Monday, July 30, 2018

Opinions and Observations: Garcia, Whyte and Chisora

Coming into Saturday's fight, Robert Easter Jr., a lightweight champion blessed with a 5'11" height and a 76-inch reach, was as much as a 6-1 underdog against Mikey Garcia. Easter's last three bouts of note, versus Richard Commey, Denis Shafikov and Javier Fortuna, were all close affairs, and if he had failed to establish himself as a dominant player in the 135-lb. division, at least he had demonstrated that he could compete with the B+ talent level. 

Meanwhile, Garcia had clearly established himself over the past decade as one of the best talents in boxing, winning title belts in four divisions and yet to have a fight where he had lost more than four rounds. So while a unification bout usually carries an expectation of drama and intrigue, conventional wisdom suggested that Easter would do no better than win a few rounds, which is precisely what occurred on Saturday. 

Floyd Mayweather and others like to say that boxing is about levels. Meaning, at a certain point, talent will win out and there's not much an overmatched opponent can do. Now of course there are exceptions to this rule. We've seen significant upsets, fighters setting an unexpected new threshold in performance and one-punch knockouts proving to be the great equalizer. But by and large, "levels" proved to be correct during Garcia-Easter. Yes, 6-1 underdogs prevail every year, but there are only a handful who can successfully overcome such odds. And Easter didn't fight in a manner that would provide him the ability to join such a sparsely populated list. 

For this fight, Easter enlisted trainer Kevin Cunningham, a coach who had significant success developing Cory Spinks and Devon Alexander. Cunningham is good on technique and runs a disciplined camp. Easter, who many felt had stagnated or regressed, was searching for something more against Garcia. And it was clear from how Easter approached the fight in the early rounds that Cunningham had provided him with a specific plan for helping to neutralize Garcia's considerable offensive gifts. 

Fighting tall in the center of the ring, which is something that Easter had struggled with as a titlist, he attempted to keep Garcia at bay with his jab and distance. In the first two rounds of the fight, he was successful at limiting Garcia's punch output. The great ones, however, make adjustments. 

Garcia eventually would draw out Easter, forcing him to make mistakes and get out of position. The sequence that led to his third-round knockdown of Easter was a perfect demonstration of Garcia's brilliance. Garcia connected with a hard jab and then followed up with right hand that landed squarely on the button. He then moved suddenly away from Easter, who was still dealing with the effects of the shot. Based on muscle memory and panic, Easter threw a left hook in hopes of scaring off Garcia from throwing more punches, but Garcia wasn't there. The hook was widely off target and left Easter wide open for Garcia's own hook. Garcia exploited the opportunity, landed the shot and sent Easter to the canvas. 

Photo Courtesy of Showtime

That sequence exposed a persistent flaw with Easter. Under duress, he can get ragged and lose his composure. He's tough, he responds with aggression, but ultimately, he can be outclassed. Garcia's ability to relax in big moments, create opportunities through patience and perseverance, and attack in a varied but responsible fashion separates him from those a level or two beneath him. 

To be fair to Easter, he was far more composed on Saturday than he had been in recent fights, but there were still sequences where Garcia out-thought and outmaneuvered him. But Easter's performance did have some positives. He threw some nice jabs to the body. Except for a round or two, he stayed off the ropes. He kept his height as best he could. However, these were tools that helped him survive more than win. 

By the seventh round, Easter's "Plan A" was no longer viable in helping him secure rounds in the fight. Garcia consistently outboxed him and Easter needed to change tactics to have a chance of turning the bout in his favor. But for the rest of the fight, it was more of the same from him – mostly one shot at a time (usually a jab) and trying his best to keep Garcia from opening up too much. 

To his credit, Garcia had significant physical disadvantages in the fight, but after a few rounds, he was successful in opening up Easter's high guard and landing enough power shots to win comfortably on the scorecards (the tallies were 118-109, 117-110 and 116-111). With a hard jab, probing right hands around the guard and a sprinkling of left hooks and body shots, Garcia unfurled his offensive arsenal. And although he might not have dominated every second of the fight, he was consistently better. 

