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Kovalev Seeks Rare Chance at Redemption against Alvarez

Four of the most iconic fighters in boxing history had to do it and they did. Joe Louis’ career hinged on it, Sugar Ray Robinson

Frank Lotierzo



iconic fighters

Four of the most iconic fighters in boxing history had to do it and they did. Joe Louis’ career hinged on it, Sugar Ray Robinson did it against his career rival and so did Muhammad Ali and Sugar Ray Leonard, and that’s exact revenge over the first fighter to beat them. Had Louis not defeated Max Schmeling, had Robinson lost again to Jake LaMotta, had Ali  tripped again over Joe Frazier’s left hook and had Leonard not boxed smartly instead of brawling with Roberto Duran in their rematch, their legacies would be entirely diminished and different today for obvious reasons.

Seldom do fighters fail in the rematch against the first fighter to beat them and then get a chance to revitalize their career if they can beat the second man to defeat them. Well, that’s exactly what former two-time light heavyweight title holder Sergey Kovalev 32-3-1 (28) will be confronted with when he meets up again with Eleider Alvarez 24-0 (12). As widely reported, Kovalev will be exercising the clause in his contract that stipulated if he lost to Alvarez when they met on August 4th, he had the right to an immediate rematch. Kovalev-Alvarez II is tentatively scheduled for this coming February.

Kovalev was up on all three judges’ cards (58-56 and 59-55 twice) going into the seventh round when he was dropped three times and stopped at the 2:45 mark, suffering his third career setback to only the second fighter to defeat him. It seems almost a lifetime ago when Kovalev was often listed among the top five pound for pound fighters in boxing heading into his showdown with another pound for pound stalwart, Andre Ward. That was back in November of 2016 and the clash with Ward was seen pretty much by all as a pick’em going in. The bout went the distance and Kovalev lost a somewhat controversial unanimous decision (I had Kovalev winning by a single point) and since then the wheels seem to have come off regarding his career. When they met seven months later Ward was better and adjusted his attack, working Sergey’s body and rough housing him, and in the eyes of many he exposed a fatal flaw in Kovalev, namely that he seems to come unglued when things turn against him and he must fight through adversity.

Ward stopped Kovalev in the eighth round of the rematch with Ward up slightly on two of the cards with the third favoring Kovalev by a point. Instead of disappearing, Kovalev fought five months later and won a regional belt stopping Vyacheslav Shabranskyy in the second round and followed that up four months later stopping Igor Mikhalkin in the seventh round to win the WBO light heavyweight title. In his first defense, he risked his title against Alvarez.

Favored at odds as high as 6/1, Kovalev started slowly but came on starting in the third and had a big fourth that had Eleider covering up in retreat. During the fifth and sixth rounds, in spite of not looking like the killer he was pre-Ward, he seemed to hit his stride and was controlling the fight….however, Alvarez was occasionally beating him to the punch with his accurately placed one-twos. Then in the seventh round Alvarez dropped Kovalev with a big right to the temple over Kovalev’s low left. Kovalev took the mandatory eight-count and was quickly dropped again with a left-hook to the face. Again he beat the count but was on unsteady legs and as soon as he resumed fighting Alvarez cuffed him with a right and short left hook combo that had him down again and the bout was correctly stopped.

Kovalev no doubt rationalizes the loss as just getting caught like so many other fighters of his caliber before him. He’ll no doubt focus on the fact he was winning and that in boxing anyone can get caught, but it isn’t quite that simple. And in Sergey’s case the mental aspect is every bit as much a factor as the physical part.

After realizing by the end of their first fight that Andre Ward wasn’t intimidated by him and then actually being bullied by Ward in the rematch, Kovalev’s mental cloak of invincibility was shattered. We saw that happen with Mike Tyson after Buster Douglas and with Roy Jones after being knocked out by Antonio Tarver in their rematch. In Kovalev’s case, he appeared to be on the right track in his two bouts after his second defeat to Ward, but then again he wasn’t fighting elite opposition.

