Sunday, August 5, 2018

Opinions and Observations: Kovalev-Alvarez

Let start with the first knockdown in the seventh round. Eleider Alvarez throws a jab to Kovalev's upper chest. Then Alvarez comes back with an overhand right over Kovalev's ineffectual counter left hook. Kovalev feels the sting of the punch, freezes and then stumbles back a couple of steps; his legs start to betray him. As the full impact of the blow manifests, Kovalev's legs completely give way and he falls to the canvas.

After the fight, Alvarez and his trainer Marc Ramsay referred to that combination as the "Macintosh". They had practiced it specifically for Kovalev. Alvarez revealed that Ramsay asked for that combination heading into the seventh round. Message received, and in a few short moments, a new light heavyweight champion was born.

Why that combination can work on Kovalev is that sometimes he has a slow reaction time on defense, especially when he has to change his eye level from body to head. Ramsay said after the fight that there were a number of things they noticed in Kovalev's past fights that they thought could be exploited. Count the "Macintosh" as one of their prime successes during training camp.

Kovalev got up from that first knockdown, perhaps too fast, and still had a good 20-30 seconds until a punishing sweeping left hook/straight right hand combo knocked him down again. It was in those 20 to 30 seconds where I believe that Kovalev made his only grave mistake in the fight. Instead of holding on, clinching or moving away from danger to buy time, Kovalev immediately started to fire back. On one hand, he was responding like a real fighter, but on the other, he wasn't acting like a smart one. The decisions he made immediately after the first knockdown are what sealed his fate on Saturday. 

Photo Courtesy of Ed Mullholland/HBO

Sergey has always exhibited a sign of disbelief after he gets hurt. It's almost as if he says how dare my opponent have the tenacity to try to fight me! It speaks to his essential ring identity; he is the bully, the one in control. This occurred in the second Andre Ward fight and also in his first matchup against Jean Pascal. Ultimately, he doesn't respect his opponents. He believes that he is unbreakable and when he does get hurt, he lacks the humility to try Plan B. He immediately wants to settle the score and this leads to him taking even more punishment.

Alvarez, who was down on all three scorecards entering the seventh round, dropped Kovalev with different punches in each of the three knockdowns: Overhand right, left hook/straight right combo, and a right hook. In addition, his jab was crisp throughout much of the fight. He displayed versatility, creativity and a good chin; it was a damn good performance. 

He was also losing. To my eyes, Kovalev fought exceptionally well in the first six rounds of the match. No longer the plodder of recent outings, he was on the balls of his feet almost all night, expertly cutting off the ring and making impressive athletic moves. When Alvarez tried to escape, Kovalev moved with him. He also did an excellent job of getting in and out of the pocket, using his feet to reset the action. 

Kovalev displayed a number of new wrinkles during the first six rounds of the fight. His work with trainer Abror Tursunpulatov was bearing fruit. In the past he was essentially a two-and-a-half punch fighter. He would dominate opponents with his jab, right hand and an occasional left hook. However, on Saturday Kovalev was throwing double lead left hooks to the body and head, lead uppercuts and counter uppercuts, the types of punches and punch sequences that he had never before utilized on the world-level. This expanded arsenal helped him establish primacy in the fight. In the fourth and sixth rounds in particular, he was doing major damage with an array of power punches; Alvarez wasn't prepared for Kovalev's variety. 

At the post-fight press conference, Alvarez said that Ramsay implored him to go on the inside in the seventh, to take the fight to Kovalev. According to both it was all part of the game plan. Ramsay said, "We knew coming into the fight that we might lose a few early rounds. It was our plan to use our physicality in the second half of the fight."

That "Macintosh" combination in the seventh short-circuited the plans of wearing down Kovalev. But Ramsay helped instill a mindset in his fighter: It was now time to be aggressive, to look for big shots. And Alvarez heeded his corner's advice and executed the best sequences of his career. It was a perfect example of a trainer and fighter working in unison. 

Photo Courtesy of Ed Mullholland/HBO

Also, I want to dispel two myths from the fight: 1. Kovalev gassed. 2. Saturday's fight was somehow a continuation of Kovalev's two bouts against Ward. 