Garcia isn't a perfect fighter. He can be too methodical. His punch output isn't that high. He is available for counters because he waits a little too long in the pocket on occasion. However, he has done a masterful job of overcoming any athletic or stylistic deficiencies that he may have. He displays exceptional poise, balance and offensive variety. He also has a first-rate corner. Like any fighter, he's not unbeatable, but it's going to take a special performance to hand him his first loss. 


If one were to watch heavyweights Joseph Parker and Dillian Whyte in the gym, it would be easy to observe that Parker was the fighter with better boxing fundamentals. Featuring superior footwork, straighter punches, better defense and a more diverse offensive arsenal, Parker ticks a number of boxes for the hypothetical comparison. However, Whyte is not without his plusses. His physicality creates problems for his opponents. He's effectively awkward. He can throw and land shots from out of position that foes aren't expecting. He also features a mean left hook. In addition, Whyte has several positive intangibles that manifest in the ring: self-belief, desire and mental toughness.

Whyte needed every single one of those intangibles on Saturday, surviving for dear life to finish the 12th round on his feet. Dropped by a hard right hand to the temple, Whyte used every trick to survive. He grappled, held, tied up, used his feet, pushed Parker over – whatever was needed. He was running on fumes, exhausted and hurt, yet he had the presence of mind and clarity of thought to see his way out of the round and win the fight. 

Photo Courtesy of Lawrence Lustig

It was a thrilling round, easily the best one I've seen this year, but it wasn't necessary reflective of the fight in general. Whyte-Parker was a cagey affair, with periods of sustained action. But the fight also featured enough fouls to make even Joel Casamayor or Bernard Hopkins blush.

Saturday's match confirmed that Whyte is a street-smart fighter and Parker (a former champion) is woefully ill-equipped in that area. Punch-for-punch standing at range, Whyte quickly realized that Parker was the better boxer from distance. Consequently, Whyte made it an alley fight. Throughout the match, Whyte used his weight advantage to lean on Parker. He hit him low. He wrestled and grappled. He led with his head. He used headlocks to tie up. Whyte displayed his knowledge of the rough stuff in boxing, the dark arts, and Parker was thoroughly unprepared for that type of fight. 

Referee Ian John-Lewis did his customary poor job throughout the fight, allowing Whyte to hold incessantly, failing to take even a single point away for dozens of Whyte infractions. In addition, he was poorly positioned in the second round where Parker was dropped by a head butt; John-Lewis ruled it a knockdown (more on that later). 

Yes, Whyte committed a lot of fouls, but as a number of fighters will tell you, keep on doing it until the ref makes you stop. And to Whyte's credit, he wasn't merely a goon in the ring; the rough stuff was purposeful. He would grapple with Parker and hit him repeatedly after one of the fighters released from a clinch. He used his shoulders to move Parker around to land shots. In addition, his tactics made Parker often yield and retreat. Whyte successfully discouraged Parker from engaging through portions of the bout. 

During those moments where the fight was ragged, Whyte landed authoritative punches. He also forced Parker into making mistakes. In the ninth round, Parker threw an uppercut in hopes of further discouraging Whyte from coming forward. However, the shot was thrown from too far away and left him completely vulnerable. Whyte connected with a peach of a counter left hand and Parker tasted the canvas. 

Nevertheless, Whyte-Parker wasn't as one-sided as the Sky broadcast made it out to be. When the fight was at range, Parker had pockets of success. His jab was superior to Whyte's. He threw a number of punishing left hands to the body, which may have helped zap Whyte's strength by the end of the fight. 

However, I'll always remember Parker's eighth round on Saturday. Certainly down on the cards at that point, Parker seemed like a spectator in his own fight. He was unwilling to engage and seemed content to wind the clock down. Belatedly, he stepped on the gas in the 11th and 12th rounds, and perhaps his performance in the final third helped him save face, but it also reinforced his shocking levels of apathy at points earlier in the fight. He had the tools to beat Whyte, but the will wasn't there. 

After the fight, Parker was all smiles, and it irked me to no end. Parker was happy to survive against Anthony Joshua earlier in the year and he seemed content in knowing that he had hurt Whyte. But there seems to be a competitive fire missing from him. Instead of slugging it out in a dogfight, Parker was probably more concerned with his impending, sternly-worded letter to the British Board of Boxing Control for allowing such rough behavior during a sporting event. 