Against Alvarez he took a few clean shots early but again settled into fighting his fight. But when he couldn’t really put any hurt on Eleider during the fourth and into the fifth round, he seemed to lose a step and whenever Alvarez landed clean, you could see Sergey was trying to shield that he was bothered by it and felt it wasn’t happening by accident or luck. And once he was dropped by the first big right hand you knew he’d never survive. And having experienced that, the mountain will be tougher to scale in the rematch. Gone is the myth he forced on himself after the second Ward clash that it was a quick stoppage and the referee was against him. He knows Alvarez beat him and he can’t lie to himself about it.

What makes his task so monumental this time is the same thing he had to overcome against Ward for their rematch, and that is stylistically Kovalev can only fight one way and he can’t change that and making things worse is that Alvarez knows it. In order to deliver his power, Sergey must dictate the fight, pushing the action forward. Ward used that against him and there’s no doubt Alvarez will too the second time around.

Kovalev’s problem is one that all attackers have when they finally run into an opponent who makes them pay too big a price for their aggression. Sergey’s lack of good head and upper-body movement and refusal to clinch makes him an easy target – couple that with Alvarez’s clearly faster hands and it unfolds with Sergey getting hit too much and too cleanly on the way in. And once he processes that he’ll have to come in more measured, that’s when Alvarez, no longer being under duress, can really sit down on his shots and unload on Kovalev.

Whenever an attacker faces a fighter who makes the price of getting inside too steep, and the attacker can’t change things up, the rematch is usually a rerun of the first encounter. As I often say, all the attacker can do is bring more of what didn’t work the first time. And now Alvarez knows he can change the fight with one shot and Kovalev knows he couldn’t end it when Alvarez was in trouble during the fourth round of their last fight. Also, there’s the question of Kovalev’s discipline and training habits and they may have already taken their toll and depleted him physically at age 35.

Unlike Louis, Robinson, Ali and Leonard, Kovalev lacks stylistic versatility. Alvarez is a better technician than Kovalev, and when the better technician wins the first time, seldom can the perceived puncher adjust and be a different beast in the rematch.

With Kovalev’s confidence eroded and him not being able to adjust to Alvarez’s style, it’s hard to paint a positive scenario for him. If he were to pull it off against an even more confident Alvarez in the rematch, he will have redeemed himself and his career lives on. But if he can’t, his legacy of being one of the more feared fighters of his era will most likely be forgotten….if it hasn’t been already.

Sergey Kovalev is in a tough spot. This is a fight he had no choice but to take. He’s run out of other chances; it’s not worth Kathy Duva’s while to give him any more confidence-builders. His marketability is shot and the only way to restore it is with a solid win over Alvarez.

Frank Lotierzo can be contacted at

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Blake Caparello Looks To Grab WBA Regional Belt This Friday



