After a lengthy absence from in ring competition, the career of former three-time Light-Heavyweight world champion Sergey Kovalev resumed at The Forum in Inglewood, CA on May 14th. While the thirty-nine year old former world champion is not a stranger to the process one goes through following a defeat, this time it was a little different for Kovalev.
Not only was Kovalev coming off of a two and a half year layoff following his knockout loss at the hands of Saul “Canelo” Alvarez in November 2019, but for the first time in his career, Kovalev would not be competing as a 175lb. Light-Heavyweight. A division where he has been the cornerstone for much of the last decade. After a career spent in the Light-Heavyweight division, Kovalev chose to move up in weight to the 190lb.-200lb. Cruiserweight division to face undefeated contender Tervel Pulev in a scheduled ten round bout.
The primary question that I had going into this fight was what did Sergey Kovalev have left to give as a fighter. It was after all a logical question to ask about not only a fighter that has had a long career, not only one that was coming off a long hiatus, but more specifically a fighter that had also suffered some severe knockouts along the way as well. Even though Kovalev had been enjoying a career resurgence under the guidance of former two-division world champion and Hall of Fame trainer Buddy McGirt and was holding his own prior to being caught and knocked out by Saul Alvarez, a question like that more often than not should be asked under circumstances like Kovalev’s prior to this fight.
For Tervel Pulev, I felt it was crucial that he look to establish himself early in the fight and test Kovalev out of the gate. To his credit, Pulev began the fight aggressively and did try to impose his will on Kovalev. Despite the lengthy absence out of the ring as well as a delay in the fight taking place due to an issue regarding the gloves of a fighter competing in the final preliminary bout prior to Kovalev and Pulev getting in the ring, Kovalev looked extremely relaxed, perhaps more relaxed than this observer had ever seen him in any fight I have covered in his career. It was not long before Kovalev was able to nullify the aggressive start of Pulev.
The primary weapon Kovalev used to do that was his jab. Not only did Kovalev’s jab help him in establishing distance between himself and Pulev, but he also used variations of it in frequently changing his level of attack from the body to the head as well as beginning and ending combinations he threw with the jab. Although this aspect of Kovalev’s Boxing style had emerged in several fights before his loss to Saul Alvarez and did carry Kovalev to significant success against him before he got caught, it was refreshing to see that Kovalev was still disciplined in his approach and had not forgotten the tactical adjustments that McGirt had brought to his arsenal prior to his hiatus. What was also noticeable was the calm approach McGirt implemented in this fight in returning to Kovalev’s corner.
While there were not much in the way of highlights in this fight in the sense that there were no knockdowns or instances where either fighter appeared to be hurt, if one is a Boxing purist, they should be impressed with Kovalev’s performance in this fight. The consistency of his jab as both a table setter and main course of his offense resulted in Kovalev Boxing his way to a convincing ten round unanimous decision victory.
Although it is hard to really gauge where Kovalev is off of one performance, it is important to keep in mind that this was his first bout in two and a half years. What should be important for Kovalev, which he did touch upon shortly after this fight is that he needs to be active. For his part Kovalev said that he wants to be fighting every three or four months, which tells me that he is not intent on relying strictly off of his name recognition value alone to try and secure a world title shot as a Cruiserweight. If he does continue to perform as he did in this fight against Tervel Pulev however, it will not be long before Sergey Kovalev is back in a world championship fight, perhaps as soon as early 2023.
“And That’s The Boxing Truth.”
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