Wednesday, November 6, 2019

Why Kovalev-Alvarez Exceeded Expectations

There is nothing quite like the anticipation that comes before an encounter between two of Boxing’s top stars. When that anticipation is accompanied with an element of the unknown, more often than not, the Boxing fan is treated to a special night at the fights. In the case of the Light-Heavyweight world championship fight between WBO world champion Sergey Kovalev and current unified Middleweight world champion Saul “Canelo” Alvarez, you had two top stars in the sport. One many felt was in the twilight of his career, while the other was attempting something that even in the modern era was rare.

The element of intrigue that accompanied this fight was the fact that Alvarez was moving up two weight classes to the 175lb. Light-Heavyweight division from the 160lb. Middleweight division to challenge Kovalev for his world championship. When one considers that Alvarez, who spent the bulk of his career as a 154lb. Jr. Middleweight, actually began his career in the 147lb. Welterweight division, you have the added sense of not knowing or at least not having a solid idea of what may or may not happen come fight time.

All of the elements of the “Big Fight Atmosphere” were in place on November 2nd , an enthusiastic crowd packed into the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas, NV, site of many historic events throughout all of combat sports over the last twenty-five years, to see Kovalev and Alvarez do battle for a portion of the World Light-Heavyweight championship. In this observer’s preview of this fight, I stated that I felt it was crucial that Kovalev get the respect of Alvarez early in the fight. While I did not feel Kovalev should revert back to the seek and destroy “Knockout Artist” that he carved his reputation on, it was important for the champion to show that he was the natural Light-Heavyweight and establish the tempo of the combat.

Kovalev did exactly that by throwing a consistent jab from the outset as a main focal point of his offense and used lateral movement to avoid becoming a stationary target. Although one might have expected the roles to be reversed with Kovalev applying steady pressure on the fighter who was moving up in weight, it was Alvarez applying pressure on the champion.  

Given the tactics he had implemented in recent fights since the addition of former world champion and Hall of Famer Buddy McGirt as his trainer, it was perhaps not surprising to see Kovalev take a tactical approach rather than immediately looking to knock out the shorter fighter. While the way this fight was fought was not necessarily entertaining to the casual Boxing observer, the technique that was implemented by both fighters was certainly enjoyable to watch for Boxing aficionados.

What was telling about the champion’s approach was by throwing his jab almost consistently, it created difficulty for Alvarez in getting into a rhythm as well as giving the Middleweight champion something to contend with as he came forward. Although the jab is the most basic of offensive weapons in combat sports, when it is used as effectively as it was in this fight, it can be used as an illustration as to how valuable it is to have in your arsenal if you are a fighter. 

Even though Kovalev’s jab did not always land, by keeping Alvarez in a position where he had trouble being consistent with his offense, in this observer’s view. This does not mean however, that Alvarez did not have periods of effectiveness, which in several close rounds could sway opinion as to who had the upper hand. As yours truly has frequently said over the years, when it comes to close fights, it will often come down to what a judge prefers in their own individual criteria based on clean punching, effective aggressiveness, ring generalship, and defense.

In this case, it was a question of Kovalev’s consistency and Boxing ability or Alvarez’ constant pressure and seemingly harder punches that was the conundrum for those scoring the fight. From my perspective, Kovalev’s strategy was being executed well that he was able to get the benefit of doubt on my scorecard. The reason for this was not only based on the effectiveness of his jab, which as the fight progressed allowed him to mix combinations into his offense, but also the lateral movement which made Alvarez either miss his punches or create scenarios where if punches landed they appeared to be glancing blows, as the fight approached the middle and late rounds however, the effect of Alvarez’ body punches began to have a visible toll on the champion.

Despite Kovalev getting the nod in most of the early rounds by narrow margins on my scorecard, by the time the bout reached the later rounds, it had become a close fight, in my view. A fight that seemed to have the appearance of one that would be going the distance came to a sudden and brutal conclusion in round eleven.  A left hook that seemed to land behind the ear staggered Kovalev followed by a flush right hand sent the champion down along the ropes prompting the referee Russell Mora to immediately stop the fight.

It would be unethical for this observer to not mention the opinion of some that the end of this fight was somehow “A Fix.” While most of the accusations that yours truly has seen in the days following the fight came from those from outside the Boxing community, it at least should be mentioned. Having said that, as someone who will always tell the reader the truth and will always call things as I see them as I have done my entire career, the accusations are utter “Nonsense.”