Interestingly, had John-Lewis ruled correctly in the second round, the fight would have resulted in a split draw. However, in this instance, I won't be standing on my soapbox demanding heads to roll. If Parker wasn't bothered by losing a winnable fight, why should I be upset by any potential injustice done to him? Ultimately, it was an appalling performance by John-Lewis. It affected the outcome of the fight. But even with those caveats, the fight was there for Parker to win. 

I'm not sure what's next for Parker. He hasn't looked convincing on the world level, either as a titleholder or a challenger. Naturally a new trainer would be welcome, but it seems as if he and lead coach Kevin Barry are the best of pals. Four years ago, Parker was one of the most exciting prospects in the division. However, his growth has stagnated. We could blame the trainer, and maybe that would be merited, but perhaps Parker's self-satisfaction after uninspiring performances is the real culprit.   


Hardcore boxing fans often have to do inconvenient things to watch the fights they want. They go to bed or wake up at ungodly hours for particular bouts. They allow themselves to get gouged by the boxing industry, paying for multiple networks, streams and pay per views. Sometimes their only resort is the dark corners of the internet, where they hope to find a fight that isn't offered in their home market. 

Malware be damned, many of us have watched a Russian language feed of a fight in England or streams from Mexico or Argentina where their broadcasts occasionally take commercial breaks during the fight action. We go through these lengths because a.) We want to; and b.) We never know when a great fight might happen, and we certainly wouldn't want to miss it. 

Saturday's Dereck Chisora-Carlos Takam fight wasn't available in the U.S. (neither was Whyte-Parker, the headlining fight from Matchroom's London card). However, many U.S. boxing fans found their way to watching it, because when Chisora is switched on, he makes for damn good fights. Rewarding us for our faith, Chisora-Takam turned out to be one of the best fights of the year. Fans were treated to eight rounds of a phone booth war, with the mercurial Chisora landing two pulverizing right hands in the eighth to finish Takam. 

Photo Courtesy of Lawrence Lustig

Takam (37) and Chisora (34) are both veterans of the heavyweight scene and have experienced their fair share of disappointments at the highest level of the division. Chisora was denied victory in perhaps one of the most blatant robberies of the last ten years, against Robert Helenius in 2011. He also lost a heartbreaker to Whyte in 2016. Takam was deprived of a win against Mike Perez in 2014 and was boxing beautifully against Alexander Povetkin later that year before being stopped. 

The two fighters have been inconsistent throughout their careers, but when they're focused, they can certainly entertain. By all accounts, Chisora took training camp very seriously – doing the road work, and getting quality sparring from the likes of Bryant Jennings. Takam also wanted to prove that he was more than he showed last year in the title fight against Anthony Joshua, where he was brought in with less than two weeks’ notice, but still performed ably before being stopped in the 10th round.

Chisora-Takam was one prolonged battle of attrition, with much of the action taking place along the ropes. There, Takam was the busier fighter, unloading three- and four-punch combinations. Chisora, often with his back along the ropes, certainly got tagged some but he displayed a variety of defensive skills in close quarters, using his upper body, gloves and head movement to avoid, parry or ward off many of the shots. He would also return crisp counter hooks and right hands. 

When the fight was away from the ropes, both ripped thunderous power shots to the body. Takam was again the busier fighter but it was a legitimate question as to which fighter was causing more damage. 

Some observers on social media incorrectly labeled Chisora-Takam as a battle of two washed-up fighters. No, it was exemplary inside fighting, with both boxers displaying offensive creativity, subtle defensive moves and a willingness to engage in unrelenting combat to win. One perhaps could argue that Takam had other options on the table. Maybe if he boxed more he could have defeated Chisora while taking less punishment. However, I would take issue with that charge on two fronts: 1. Chisora can be disparaged early in fights. It's a good strategy to go at him to see if he will wilt, tire or retreat. 2. As Chisora displayed with his knockout, he can be deceptively tricky at range. 

Chisora has short arms and almost always has to overcome a reach disadvantage. Saturday was no different as Takam had a 6.5-inch advantage. But Chisora has learned to overcome these deficits. He throws looping right hands, overhand rights and wide left hooks; these are punches that can connect against taller fighters or those who believe that they are safely out of range. 

