Tuesday, August 20, 2019

Kovalev-Yarde Preview

The recent history of three-time Light-Heavyweight world champion Sergey Kovalev has been marked by highs and lows. A better way to describe it perhaps is ups and downs. As most recall, Kovalev emerged on the Boxing scene by putting together a significant string of knockouts and winning a world championship in the Light-Heavyweight division in the process. Kovalev’s rise was not all that unlike the rise of former longtime Middleweight world champion Gennady Golovkin in that both established reputations as “Knockout Artists” in the sport.

Both however, have seen recent struggles and setbacks in their respective careers. In regard to Golovkin, he has seen his reign atop the Middleweight division come to an end in two hotly contested bouts with Saul “Canelo“ Alvarez. Two fights where he earned a controversial draw and a perhaps more controversial loss in the rematch. While many including this observer felt Golovkin won both fights against Alvarez and expect a third encounter between the two to take place at some point in the future, the loss Golovkin suffered in the second fight did cast some doubt in the eyes of some in regard to how much he might have left as a fighter.

For Sergey Kovalev, his career has seen more than one setback. Some might recall in losing a close, but unanimous decision and the loss of his unified Light-Heavyweight world championship to undefeated Super-Middleweight world champion Andre Ward in November 2016. This was followed by a somewhat controversial stoppage in their rematch in June 2017, the first knockout loss of Kovalev’s career. Following Ward’s retirement later that year, Kovalev was able to rebound and regain a portion of the Light-Heavyweight world championship by scoring a knockout win over Vycheslav Shabranskyy in November 2017.

Although one could say that the politics of the sport played a role in Kovalev fighting for a world championship for a third straight time coming off of consecutive losses to Andre Ward, both losses did have elements of controversy attached to them. It was indisputable however, that Kovalev outclassed Shabranskyy. A victory over a “Game”, but over matched opponent did not quell some of the doubt surrounding Kovalev following those two losses to Ward.

In his first title defense after regaining the WBO world championship in the Light-Heavyweight division, Kovalev would suffer his second knockout loss in brutal fashion at the hands of undefeated top contender Eleider Alvarez in August of last year. As he had done after suffering the first loss of his career against Andre Ward, Kovalev elected to have an immediate rematch against Alvarez in February of this year.

To the surprise of some Kovalev showed he could box and produced one of the better performances of his career by out boxing Alvarez over twelve rounds to regain the WBO championship for the second time. Even though Kovalev has proven on more than one occasion that he is more than a seek and destroy “Knockout Artist”, there are likely those who are skeptical and are questioning how much the thirty-six year old has left at this stage of his career.

While there were ramblings over recent months that Kovalev was at least rumored to fight Saul Alvarez in a bout that would see Alvarez move up in weight to challenge Kovalev for his world championship, the three-time world champion will instead make the first defense of his third reign as champion against undefeated WBO number one contender Anthony Yarde on Saturday in Chelyabinsk, Russia in a fight they can be seen here in the United States on digital sports streaming network ESPN+.

This will be a battle of experience versus youth. Yarde will enter the fight unbeaten in eighteen professional fights. What will make this fight interesting is this will be the first time that Kovalev will be facing a fighter, who much like himself has developed a reputation as a “Knockout Artist.” In his eighteen victories as a professional, Yarde has scored knockouts in seventeen of his eighteen wins registering a career knockout percentage of 94%. This is higher than Kovalev’s career knockout percentage of 76%, but for the majority of his career, Kovalev’s percentage has been above 80% having scored knockouts in twenty-eight of his thirty-three career wins.

Two things that interest me about this fight. Firstly, in regard to the champion is whether he will continue to be more of a boxer than looking to use his punching power. Though Kovalev is more known as a “Knockout Artist”, he has shown he can box. This was noticeable both in his last fight where he regained the WBO championship as well as in his unification bout against future Hall of Famer Bernard Hopkins in November 2014. When he decides to execute a tactical Boxing strategy the champion has proven difficult to combat, perhaps more difficult depending on one’s perspective than when he approaches a fight with the intent of scoring a knockout.

The second aspect of this fight of interest to this observer will center on Anthony Yarde and how he will handle the “Big Fight Atmosphere.” Yarde has established himself as a rising star on the United Kingdom’s Boxing scene, but it is important to remember that despite his impressive resume and near-perfect knockout percentage, this will be his first world championship fight. Fighting for a world championship for the first time alone can understandably cause a fighter’s nerves to be high, but Yarde will also be fighting for that world championship in the champion’s home country where the atmosphere and crowd support will likely be in Kovalev’s favor.

A curiosity that some might wonder as this fight approaches will be how Yarde will attempt to approach Kovalev. Yarde has only been the distance once in his career. It came in the challenger’s second professional fight against Stainislavs Makarenko in June 2015. A fight that went a distance of four rounds.

While this should be taken with a grain of salt given that it was only Yarde’s second fight as a professional, it may serve as an indicator that he might not be intent on going into the deep waters of this fight. Yarde has never fought beyond seven rounds in his career and with the knowledge that Kovalev has been knocked out before, it will be interesting to see if the twenty-eight year old will seek a quick knockout here. A possible interesting tactic the champion could attempt to implement here, despite having the ability to end a fight quickly in his own right is to possibly look to extend the challenger into the middle and late rounds of the fight into territory that Yarde has not yet been in his career.

From a stylistic standpoint, this has all the makings of a fight that might not go the distance on paper. Both fighters have punching power, and both can get an opponent out of there if the opportunity presents itself. The question might be whether or not the thirty-six year old champion will use the experience he has gained throughout his career to his advantage or if he will be more than willing to engage in a shoot out with Yarde where the winner may simply come down to who can land their power punches first. Either way, in an era where the sport’s respective sanctioning organizations are routinely criticized for flaws in their rankings criteria and where sometimes mandatory challengers prove to be not ready to face a world champion on fight night, this is one fight where a world champion will face his mandatory challenger where regardless of the outcome will likely be entertaining for as long as it lasts.

“And That’s The Boxing Truth.”

Kovalev vs. Yarde takes place on Saturday, August 24th at the Traktor Sport Palace in Celyabinsk, Russia. The fight can be seen in the United States on digital subscription sports streaming network ESPN+ beginning at 12:30PM ET/ 9:30AM PT. ESPN+ is available through the ESPN app on mobile, tablet, connected streaming devices like Roku, Apple TV, Amazon Fire TV, Playstation 4, and connected smart TVs for $4.99 per month or $59.99 per year. For more information about ESPN+, a full list of schedules, compatible streaming devices and platforms, and to subscribe please visit: www.espnplus.com. 

In the United Kingdom and Ireland, the fight can be seen on BT Sport 2 beginning at 5PM (Saturday, August 24th Local UK Time.) For more information about BT Sport including schedules and availability in your area please visit: www.sport.bt.com. Check your local listings internationally.

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