In Kovalev's last three completed rounds of the fight he threw, according to CompuBox, 82, 37 and 55 punches. The 82 punches in the fourth was his high watermark for the fight. The 55 punches in the sixth were his third highest. In each of those three rounds, he threw over 20% more punches than Alvarez did. Even in the seventh round, where Kovalev spent a major portion of it hurt, he still threw 44 punches to Alvarez's 49. So in essence, if Kovalev somehow tired, wilted or gassed in the fight, the evidence doesn't show it based on activity. Even after being dropped, he came back firing punches. There was nothing about his performance that points to being gassed. 

Second, there's no doubt that Kovalev had wilted both physically and psychologically during the second Ward bout. He was a beaten fighter at the conclusion of that match. With that stipulation aside, I didn't see any similarities between that performance and what I observed in Atlantic City on Saturday night. Kovalev got up from two huge knockdowns. To his credit or discredit, he tried to fight back as hard as he could. That is not what a beaten fighter does. A defeated fighter stays on the canvas, or refuses to let his hands go, or stares at his corner or the ref once action resumes, or turns his back to his opponent. On Saturday, Kovalev did none of those things. 

Everyone likes to get sucked into grand narratives, but sometimes events are discrete. Yes, Kovalev lost to both Ward and Alvarez. However, he didn't quit against Alvarez and showed no external signs of yielding. 

These distinctions matter because many boxing observers are using Saturday's results to weave grand tales of Kovalev's failure as a fighter and a competitor, at the expense of Alvarez's tremendous performance. I'm not saying that fighters shouldn't be criticized. Of course they can and should be when warranted, but be accurate. Kovalev didn't lose the fight; Alvarez won it.  

Ultimately, Kovalev was beaten by a boxing move. A fighter practiced a specific combination in the gym and executed it perfectly in the ring. Similar to when Jermall Charlo dropped Julian Williams with a counter right uppercut, sometimes a fighter makes a superior boxing move, and it turns the fight. It doesn't make Kovalev or Williams physically or mentally inferior. All it means is that on a particular night, an opponent beat them due to ring craft, practice and execution. Alvarez earned his victory on Saturday; nothing was gifted to him. 


Having enjoyed many memorable boxing nights in Atlantic City over the past 15 years, I was elated to see a packed house on Saturday. It certainly brought back memories. Over four years since the last big fight in Atlantic City (Hopkins-Kovalev), it was great to see the casino buzzing and the bright lights of HBO Boxing returning to the shore. 

Atlantic City has faced hard times over the last decade with a number of casinos shuttering and tens of thousands of jobs lost. Even some of the casinos that survived, such as Caesars and Bally's, have been saddled by their corporate parents with so much debt that they've just been hanging on. 

Emerging from all of this wreckage, two new casinos opened this year, the Hard Rock Hotel and Casino, which hosted Saturday's fight, and the Ocean Resort Casino, which will hold a Top Rank card in two weeks. Both properties are refurbishments of casinos that had closed. 

Atlantic City had been a top boxing destination since gambling was legalized in the jurisdiction in 1978. Now, with new players in the market, there exists a significant opportunity to reestablish a boxing presence. In the summer there may not be a better place in the country to experience a boxing weekend. In addition, with the Hard Rock venue and Boardwalk Hall, there are now at least two excellent fight venues in the resort town. 

Main Events and the Duva family have promoted shows in Atlantic City for decades. They understand how to do their job. Yes, Alvarez brought a number of fans from Montreal and Kovalev has built a consistent following among boxing aficionados and Russian-speaking fans from the Northeast. But there were also other touches. Karl Dargan fought on the undercard and brought down a couple hundred fans from Philadelphia. Frank Galarza had a sizable Brooklyn contingent for his fight. These are the little things that seasoned promoters do to help sell tickets and create a better atmosphere in the arena. 

And the arena was certainly rocking after Alvarez's knockout win. I hadn't witnessed such jubilation in a crowd since Marcos Maidana beat Adrien Broner in San Antonio in 2013. For a first event in a new property, Saturday's outcome was ideal. Every one of the 5,600 fans in attendance will remember Kovalev-Alvarez. Perhaps a new star was born with Alvarez, and many new boxing fans may have been hatched as well. I'd say that's a great night for the sport. 

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. 

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