The final sequence was a perfect illustration of Chisora's unusual strengths at range. From out of nowhere, Chisora throws a looping right hand that detonates on Takam's temple, sending him to the canvas. Takam beats the count and puts his gloves up to protect himself. Then, with a little hitch, Chisora lands an overhand right that immediately drops Takam again, and the fight is waved off. 

In a strange way, Takam was perhaps better positioned to win the fight during the hellish sequences along the ropes than by boxing. Chisora's tricks don't work against tall fighters who know how to protect their height and can set range, such as Tyson Fury and Vitali Klitschko, but for boxers who lack that talent or don't possess such imposing physical dimensions, Chisora can be, when motivated, as game as they come. 

After 37 fights and 11 years as a professional, Chisora has finally achieved a career-defining victory. He will always be a limited fighter. His short arms make jabbing impractical. He doesn't have an uppercut. His defense comes and goes. But he has some impressive dimensions. He's one of the best practitioners of infighting in the sport. Watch him roll and turn with punches and use his right hand and left hook to counter; those are James Toney moves. Perhaps 98% of boxers are completely useless with their back against the ropes, yet Chisora excels at fighting in that suffocating geography. Finally, he throws punches and combinations that aren't easy to defend. Because of his physical proportions, Chisora has had to learn to throw unconventional shots. Sometimes he looks foolish when he misses by three feet, but when they land, they can really cause damage; few anticipate their angles and trajectories. 

Finally, Eddie Hearn deserves credit for putting together the card of the year to this point. Heavily criticized by some English fight fans for making Saturday's card a pay per view, the scintillating heavyweight fights made everyone who watched or attended the card forget about the price of the event. People were jumping out of their seats, screaming and hollering; I know I was thousands of miles away. Saturday's card was a reminder of how great this sport can be and the types of thrills it can provide. There can be no greater compliment. 

Adam Abramowitz is the founder and head writer of
He's a member of Ring Magazine's Ring Ratings Panel and a Board Member for the Transnational Boxing Rankings Board. 
snboxing on twitter. SN Boxing on Facebook. 

Sunday, July 22, 2018

Opinions and Observations: Usyk and Munguia

Perhaps there's no better moment in boxing than to watch a fighter put it all together. Although Oleksandr Usyk had displayed his considerable talents leading up to Saturday's fight against Murat Gassiev, he had struggled with an inconsistent ring identity. He tried to be a pressure fighter against Michael Hunter. In his previous bout against Mairis Briedis, he fought almost entirely in the pocket. In both of those matches, he took more punches than he probably should have. On Saturday, fighting as a classic boxer, he executed a master class in the ring, pitching a virtual shutout (scores were 120-108, 119-109 and 119-109) to become the winner of the cruiserweight World Boxing Super Series tournament and the undisputed champion in the division. 

Usyk (and his team) understood that he was in the ring against a legit power puncher and applied the strategy to give him the best chance of winning. He controlled large stretches of the fight with just his jab and legs. Constantly on the go, he limited Gassiev's ability to set his feet and get in range. After 12 rounds, the fight resembled one of Mayweather's gems from the latter part of his career: Usyk was truly dominant but it was hard to isolate a single moment that provided genuine risk in the fight. Ultimately, Usyk corralled a hard-hitting boxer with relatively little fuss. No boxer had thoroughly neutralized Gassiev to that extent in his career, and perhaps few even could. 

Photo Courtesy of Olga Ivashchenko

Although the fight was won primarily with his jab, Usyk gradually incorporated other punches into his attack as the fight progressed, and there was lots of good stuff: counter right hooks, uppercuts with both hands, hooking off the jab, lead lefts. Gassiev was so demoralized by the latter stages of the fight that his trainer, Abel Sanchez, was pleading with him (a unified titleholder!) merely to keep trying. 

Gassiev and Sanchez were criticized in some corners for their failure to make adjustments. Gassiev couldn't cut the ring off to save his life and with the exception of a few left hooks to the body, most of his punching was ineffectual. However, it's not as simple as, "He should have moved his left foot to the outside to contain Usyk." Boxing is fought in the ring and it's not an abstraction. Yes, in a perfect world, Gassiev would have had better footwork, but consider that Usyk was by far the superior athlete, he constantly circled, and had a significant reach advantage. Gassiev could try to put his foot down wherever he pleased, but most likely Usyk would already have been gone. 