This Friday night in Australia, light heavyweight contender Blake Caparello returns to action as he faces youngster Reagan Dessaix for the WBA’s Oceania title in the main event of a planned six fight card at The Melbourne Pavilion.
Dessaix currently holds the belt that Caparello held back in 2017, and the 22-year-old is hoping a win on Friday will put him on the international radar. It is where Caparello, who enters this fight as a 32-year-old, has been and hopes to get to again.
Those are the basics of Friday’s main event, the youngster Dessaix making a significant leap in competition level as he looks to get ranked internationally, while the veteran Caparello is hopeful a win will propel him closer to another world title shot.
Caparello laid claim to the IBO’s world title at 175 pounds back in October of 2013 when he won a comfortable unanimous decision over veteran Allan Green. Caparello, who was 17-0-1 at the time of the Green fight, went on to an introductory fight in the United States, and a win there saw him earn an August of 2014 title shot against WBO champion Sergey Kovalev.
Caparello has to feel he was close to a world title as he had the feared Kovalev down in round one before the “Krusher” took him out in round two. Since then, he has fought Isaac Chilemba and Andre Dirrell, extending both ranked veterans the full fight distance. The March of 2018 loss to Chilemba was for the WBC’s world title, and Caparello managed to go 2-0 the rest of the calendar year.
Green, Kovalev, Dirrell and Chilemba. The bottom line is that Dessaix had a solid amateur career in Australia, but there is no one with resumes like the men Caparello has faced when asked to step onto the world scene.
The WBA’s current world champion is Dmitry Bivol (15-0), who is making the fourth defense of his title in March against hard hitting Joe Smith Jr. The veteran Caparello could mount a case for a mandatory shot against either man with a win on Friday, while Dessaix would likely have to keep fighting and winning before earning a shot at a world title.
The co-feature bout is for the Australian title at 154 pounds and sees 31 year old Billy Klimov facing Joel Camilleri. Camilleri is favored as he has had a lot more professional experience than Limov, who turned professional at 29 years old. Strictly regional stuff here.
Both fights have lines at some of the sportsbooks. Check out the numbers as they were at the start of fight week below.
Fri 2/22 – The Melbourne Pavilion – Victoria, Australia
WBA Oceania Title
Light Heavyweight 10 rounds –
Reagan Dessaix(16-1)         +255
Blake Caparello (28-3-1)    -365
Australian Title
Super Welterweight 10 rounds –
Billy Limov (4-0-1)     +200
Joel Camilleri(16-5-1) -280
Check out the link for the live event right here.

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Will Fury’s Deal With ESPN Torpedo The Fights That Fight Fans Want to See?

Arne K. Lang



Fury's deal with ESPN

For the past few weeks, boxing fans have been led to believe that the rematch between Tyson Fury and Deontay Wilder was ever so-close to being a done deal. But in the world of professional boxing where Machiavellian characters seemingly hold all the positions of power, nothing is ever a done deal until it’s finally finalized. Today’s announcement that Tyson Fury has signed with ESPN is the latest case in point. It’s a three-fight deal that will reportedly earn the Gypsy King $80 million if he can successfully hurdle the first two legs.

As Thomas Hauser has noted, what we have in boxing today is something similar to leagues in other sports. There’s the Top Rank/ESPN League, the Matchroom/DAZN League, and the PBC/Showtime/FOX League. We would add that these are intramural leagues. Occasionally there’s cross-pollination, similar to when the Yankees play the Mets in a game that counts in the regular season standings, but basically the boxers in each league compete against each other.

We have no doubt that WBC/WBA/IBF heavyweight ruler Anthony Joshua will eventually fight Wilder and/or Fury, but it now appears that these matches, when they transpire, will have marinated beyond the sell date. The action inside the ring may mirror the Mayweather-Pacquiao dud.

A match between Joshua and Wilder is already somewhat less enticing than it would have been if it had come to fruition last autumn. The odds lengthened in favor of Joshua after Wilder’s raggedy performance against Tyson Fury on Dec. 1 in Los Angeles.

True, the Bronze Bomber almost pulled the fight out of the fire with a thunderous punch but he was out-slicked in most of the rounds and it wasn’t as if he was fighting a bigger version of Pernell Whitaker. Before that fight, casual fans were less tuned-in to Deontay Wilder’s limitations.

It was reported that the Wilder-Fury rematch was headed to Las Vegas or New York, but that Las Vegas fell out of the running when the State Athletic Commission insisted on using Nevada officials. Fury was the one that balked.

In hindsight we should have seen that this was fake news. No Nevada officials were involved in Fury-Wilder I. The judges were from California, Canada, and Great Britain. The California judge voted against Fury, scoring the fight 115-111, a tally for which he was excoriated. The judge from Great Britain, like many ringside reporters, had it draw. The TV crews, especially the crew from Great Britain, left no doubt that Fury should have had his hand raised and the controversy made the hoped-for rematch more alluring.