For those who are curious as to why I would be so blunt, allow me to explain. Boxing aficionados who use social media platforms on a regular basis know that it has become common after almost every notable fight to see accusations of potential corruption, fixes, and robberies in the fan’s point of view. While most of these accusations come after a fight that goes to the scorecards regardless of what happens in a fight, accusations also occur after a fight that ends in a knockout.

Let me say that this is in no way is meant to “Bash” the Boxing fan, because everyone is certainly entitled to their opinion, when so many accusations are thrown around on such a frequent basis, it lessens not only the validity of topics surrounding the sport that should be discussed, but it is also disrespectful to the fighters who risk their lives every time they compete. In this case, some of the claims I have seen concerned both how quickly the fight was stopped and Alvarez being knocked out along the ropes.

As yours truly pointed out shortly after the fight on his own social media pages, we saw several quick stoppages over the course of the weekend across several Boxing cards. Although some may not want to remember recent history, it is not uncommon after the sport suffers a tragedy as it has with the recent death of Patrick Day as a result of injuries suffered in a knockout loss to Charles Conwell last month, to see referees opt to stop fights quickly. Though it is understandable that from a fan’s perspective that one would want to see fights continue, as this observer has said frequently over the years, I would rather see a fight stopped too soon than potentially see a fighter suffer a permanent or even fatal injury as a result of a fight being allowed to continue longer than it should.

The stoppage of Kovalev-Alvarez was appropriate and the knockout was legitimate. Rather than focusing on a”False Controversy”, there was a more legitimate “Controversy “ that generated significant attention and criticism. A controversy surrounding DAZN’s decision to hold off on staging the Kovalev-Alvarez main event until after the conclusion of the UFC 244 main event between Jorge Masvidal and Nate Diaz. The UFC 244 card, which took place at Madison Square Garden in New York City, NY was broadcast in the United States on ESPN+’s pay-per-view platform. 

While DAZN’s decision to delay the main event at the conclusion of a seven fight undercard to allow a competing streaming platform to conclude their main event has been seen as a sign of weakness and disrespectful to the sport of Boxing, there are a few things to keep in mind. Firstly, although the UFC’s pay-per-view events still technically exist as a pay-per-view entity for the time being exclusively through ESPN+, those pay-per-view events are being used as a way for ESPN to sell annual subscriptions to their ESPN+ digital network and as such is not in the same realm as when those events were sold exclusively on a cable/satellite pay-per-view basis. 

It is also worth noting that the Kovalev-Alvarez bout was technically a co-promotion as Kovalev has had a broadcast deal with ESPN for his recent fights. Although this is speculation on the part of this observer, it is possible that the decision to delay the Kovalev-Alvarez main event could have been a result of the competing networks, who have shown a willingness to work together, coming to an agreement. While this does not in any way speak poorly of the UFC, it should be noted that ESPN also chose to run a Boxing card on their main cable/satellite network at the same time as both the Kovalev-Alvarez card on DAZN and their own digital platform.

From my perspective, even though the main event did not begin until after 1AM ET, by not cannibalizing the audience that wanted to watch both events, it allowed an opportunity for DAZN to increase last minute subscriptions and also created a unique experience for those in attendance at the MGM Grand Garden Arena, who were able to watch the Masvidal-Diaz main event on big screens in the arena. Although those watching the DAZN broadcast were not also able to see that fight as it happened, it is a sign of the changing landscape of sports where both live and on demand access is offered to the consumer in a landscape where traditional television and pay-per-view is increasingly becoming a thing of the past, that this could be an indication of how scheduling conflicts might be handled in this new era. While it is understandable how some can be frustrated by having to wait a period of time before an event they tuned in to see takes place, it is beneficial in allowing events to be viewed by as many eyes as possible without the potential of splitting the audience.

As for what happened when Kovalev and Alvarez finally got in the ring, the actual fight exceeded the expectations of some that were not expecting a competitive fight. Although Sergey Kovalev came out on the losing end of this fight, he was able to show that at thirty-six years old, with many feeling that this would be an easy fight for Alvarez given the setbacks Kovalev had suffered, he showed he can still compete effectively against a fighter regarded as one of the best pound for pound.

For Saul Alvarez, his third legitimate world championship in four weight classes now opens up possible opportunities ranging from the 160lb. Middleweight division to the 175lb. Light-Heavyweight division. While the possibility/wish of many Boxing fans and experts alike to see a third encounter between Alvarez and Gennady Golovkin is still out there, possible fights against Super-Middleweight world champion Callum Smith and a unification bout against Golovin, Demetrius Andrade at Middleweight , or one of the other world champions in the Light-Heavyweight division are now all on the table as potential options for Alvarez going forward.

“And That’s The Boxing Truth.”

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