A more comprehensive plan was required. Gassiev and Sanchez needed to set traps. If Usyk wanted to move to his right then Gassiev should have anticipated those movements, and Sanchez needed to communicate that information in the corner. But this is mostly academic, for Gassiev and Sanchez quickly realized that they had a stylistic nightmare on their hands. Absent a knockout punch, it seemed unlikely that Gassiev could win seven rounds to take the fight, even with perfect strategy. Most likely Eddie Futch or Manny Steward wouldn't have helped either; when the superior talent fights the right fight, there's very little that an opponent can do. 

It's my belief that most fighters would rather be knocked out than be embarrassed. Gassiev throughout most of the bout wasn't willing to risk more because he was getting played with in the ring, and he knew it. So complete was Usyk's domination that Gassiev, one of the best punchers in the division, became too timid to even let his hands go.   

Ultimately, Usyk's win was one of boxing's best performances of 2018 and a clear indicator that he's among the elite fighters in the sport. Usyk traveled to his opponent's home country in each round of the WBSS tournament. He fought in hostile environments and prevailed against three significantly different styles: He's a proper champion.

After the fight, he called out Tony Bellew, offering to face him at cruiserweight or heavyweight. Certainly that would be a good money fight. But I'm sure that most boxing observers would be more interested in seeing Usyk take on the better tests at heavyweight. Wilder, for instance, frequently weighs in at less than 220 lbs., so there wouldn't be a considerable weight disparity in that matchup. Although Usyk might lack a true heavyweight punch, no one in that division can move like him. Whenever he gets to the heavyweight division, he will be a welcome addition and a genuine threat. 


In the optimist/pessimist wars that persist throughout boxing, perhaps the front lines of this conflict occur with the evaluation of young talent. The true believers see a future where young fighters perpetually advance, straighten out their flaws, surround themselves with good people and a knowledgeable team, and continue to grow physically and intellectually. The Negative Nancies see every possible weakness or hole, luxuriate on the types of styles that could lead to a prospect's personal Waterloo and patiently wait for the day when the prospect eventually loses, reveling in the moment, telling us how right they were (of course, news flash, practically every fighter loses).  

Jaime Munguia is one of the test cases of this optimist/pessimist conflict in contemporary boxing. Critics observe a porous defense, clumsy footwork, wide shots and a lack of hand speed. Supporters see heavy hands, a variety of power punches, a vicious body attack, knockout power and room for growth.

So where will Munguia wind up? It's anyone's guess. However, Saturday's hard-earned unanimous victory over former junior middleweight titleholder Liam Smith was a significant step in his growth as a fighter. Smith was everything that Munguia hadn't yet faced as a professional: clever, experienced, polished. Smith had a good first third of the fight. Opportunistic in the ring, he landed with short straight right hands, left hooks and body punches. He would use angles and foot feints to get Munguia out of position and then connect. Early on, it looked like a man versus a boy. 

When judging a young fighter's aptitude, it's important to consider how he responds to duress, and to his credit, Munguia wasn't demoralized by Smith's early success. In fact, he did one thing that a fighter should always do against a quicker, older opponent: He went to the body. Unmercifully. Crushing Smith with left hooks downstairs and double left hooks to the body and head, Munguia started to turn the tide in the fourth. A four-punch combination led to a beautiful left hook knockdown of Smith in the sixth. Throughout much of the second half of the bout, Munguia unloaded with impressive power shots. No, his flaws didn't suddenly go away; he swung and missed often and was too left-hand dominant, but he kept banging away on whatever he could hit. 

Photo Courtesy of Ed Mullholland/HBO

Give credit to Smith for hits guts and determination. He never stopped trying to win. Even though he was outgunned as the fight progressed, he continued to mix it up with Munguia, often to his own detriment. 

Smith was precisely the type of developmental fight that Munguia needed. Munguia had yet to face a wily veteran who was good with angles and timing. Munguia needed to stay patient and trust that his physical attributes would eventually take over. In addition, he learned that his chin and conditioning were more than sufficient to last 12 hard rounds. Munguia wound up winning by a wide, unanimous decision, but it wasn't an easy fight and certainly it was one that will provide numerous teachable moments moving forward.