So who will be Tyson Fury’s next opponent? Speculation immediately centered on Bulgaria’s Kubrat Pulev.

Pulev, who turns 38 of May 4, sports a 26-1 record. He was slated to fight Anthony Joshua in October of 2017 but suffered a torn biceps in training and was forced to withdraw. In his most recent bout he outpointed Hughie Fury, Tyson’s cousin. He’s currently ranked #1 by the IBF.

On Dec. 8 of last year, Bob Arum announced that he had hammered out a deal to co-promote Pulev. It was subsequently reported that Pulev’s first fight under the Top Rank/ESPN umbrella would be against Finland’s Robert Helenius on March 23 in Los Angeles. Six days ago, the distinguished European fight writer Per Ake Persson told his readers that the fight had fallen out, ostensibly because the parties could not come to terms.

Tyson Fury is the most charismatic white heavyweight to come down the pike since Gerry Cooney and the big galoot is bigger than Cooney ever was as he has avid followers on both sides of the Atlantic and Cooney didn’t have social media to enhance his profile. I have little doubt that ESPN will recoup their investment in him. However, deals in boxing are never consummated with an eye on uplifting the sport – on patching things up with the disaffected – and here’s yet another example.

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Three Punch Combo: Two Recent Upsets Trigger Memories of Forgotten Fights

Matt Andrzejewski



upsets win world titles

THREE PUNCH COMBO — There is just something magical about a longshot overcoming seemingly unsurmountable odds to accomplish a major feat in boxing such as winning a world title.

Earlier this month, undefeated 130-pound champion Alberto Machado defended his title against Andrew Cancio in Indio, CA. Cancio (pictured) was considered a solid pro, but he had been outclassed on the occasions when he stepped up his level of opposition and few expected him to remotely compete with Machado. But Cancio elevated his game and sprung an unthinkable upset, stopping Machado in the fourth round to become a world champion. Cancio’s incredible backstory has since been well documented by several media outlets.

In terms of shock value, Cancio’s upset was mindful of another recent upset, Caleb Traux’s monster upset of James DeGale in December of 2017. Truax traveled to the UK to challenge 168-pound title-holder DeGale.  He was given no shot to win; most doubted that he would be competitive. But Truax overcame the odds and shocked the boxing world winning a majority decision to become a world title-holder. Truax’s story of overcoming incredible odds to dethrone DeGale became the feel good boxing story of 2017.

The underdog stories of Truax and Cancio are still fresh in our minds. But often times, such stories become somewhat forgotten as time passes. In this week’s three punch combo, I will look at three other incredible underdog stories that all occurred in 1997. They were all equally as heartwarming as those of Truax and Cancio.

Keith Mullings vs. Terry Norris, 12/06/1997

In 1997, 154-pound champion Terry Norris left his promoter Don King to sign with Top Rank with the express purpose of securing a big money fight against Oscar De La Hoya. After winning two non-title fights under the Top Rank banner against low level opponents, Norris was placed on the same pay-per-view card as De La Hoya who would be defending his WBC world welterweight title against Wilfredo Rivera. Top Rank was planting the seeds for a De La Hoya-Norris showdown the following year. Not wanting to take any chances, they selected a seemingly safe opponent for Norris in Keith Mullings.

Mullings entered with a record of 14-4-1. He had one win in his last six fights. However, Mullings was coming off a controversial split decision loss to another 154-pound champion in Raul Marquez three months earlier in a fight many believed Mullings deserved to win. The performance against Marquez gave Mullings credibility but his limited skills did not leave many to believe that he could compete with an elite fighter like Norris.

For the first seven rounds, the script seemed to be going according to plan. Norris boxed effectively using his left jab to control range and landing combinations behind that punch. He was seemingly in total control of the fight.

