In front of 14,490 adoring fans at the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas, NV, Mexican superstar Saul “Canelo” Alvarez made a strong case that he is the best boxer pound-for-pound in the world today with a stunning 11th-round knockout of Los Angeles-based Russian Sergey “Krusher” Kovalev to capture the WBO light heavyweight title. In doing so, Canelo, 53-1-2 (36 KOs), made history becoming the fourth Mexican to win a world title in four weight divisions, joining Erik Morales, Juan Manuel Marquez and Jorge Arce. He also became the second Mexican ever to win a light heavyweight world title. Up until the dramatic finish, the fight proved to be a tactical chess match. A key weapon in Kovalev’s game plan was his jab used to dictate the action from the outside. Punch stats showed that 577 of Kovalev’s 745 overall punches thrown were jabs. Though, many of those jabs were pawing range-finders and only 63 of them found their mark.
Canelo, 174.5 lbs., patiently stalked Kovalev, 175 lbs., looking to land countershots and close the gap. Going into the fight, Canelo spoke openly about his plan to focus much of his offense on Kovalev’s vulnerable midsection. However, the naturally bigger, taller and stronger Russian’s jab and footwork made it difficult to do so. Canelo landed 133 of 345 punches overall, with only 30 of those shots hitting the body.
“It was the intention to go to the body, but it was very difficult for me. We practiced other strategies in the gym as well and that’s what I did,” said Canelo.
“Obviously, he is a much larger person than I am. I did feel his punches, but I was able to deal with [his power].
“The plan overall was patience. We knew it was going to be five, six rounds and it was going to take some time for me to get him. But honestly, he’s a great fighter. I’m new at this weight, new in this division. Much credit to [Kovalev], he’s a great fighter, but we stuck to our game plan. It was delayed a little bit, but overall it was successful.”
Going into the 11th round, judges Dave Moretti and Julie Lederman both had Canelo ahead 96-94, while Don Trella had the bout even at 95-95. The judges unanimously agreed on six of the 10 full rounds.
In round 11, Canelo continued to apply pressure and cut the ring off. Leaving the Russian with little room to move, a Canelo right hook hurt Kovalev, a left hook wobbled him and a straight right sent him crashing to the canvas. Referee Russell Mora immediately waved the contest over as a dazed Kovalev lay against the ring ropes. The TKO stoppage came at the 2:15 mark of the frame.
The 36-year-old Kovalev, who was fighting in his 17th straight world title fight, acknowledged that his less-than-peak conditioning could be attributed to his grueling battle with English upstart Anthony Yarde just two-and-a-half months ago.
“I was tired after round six because I had my last fight very close to this one, I didn’t recover from my last fight, but it’s okay, it’s a new experience for me,” said Kovalev, now 34-4-1 (29 KOs). “Canelo is really a great champion. I have big respect for him. He made history.”
Going 4-4 in his last eight fights, with three of those losses by knockout, might suggest that it’s best for the aging Kovalev to retire. He was taken to the hospital after the bout as a precaution and did not attend the post-fight press conference. However, with two more lucrative fights left on his contract with DAZN, retirement is unlikely. What is in Kovalev’s immediate future is a jury trial date on November 25, at the Superior Court of California in San Bernardino County on charges of felony assault.
Following the second of a 10-fight deal with DAZN, Canelo indicated afterward that his plans include moving back down to either super middleweight or middleweight, however difficult shedding the added muscle may be. Though another fight at light heavyweight was not out of the question. For however long the sanctioning bodies allow it, Canelo now concurrently holds world titles in three weight classes, adding the WBO light heavyweight belt to his WBA middleweight championship and WBA “regular” super middleweight title. Whatever is next, Canelo reaffirmed that it is very important to him to continue making history.
There is no shortage of titlists between those three weight classes. Russians Artur Beterbiev and Dmitriy Bivol hold the other light heavyweight belts. At 168 pounds, Canelo could travel across the pond to take on either Britain’s “Super” WBA titlist Callum Smith or WBO belt-holder Billy Joe Saunders, both of whom are undefeated and fight on DAZN. The other super middleweight titlists David Benavidez and Caleb Plant fight for Premier Boxing Champions (PBC). Back down at middleweight, there is WBC champion Jermall Charlo (PBC) and WBO titlist Demetrius Andrade (DAZN).
A third fight with Gennadiy “GGG” Golovkin would still grab the public’s interest, though Canelo remains lukewarm about the possibility.
“[Golovkin and I have] fought 24 rounds and I beat him,” asserted Canelo. “It’s really not a challenge for me, but if it represents business, why not? It will probably be very difficult to lose weight to move back down to 160 pounds, but we must do it to continue to make history.
“We have to see what happens [and] do what’s best for us,” said Canelo. “We have to look for the best fights, the big fights, but obviously give the victories to Mexico. We want to continue to make history and we are ready for anything.”