It's clear that Munguia is far from a finished product. Zanfer Promotions will have a challenging job ahead of themselves, continuing to raise Munguia's profile while simultaneously developing him (he's only just 21). For a textbook example of how this can be done, look at the job Golden Boy did with Canelo, but it's not easy to strike the right balance. 

HBO isn't showing nearly the number of fight cards that it did a decade ago, but hopefully the network realizes what it has with Munguia – an exciting, telegenic power puncher who can appeal to Mexican-American fight fans, not to mention hardcore boxing enthusiasts, who never want to miss a good action fight. Almost by accident, the network has found a fighter who can help grow its boxing program (Munguia was a late replacement for Smith in his HBO debut in May)

But let's end with a note of caution. Comparing Munguia to Mike Tyson or Oscar de la Hoya (like HBO's Jim Lampley did) isn't fair to the fighter and it diminishes the overall quality of the broadcast. It used to be just Max Kellerman overreaching with hasty comparisons to all-time greats, but now the whole announce team is involved. In short, these comparisons insult the intelligence of HBO's core boxing fans. They also can harm the fighters, creating unrealistic expectations and backlashes if and when they fail to live up to such unreachable standards.  

Munguia is a relative fledgling in the sport. Let him be. Let him create his own memories. Let him develop in his own time. It's certainly fine to accentuate his positive qualities, but there's no need to tell tales. HBO was once the gold standard of boxing broadcasting. No one called the action better. Somewhere along the line, its mission changed. Cheerleading, homerism and hyperbole, while always present in the past, have now taken a far more dominant position in its broadcast. This transition has harmed the presentation of American boxing. 

Adam Abramowitz is the founder and head writer of
He's a member of Ring Magazine's Ring Ratings Panel and a Board Member for the Transnational Boxing Rankings Board. 
snboxing on twitter. SN Boxing on Facebook. 

Monday, July 16, 2018

Kovalev's Third Act

In screenwriting parlance, the Third Act is the denouement, the conclusion, where the story arrives at its resolution. The final confrontation or conflict is resolved and the remaining threads of narrative and character are neatly tied up in a bow. After losing a pair of fights to Andre Ward at the biggest moment of his career, Sergey Kovalev (32-2-1, 28 KOs) is now firmly ensconced in his own Third Act. There is no longer the prospect of physical development. Any additional ring knowledge that he acquires might possibly be counterbalanced by an athletic decline that is common for fighters of his age. He once was one of the sport's great intimidators, now he is seen as a mortal. Although Kovalev has won his two return fights after the Ward debacles, one important question remains: Will he have one last triumphant moment in a big fight? 

On August 4th in Atlantic City (and headlining on HBO), Kovalev defends his 175-lb. title against Eleider Alvarez (23-0, 11 KOs), a Colombian based in Montreal who had seemingly been Adonis Stevenson's mandatory since the Queensberry Rules were established in 1867 (way to go, WBC!). Although Alvarez is only a year younger than Kovalev, he could be much fresher in boxing years. While awaiting a title shot, Alvarez has fought just once in 17 months. In addition, he's been in few tough fights in his career. 

Alvarez comes will little fanfare or hype. He's a well-schooled boxer with a piston-like jab and an array of offensive weapons. Most comfortable from mid-range and farther, Alvarez has good legs and lateral movement. His most serious knocks are that he coasts during fights and he lacks a killer instinct. Sometimes he's content to win rounds with a few flurries instead of causing sustained damage. In addition, he's prone to letting opponents back into fights; he's not necessarily one to step on the gas.

As Kovalev patiently waits for big game in a loaded 175-lb. division, Alvarez will not be the trophy that Sergey seeks, but he represents an excellent barometer on what Kovalev's current level is in the boxing ring. Can Kovalev still pull the trigger like he once did? Can he finish off wounded prey? What happens if he becomes the hunted?  

After the Ward defeats, Kovalev parted ways with trainer John David Jackson. That relationship, which had significantly benefited both, became caustic as both parties slung nasty invective at each other. Kovalev subsequently selected Abror Tursunpulatov as his head trainer. Tursunpulatov has had a lot of success with Uzbek standout Fazliddin Gaibnazarov. Unlike Jackson, he speaks Russian and through two fights the new pairing has worked well enough.

