What Now For The Krusher Kovalev?
It didn’t seem long ago that Sergey Kovalev, the man referred to as the ‘Krusher’ was considered the most dangerous man in the world in the light heavyweight division crushing everyone of his opponents who dared stand up to him in the ring, and there were some shouting that he was quite possibly the most feared man in the sport and the games number one pound for pound boxer.
Kovalev had an almost Ivan Drago demeanor about him. Drago was the famous character in the Rocky IV movie, who killed Apollo Creed in the ring. Both were Russian and had that stone faced killer look, sadly Kovalev too had an opponent who succumbed to his injuries and died after losing to him, Roman Simakov fell into a coma and died three days after a 7th round TKO loss to Kovalev. Both had built up an aura of invincibility behind incredible punching power, Kovalev wanted to bully you into submission, he wanted to hurt you…
Enter the Dragon…well this dragon’s name was Andre Ward. With the retirement of Floyd Mayweather Jnr, Ward was widely regarded as the new pound for pound king, but Ward had done this at super middleweight, how would he fare against a man of Kovalev’s skills and power in the division above? Ward knew the mentality of Kovalev was to bully you, he wanted you to fear him before you had stepped into the ring with him so that you were already on the back foot, then he wanted you to feel the power of his right hand and make you wish you never stepped foot in that ring with him. Ward knew this and stood up to the bully and despite a shaky start which saw Ward dropped by a punishing blow from Kovalev, he was able to dust himself off and systematically break Kovalev down. The fight was close, there probably wouldn’t have been many complaints had it gone in Kovalev’s favour but it went to Ward – just! The outcome of the fight however, meant that Kovalev’s reputation remained intact, as a fighter anyway. Constant complaints from him about the end result of the bout left many feeling he was a bad loser, a rematch was set and Kovalev wanted his revenge. Many though, Ward included, knew the second time wouldn’t be so close….
The rumours of trouble and squabbles within the Kovalev camp had already started, there were suggestions he was finding it too difficult making weight for the light heavyweight division, there were concerns he was not living the boxing lifestyle the same way he used to, fuelled by allegations he loved his drink. To compound matters, Kovalev was losing faith in his trainer, John David Jackson, who was a very capable coach, to make matters worse, Andre Ward’s trainer Virgil Hunter even offered to train Kovalev!
Unsurprisingly, the rematch between the two was billed as ‘No Excuses’ and Kovalev would have no excuses after this fight as Ward won via an 8th round. Although the fight was close heading into the 8th round, Ward was fighting to a plan, and Kovalev was beginning to slow. A right hand set in motion the chain of events as Ward pounded the body and the referee was forced to call a halt to the fight. Now, finally – the aura around Kovalev had been pierced.
Kovalev looked to struggle for plans when his famed punching power wasn’t working, we saw a glimpse of this before the Ward fights when the Russian struggled against the crafty Isaac Chilemba, winning a 12 round decision. But the bully allegations were holding true, if you handle his power(which was a big if by the way) and not get intimidated by Kovalev, he would soon get frustrated and give you openings.
As Kovalev changed trainers and mounted the comeback trail, he looked impressive in successive TKO wins over Shabranskyy(to win the vacant WBO light heavyweight title) and then Igor Mikhalkin. Was Kovalev back to his best?
A fight to defend his title was set up with the WBC mandatory, ‘Storm’ Alvarez, despite his ability and reputation, Alvarez hadn’t fought since June 2017 and was not expected to seriously challenge the Russian, he did however, hold impressive wins over Jean Pascal, Lucian Bute and Isaac Chilemba.
Despite his nickname, it was Kovalev who was providing the storm in the early going between the two but Alvarez weathered the storm, Kovalev threw a lot into the early exchanges, especially round four and when Alvarez took his best shots, you got the feeling that Kovalev didn’t know what to do next, was he relying on his punch power or did he know he hadn’t been training at his best, were those old rumours about his lack of focus in the gym really true? In round seven all of those questions were answered when Alvarez nailed Kovalev with a huge right hand. As Kovalev dropped, he forced himself up but each time Alvarez stormed the party and sent him back down to the canvas, three times in all before the referee had to wave the fight off.
If Ward had cracked the shell around the Russian, Alvarez well and truly had broken it. Where the 35yr old Kovalev goes from here is anyones guess, as he gets older he will naturally experience a decline but his main asset is his punching power and the punch is the last thing which leaves a boxer but the light heavyweight division is loaded with some serious talent. What is more concerning though is that no one fears Kovalev anymore, much of fighting is a mindset and when your opponent does not fear you or they know you have a weakness, it will be exploited and they will always have hope of beating you. Fighters now know, if they didn’t already from watching Ward’s masterclass in the latter half of the 1st fight with Kovalev and their rematch, that Kovalev really only has a plan A, if you answer his question, he struggles to think of more questions to ask you, if he can’t beat you into submission or intimidate you, Kovalev will appear confused as to what his next step should be.
It is always sad to see a once great fighter being made to look so ‘average’ and seeing them knocked down repeatedly, Kovalev took some heavy punishment but bumps and bruises recover, will Kovalev recover from the beating his reputation as a boxer has taken?