In round eight, Norris’s movement slowed and Mullings began to land on a more stationary target. Although not known as a puncher, he dropped Norris with a hard right hand. Norris survived the round but Mullings came out aggressive to start round nine. After reigning punch after punch on Norris in the first minute of the round, referee Tony Perez stepped in to save Norris from more punishment.

Mullings would make one successful defense of his title three months later, stopping Davide Ciarlante in round five, but that would be the last win of his career. He would lose his title in his next outing to Javier Castillejo and then lose three more times before hanging up the gloves for good in 2001.

Mauricio Pastrana vs. Michael Carbajal, 01/18/1997

Entering 1997, 108-pound champion Michael Carbajal had only two losses on his resume in 46 professional fights. Both losses had come in 1994 to the great Humberto Gonzalez. One was by majority decision and one by split decision. Carbajal had won 12 fights in a row following the second defeat to Gonzalez and was still considered to be in the prime of his Hall of Fame career as he entered a title defense against unknown Mauricio Pastrana on January 18th, 1997.

Pastrana had an undefeated record of 15-0 with 13 of those wins coming by knockout. But he had fought nobody of note, feasting on inferior competition in his native Columbia. He was given literally no shot by most in boxing to even be competitive with the much more experienced and seemingly more skilled Carbajal. As a matter of fact, so little was thought of Pastrana that during the beginning of the fight a promo was run hyping Carbajal’s next scheduled title defense in March.

The first two rounds were largely feeling-out type rounds. In round three, Pastrana announced his presence, shaking Carbajal with a hard right hand. From there, Pastrana upped his output using an effective well-timed stinging left jab to set up his combinations. He outworked Carbajal and landed the cleaner punches as the fight progressed. Carbajal certainly had his moments in what became a surprisingly exciting fight but in the end the judges preferred the activity and cleaner punching of Pastrana who would win a split decision.

Pastrana made two successful defenses against overmatched foes before losing his belt on the scales before a scheduled title defense in August of 1998. In his next fight, he would capture an interim title belt in the flyweight division but that would be his last success in any major title fight. He never was able to replicate the performance he had against Carbajal. Along the way, Pastrana suffered defeats to some big names including Rafael Marquez, Celestino Caballero, Jhonny Gonzalez and Gary Russell Jr. Following a knockout loss to Mikey Garcia in 2012, Pastrana retired with a final professional record of 35-17-2.

Uriah Grant vs. Adolpho Washington, 06/21/1997

In his second pro fight, Uriah Grant was fed to debuting 1984 Olympic Heavyweight Gold Medalist Henry Tillman and was knocked out in the second round. Three fights later, Grant was selected as an opponent for prospect Ricky Womack and dropped a six round decision. It appeared that Grant’s career was ticketed to being that of a journeyman.

Grant’s career would bounce up and down following the Womack loss. With a lack of depth in the cruiserweight division, Grant did get opportunities at bigger fights and even world title bouts but continued to fall short when he stepped up in class. The journeyman tag seemed appropriate as he entered his 13th year as a pro in 1997 with a pedestrian record of 25-12.

In August of 1996, Adolpho Washington traveled to Spain and scored a unanimous decision victory over the previously undefeated Torsten May to win a cruiserweight title. The win moved Washington’s record to 26-3-2. After a bit of a layoff, Washington settled on a title defense against Grant to help shake off the rust.

Stuffed deep on a Don King promoted card in Florida, the fight was thought to be a mismatch with no US television interested and barely anyone in attendance. But in an absolute shocker, Grant defeated Washington by split decision. The unheralded cruiserweight went from journeyman to world champion overnight.

Unfortunately for Grant, his championship reign would be short. Five months later in his first title defense, he was out-boxed by Imamu Mayfield losing a unanimous decision.

Grant would not fight for a major title again, but in 2000 he would gain a little more notoriety when he defeated a faded Thomas Hearns. Four years after defeating Hearns and following a string of losses, Uriah Grant retired with a final record of 30-21.

Photo credit: Tom Hogan / Hogan Photos / Golden Boy Promotions

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