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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

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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 GlovedFist@Gmail.com

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Berchelt TKOs Valenzuela in Mexico City

David A. Avila

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Mexico’s Miguel Berchelt hammered his way to a decisive knockout victory over fellow Mexican Eleazar Valenzuela in a non-title light fight on Saturday.

After nearly nine months off, WBC super featherweight titlist Berchelt (38-1, 34 KOs) unraveled a withering body attack including numerous low blows but Valenzuela remained upright in front of a sparse TV studio audience until he could take it no longer.

Berchelt used a seven-punch combination to knock the senses out of the very tough Valenzuela who hails from Sinaloa. The referee saw enough and stopped the fight with Valenzuela leaning against the ropes with a dazed look.

The champion from Cancun used a triple left hook in the first round to floor Valenzuela and it looked like the fight would not last more than two rounds. But Valenzuela, a sturdy veteran, bored into Berchelt to keep him off balance and was able to stop the momentum.

It did not last.

A vicious attack to the body sapped the energy from Valenzuela who has fought many elite fighters in the past, but none like Berchelt. He was able to batter the veteran round after round.

Valenzuela sought to reverse the momentum with some combinations of his own. Berchelt opened up with some combinations from the outside and cracked his foe with some skull-numbing blows that clearly affected Valenzuela’s senses. The referee wisely stopped the fight at 1:03 of the sixth round to give the win to Berchelt by knockout.

The victory opens the door to a potential clash with featherweight world titlist Oscar Valdez of Nogales, Mexico who has a fight of his own planned next month. Both champions are promoted by Top Rank.

Other Bouts       

Omar Aguilar (18-0, 17 KOs) bushwacked veteran Dante Jardon (32-7, 23 KOs) within a minute of the first round to win by technical knockout. A barrage of blows by Ensenada’s Aguilar opened up the fight and a four-punch combination forced the referee to stop the super lightweight fight with Mexico City’s Jardon against the ropes.

A battle between super bantamweights saw the taller Alan Picasso (14-1) out-hustle Florentino Perez (14-6-2) in an eight round clash between Mexican fighters. Mexico City’s Picasso fought effectively inside against the shorter Perez of Monterrey and was able to maintain a consistent pace. Neither fighter approved the use of a jab but Picasso was more effective inside with body shots and uppercuts and dominated the last half of the fight.  The six judges scored in favor of Picasso.

The WBC instituted the extra judges as a means of tabulating score cards efficiently. Three judges scored from the television studios and another three judges scored from the USA. It was the second time WBC judges officiated remotely and all six scorecards were official.

Photo credit: Zanfer Promotions

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Boxing Odds and Ends: Big Baby Miller, Roberto Duran and More

Arne K. Lang

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Jarrell “Big Baby” Miller just can’t keep his hands out of the cookie jar. It was announced today (Saturday, June 27) that the jumbo-sized heavyweight from Brooklyn tested positive for a banned substance, forcing him out of a July 9 fight at the MGM Grand “Bubble” against Jerry Forrest. The story was broken by Mike Coppinger of The Athletic who breaks more hard news stories than any other boxing writer.

Miller, needless to say is a repeat offender. He failed three different PED tests in a span of three days for three different banned substances leading into his planned June 2019 match at Madison Square Garden with WBA/IBF/WBO world heavyweight champion Anthony Joshua. That cost him the fight and a reported $5 million-plus payday. Andy Ruiz filled the void and scored an historic upset.

When the first test came back positive, Miller wailed that he was the victim of a faulty test. “My team and I stand for integrity, decency and honesty and will fight this with everything we have,” he said in a prepared statement. He later changed his tune. “I messed up,” he said.

In a story that appeared on these pages, Thomas Hauser noted that Big Baby had a history of PED use dating to 2014. In that year, he was slapped with a nine-month suspension by the California Athletic Commission following a kickboxing event in Los Angeles.

Counting this latest revelation, it’s five strikes for Big Baby. He’s taking quite a roasting right now on social media. Some of the harshest criticism is coming from his fellow boxers.

Assuming that Top Rank can’t find a replacement for Miller, this is another tough break for Jerry Forrest, a 32-year-old southpaw from Virginia with a 26-3 (20) record. Forrest was scheduled to fight hot prospect Filip Hrgovic on April 17 on a card at the MGM National Harbor in Oxon Hill, Maryland, a show swept away by the coronavirus outbreak. Forrest has been matched very soft throughout his career, but he acquitted himself well in his lone previous TV appearance, losing a split decision to undefeated Jermaine Franklin on “Showtime: The New Generation.” The decision was controversial.

There’s talk now that Carlos Takam is angling to replace Big Baby. The French-Cameroonian, a former world title challenger who turns 40 in December, was billed out of Henderson, Nevada, in his last ring appearance that saw him winning a unanimous decision over fellow greybeard Fabio Maldonado in Huntington, NY.

—-

When it comes to Murphy’s Law (“anything that can go wrong, will”), there’s no sport quite like boxing. Just ask Bob Arum. The most mouth-watering matchup in his ESPN “summer series” fell out this week when Eleider Alvarez suffered a shoulder injury in training, forcing a postponement of his July 16 date with Joe Smith Jr. The match between Alvarez (25-1, 13 KOs) and Smith (25-3, 20 KOs) would have been a 12-rounder with the winner guaranteed a shot at the vacant WBO light heavyweight title, a diadem that Alvarez previously owned.

Joe Smith Jr, a Long Island construction worker once dismissed as nothing more than a club fighter, won legions of new fans in his last start, a one-sided (to everyone except one myopic judge) win over Jesse Hart in Atlantic City.

