“He has a child’s face, with brown hair and a freckled face, but his fists are just as devastating as a sailor.”
Rodolfo Rosales writing for El Universal in March, 2010
14 years on from his debut as a fresh faced 139 pounder, Saul Alvarez, now 29-years-old and boasting a 53-1-2 (36ko) professional record, holds a portion of the Light-Heavyweight crown. He knocked out a grizzled old champion, Sergey Kovalev, in the 11th round of an otherwise muted battle for the WBO’s belt.
The coupling of those sentences is remarkable. To denigrate the credibility of that achievement by demeaning Kovalev’s credentials, as some have, speaks more of the critic than Alvarez. There are those who’ve have developed a negative myopia toward the Mexican attraction because of the decision gifted to him in the first Golovkin fight or his failed drug test, the latter of which I too refuse to ignore, or are simply too lodged in their version of the past that the merits of the modern era will never be sufficient to draw praise.
I’ve been guilty of that too. But whatever the premise or subtext behind your view of the world, whether you recognise or deny its influence, I encourage you to appreciate the significance of Alvarez’s performance this weekend.
His victories at this new weight was achieved with power, skill, a willingness to attack, to stay in range with a taller, stronger and potentially heavy handed opponent. One with experience, good footwork, a good jab and a variety of punches. True, he is 36, but he has been active and successful in 2019. This must be considered a legitimate and meaningful victory with only a handful of precedents.
The contest itself illustrated the disadvantages Alvarez is negotiating. Kovalev towered over him, had good reach and was able, at times, to nullify the effectiveness of Alvarez’s march forward. There were moments that hinted at the finale Alvarez eventually found throughout, but Kovalev did have success with jabs, the uppercut on the inside and with his straight work to the body.
Alvarez, who now splatters his branding with 4x to signify the four weights he has triumphed at, deployed his most subtle weapon, the left hook, to great effect. Disguised as a body shot, to entice the guard down, the shot landed at various points and has become a ‘pet’ punch in recent years. Kovalev despite the age in his legs was willing to box from the outside, or was forced to, depending on your outlook.
He was never able to discourage or trouble Alvarez with power, despite landing flush. Despite the boxing cliché, that power is always the last thing a fighter loses, there was a sense some ‘zing’ has gone from Kovalev’s arsenal. Certainly, he lacked the confidence in his power to try and force the challenger back, a tactic one might have assumed he would try at some point.
With the contest meandering toward an inevitable Alvarez points victory, I had it broadly even going into the 11th, Kovalev was clipped by a left hook, then moments later by a right hand above the ear, this was followed by another meaty left hook and a right hand that ended matters immediately. Referee Russell Mora elected not to take up the count.
An interesting tactical encounter was enhanced by a show reel knockout, that most necessary of marketing ingredients, and with Alvarez’s ability to compete physically as well as skilfully in these weightier divisions new possibilities abound for match-ups in the future.
Personally, a clash with Callum Smith, the unified champion at Super-Middleweight looks the most appealing and meaningful. After all, the belt Alvarez secured at 168 pounds by beating Rocky Fielding was merely a subordinate to the one the giant Liverpudlian holds.
It seems unlikely he will ever return to Middleweight.