Prior to his last bout, Kovalev acknowledged that he had been less than an ideal pupil under Jackson. Admitting to drinking (perhaps too much) and not staying in shape between fights, Kovalev vowed to take his profession more seriously. 

Still possessing considerable weapons with his jab, straight right hand and committed body attack, Kovalev maintains the offensive repertoire to punish any of the top fighters at 175. What he lacked against Ward, a fighter it should be noted who was one of the truly special talents of his time, was, surprisingly, self-assurance. In the Ward rematch, Kovalev lost his composure during a sustained body assault from Ward. Some of Ward's work was low, while other shots were legit, scoring punches. Kovalev was troubled by Ward's attacks and the confidence he displayed by jabbing his way to a lead suddenly evaporated. 

Kovalev, who was irate after the first Ward fight, believing that he had won (the majority of ringside observers favored his work), took a positive step after the second match to make needed changes in his camp and life. While one could legitimately say that Sergey should have won the first fight and was winning the second match until some illegal shots led to a knockout, Kovalev refreshingly took responsibility for his own career. 

Never known as a particularly humble fighter, Kovalev picked up the pieces, found a trainer he respected and vowed to rededicate his life to boxing. In two fights with Tursunpulatov, he scored stoppages over Vyacheslav Shabranskyy and Igor Mikhalkin. Shabranskyy was a smash job, offering limited resistance, but Mikhalkin wasn't there just as an opponent. He was cagey, dared Kovalev to find him in the ring and landed his fair share of off-angled shots. Although Kovalev won close to every round in the fight before it was stopped, Mikhalkin made Kovalev work for it. 

Alvarez represents a significant step up from the Mikhalkins of the boxing world. He knows how to defend himself in the ring and can put punches together. Kovalev will need to be mentally sharp against Alvarez, who can lull opponents to sleep and successfully bring down their punch volume. This fight will be the first real test of the Kovalev-Tursunpulatov pairing. It's unlikely that Kovalev will be able to win this fight solely on brute force; he's going to have to think his way through the match, gain little advantages, and eventually wear Alvarez down physically and mentally. Like Isaac Chilemba, Alvarez will not make things easy for Kovalev. 

Should Kovalev defeat Alvarez, big things could loom for The Krusher in '19. Dmitry Bivol, a 175-lb. titlist who possesses fantastic power and technique, fights on Kovalev's undercard and could make for a tasty unification bout. Although Bivol is rumored to be signing a deal with Eddie Hearn and DAZN after next month's fight, there's nothing that necessarily precludes a Kovalev-Bivol matchup from happening. 

With new money flooding into the sport via ESPN and DAZN, Kovalev will have opportunities for a big fight should he keep winning. Although he is currently aligned with HBO, we've seen the pieces on the boxing chessboard radically uprooted in the past 12 months. Who's to say what big fights might come his way? 

But for now, winning the next fight is the imperative. Kovalev is one of the few boxers that HBO continues to support. Receiving numerous headlining slots and their corresponding remunerative rewards, Kovalev needs to keep the drums beating and the trumpets sounding. He still carries a good name, a nifty record, a vicious streak and memorable knockouts. 

However, does he still have the goods? Is he mentally at a place where he wants to dominate in the ring, or has boxing transitioned to his vocation? Is he taking instructions in his corner or ignoring them? Is he putting in the roadwork? Does he still have the desire to be the best?

Alvarez will help answer these questions. Although Kovalev-Alvarez might not be the sexiest matchup of 2018, it's an honest one, one that asks much of both fighters, one that is not pre-ordained. 

Should Alvarez get up for the Kovalev fight, it will be his opportunity to make a real name for himself in the sport. No longer will he be the antagonist or foil in someone else's story. This is his chance to break through. Will Kovalev march toward another big event in 2019 or will Alvarez be able to write his own story? At this point, I'm not entirely certain, but I'm intrigued in the matchup and I think that next month's fight holds some compelling answers. 

Adam Abramowitz is the founder and head writer of
He's a member of Ring Magazine's Ring Ratings Panel and a Board Member for the Transnational Boxing Rankings Board. 
snboxing on twitter. SN Boxing on Facebook.