallen on this weekend.
Canelo marked the holiday in 2016 by knocking out Liverpool’s Liam Smith to claim the WBO light-middleweight title, whilst he toppled his great rival Golovkin and inflicted a first career defeat for the Kazakh, in a rematch of their controversial draw that took place almost a year previously. The Mexican’s only professional defeat also came on this weekend, when he became Floyd Mayweather’s 45th victim on September 14 2013.
In fact, since Mayweather departed the professional scene following his 50 and final victory over UFC star Conor McGregor in 2017, Canelo has arguably replaced the American five-weight world champion as the biggest draw in world boxing. Anthony Joshua would present a very valid case against this, having sold out football stadiums four times in his last five fights, however Canelo can cement his standing even further when he bids to win the WBO light-heavyweight title against Sergey Kovalev on November 2 at the MGM Grand Garden Arena, Las Vegas.
“Krusher” will be just 10 weeks removed from his gruelling win over Britain’s Anthony Yarde, when he steps into the ring, a fight he had to rescue from the brink, surviving an eighth-round onslaught from Yarde. The 36-year-old had enough left in the tank to come through with an 11th-round stoppage, but has taken this fight at short notice and without a full 12-week training camp; this is not ideal preparation for a showdown of this magnitude.
For Canelo it is business as usual, however and yet another prized name to tick off the list, which will hit 56 bouts when he steps into the ring. The 29-year-old is up against it, having decided to jump up two-weight classes to challenge Kovalev and will be at a huge size and reach disadvantage.
These aspects did not prove an issue as Canelo successfully relieved Rocky Fielding of his WBA (Regular) super-middleweight title, following his brief move up to the 168lbs division. In the end, his superior skillset and exceptional ringcraft, plus his clear superiority over the Brit, enabled him to storm to another world honour.
Despite his wear and tear, Kovalev poses a completely different threat than Fielding did. Prior to his two defeats to former pound-for-pound star Andre Ward, the Russian was the dominant force in the 175lbs division and highly avoided. But his aura of invincibility soon faded with those two losses to Ward, which were also followed by a knockout defeat to Eleider Álvarez a year later, although Kovalev did avenge this in a rematch with the Colombian wherein he claimed a unanimous decision.
Yarde once again exposed obvious vulnerabilities in Sergey and at his age the clock is against him. The fight will be streamed on DAZN, where Canelo remains the star of the network and the pair will rake in millions, Kovalev’s highest career payday. Certainly for Canelo though, who is the bookies’ favourite, the ambition and will remains the same and the lure of another world title appears far more lucrative than whatever DAZN are prepared to offer him, though of course the cash is gratefully received.
It is remarkable to consider what the Mexican has achieved, all before he turns 30 next July. It is his sheer desire to take on the biggest names in boxing which sets him apart from the rest. Gennady Golovkin twice, a unification with Daniel Jacobs, Miguel Cotto and a peak Erislandy Lara, to name a few. And whilst his career is clouded somewhat by a six-month drugs ban dating back to April 2018, due to his testing positive for clenbuterol, the Mexican’s story rumbles on and with passion when he faces yet another great in Kovalev on November 2. Canelo really finds out how good he is, meanwhile Krusher will establish if he is at a crossroads in his glittering career or if he can claim another famous scalp, in perhaps his final hurrah.