Cancelled matches have become a recurrent theme in ESPN’s semi-weekly boxing series. The very first card in the series lost what shaped up as its most competitive fight when Mikaela Mayer tested positive for COVID-19, scuttling her bout with Helen Joseph. In subsequent weeks, the manager of Mikkel Les Pierre tested positive for COVID-19 as did WBO junior lightweight champion Jamel Herring. Those bad test results forced the postponement of two main events. Then earlier this week, hot lightweight prospect Joseph Adorno was lopped off Tuesday’s card after feeling sick after coming in overweight at the previous day’s weigh-in.

The undercards of the Tuesday/Thursday ESPN fights have left something to be desired, but that’s understandable. As Bob Arum noted in a conversation with veteran boxing scribe Keith Idec, Top Rank’s matchmakers Bruce Trampler and Brad “Abdul” Goodman have had a hard time fleshing out the cards because with so many gyms closed there’s a shortage of boxers who are in shape to fight on short notice. Then there are the COVID-19 travel restrictions and (something Arum did not acknowledge) budgetary restrictions more severe than an ordinary Top Rank card. Most of the undercard fighters have come from neighboring states such as Utah, saving Top Rank the cost of air fare. Fighters from faraway places, with some exceptions, were already training in Las Vegas.

Kudos to the entire Top Rank staff for keeping boxing alive during these challenging times.

It’s old news now, but Panamanian boxing legend Roberto Duran, 69, tested positive for the coronavirus and was hospitalized in Panama City with a viral infection. There’s been no update on his condition but his son Robin Duran wrote on Instagram that his father is not having any symptoms beyond those associated with a common cold. We will update you when new details become available.

Duran’s hospitalization came just a few days after the 40th anniversary of his first fight with Sugar Ray Leonard in what would say was Duran’s finest hour. They met on June 20, 1980 at Olympic Stadium in Montreal.

Duran won a unanimous decision. Converting the “10-point must” system into rounds, Duran prevailed by scores of 3-2-10, 6-5-4, and 6-4-5. As Yogi would have said, you could look it up.

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Fast Results from the Bubble: Jason Moloney TKOs Baez

Arne K. Lang

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Top Rank was back inside the MGM Grand “Bubble” tonight for chapter six of their semi-weekly ESPN summer series. Jason Moloney, one-half of Australia’s Moloney twins, accomplished what his brother Andrew Moloney was unable to accomplish in this ring on Tuesday night, adding a “W” to his ledger and looking good doing it. It came at the expense of Mexicali’s Leonardo Baez.

It was Jason Moloney’s second start on U.S. soil after coming up just a tad short in a bid for the vacant IBF world bantamweight title at Orlando in October of 2018. Against Baez, he fought a smart tactical fight, blunting the Mexican’s superior reach by fighting him at close quarters. Baez fought from the third round on with a cut over his right eye and then suffered a cut over his left eye in the seventh round. By then the fight was becoming increasingly one-sided and Baez’s corner did not let him come out for round eight.

Jason Moloney improved to 21-1 with his 18th knockout. Leonardo Baez, who took the fight on short notice after Maloney’s original opponent Oscar Negrete was forced to withdraw with a detached retina, slumped to 18-3.

Co-Feature

In the 10-round co-feature, Abraham Nova advanced to 19-0 with a unanimous decision over Philadelphia’s Avery Sparrow but won no new fans with a lackadaisical performance. Nova, born in Puerto Rico to parents from the Dominican Republic and raised in Albany, NY, showed little but his jab through the first seven rounds until hurting Sparrow with a big right hand in the eighth. The judges had it 96-94, 97-93, and 99-91.

Sparrow (10-2), whose lone previous loss was by disqualification, was making his first start in 15 months. He was slated to fight Ryan Garcia in Los Angeles last Sept. 14 but never made it to the weigh-in after being arrested by U.S. marshals on a charge of threatening a woman with a gun after she threw his clothes out the window…

Other Bouts

In an 8-round featherweight contest, Puerto Rican southpaw Orlando Gonzalez advanced to 15-0 with a unanimous decision over Ecuador’s Luis Porozo (15-3). The scores were 76-74 and 77-73 twice.

Gonzalez wasn’t particularly impressive although he did score two knockdowns. He decked Porozo near the end of round two with a left hook following a straight left and decked him again near the end of round seven with a left uppercut to the body.

In a rather ho-hum fight, welterweight Vlad Panin improved to 8-1 with 6-round majority decision over San Antonio’s 36-year-old Benjamin Whitaker (13-4). Panin, a Belarusian who grew up in Las Vegas and earned a BA in English from UCLA, has a good back story but seemingly a limited upside in the fight game.

In an entertaining 6-round welterweight clash, Filipino campaigner Reymond Yanon improved to 11-5-1 with a split decision (59-55, 58-56, 56-58) over Clay Burns. A 33-year-old ex-Marine from Fort Worth, Burns declined to 9-8-2.

The opener, a heavyweight bout slated for six rounds, matched two Phoenix-based fighters in a rematch. Kingsley Ibeh, a former standout defensive lineman for the Washburn College Ichabods, avenged his lone defeat and improved to 4-1 with a fourth-round stoppage of Waldo Cortes (5-3). Ibeh, who at 286 had a 39-pound weight advantage, softened Cortes up with a series of uppercuts and Cortes was on his way down when he was tagged with a glancing left hand. He got to his feet, but referee Vic Drakulich waived it off. The official time was 1:41.

Photo credit: Mikey Williams for Top Rank

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