By Keith Idec
Kathy Duva breathed a sigh of relief late in the 11th round Saturday night.
Three rounds after it looked like Sergey Kovalev was on the verge of getting knocked out in his hometown, the Russian veteran put his promoter’s mind at ease and accomplished a rare feat when his jab knocked out Anthony Yarde. Kovalev’s comeback from those troublesome moments in the eighth round were a testament to his conditioning and experience against an unproven opponent whose lack of stamina cost him a chance to win the WBO light heavyweight title.
In addition to retaining his 175-pound championship in his hometown of Chelyabinsk, Russia, Kovalev kept himself in position to earn an eight-figure purse for fighting Canelo Alvarez later this year.
“Canelo?,” Kovalev replied when asked about his next opponent after knocking out Yarde in the 11th round. “I will fight anybody. Canelo is a great fighter and if he wants to fight, I am ready. I will fight Canelo. I will fight [Dmitry] Bivol. I want the biggest fights for my career. It is my career. I have not much time left, so I will fight the best fights I can.”
Boxing Bivol (16-0, 11 KOs), the WBA light heavyweight champ, or the winner of the October 18 bout between IBF champ Artur Beterbiev (14-0, 14 KOs) and WBC champ Oleksandr Gvozdyk (17-0, 14 KOs) would afford Kovalev an opportunity to regain two more of the light heavyweight titles he lost to Andre Ward nearly three years ago. Squaring off against Alvarez, however, would afford Kovalev by far the biggest payday of his 10-year pro career and much more long-term financial security for him, his wife and their young son.
Once the Mexican middleweight star made it known that he wouldn’t fight rival Gennadiy Golovkin a third time, he expressed interest in boxing Kovalev on September 14 at T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas. Then, even after the Kovalev-Yarde card was officially announced for Saturday night, Alvarez’s handlers offered Kovalev an extremely enticing chance to face Alvarez on October 26 in Las Vegas.
The 36-year-old Kovalev (34-3-1, 29 KOs) turned down that substantial offer because he was already committed to making a mandatory title defense against the No. 1-ranked Yarde (18-1, 17 KOs). Now that he has fulfilled his mandatory obligation, Duva expects to talk to Golden Boy Promotions president Eric Gomez soon about an Alvarez-Kovalev fight.
“They know my number,” Duva told BoxingScene.com on Saturday night, before boarding a flight back to the United States. “Hopefully we’ll be talking soon. I haven’t had any conversations with them at all since I told them Sergey was gonna go through with this fight.
“I’m not gonna make any assumptions. Based on the way this negotiation went, I can’t make any assumptions. We’ll see what happens. Let’s see if we can get it done.”
Moving up two divisions to challenge Kovalev would afford Alvarez (52-1-2, 35 KOs) a chance to technically become a world champion in a fourth weight class.
An Alvarez-Kovalev fight also would satisfy DAZN executive chairman John Skipper’s need for a compelling Alvarez fight before the end of this year. Alvarez-Kovalev likely would take place in November, sometime between the Golovkin-Sergiy Derevyanchenko middleweight title fight October 5 at Madison Square Garden in New York and the Andy Ruiz Jr.-Anthony Joshua heavyweight championship rematch December 7 in Ridiyah, Saudi Arabia.
The later in November the better for Kovalev, who endured nearly 11 rounds Saturday with the young, strong Yarde. If his fight against Alvarez were scheduled for late in November, Kovalev could get in about a month’s worth of rest before he’d have to return to training camp.
Regardless, Duva believes Kovalev’s performance Saturday should make his fight versus Alvarez more compelling.
“Let’s put it this way – I know Canelo wants to fight him,” Duva said. “And I know Sergey wants to fight Canelo. It sounds like a good idea. It’s clearly a fight people wanna see and I think with this performance tonight, I think Sergey just made it that much more intriguing. He did the thing he has been criticized for not being able to do before. You know, come back in a really tough fight, dig down and do it. This was, I think, the most exciting fight of his career. It was just great to see the way he performed, because every time he performs like this, he’s gonna get more confident.”
Kovalev provided plenty of drama for his hometown fans at a sold-out Traktor Sports Palace, where approximately 7,500 of them watched him move and hold his way to avoiding a knockout defeat late in the eighth round. Buddy McGirt, Kovalev’s trainer, even threatened to stop the scheduled 12-round fight if Kovalev didn’t stop taking so many punches during the ninth round.
A reinvigorated Kovalev went after Yarde as soon as the ninth round began and regained complete control of their fight. An exhausted Yarde hardly could keep his hands up in the final three rounds.
A jarring jab by Kovalev dumped Yarde flat on his back with 1:06 to go in the 11th round. Yarde couldn’t even attempt to get up and referee Luis Pabon stopped the action at 2:04 of the 11th round.
“Sergey was the experienced fighter and he did what champions do,” Duva said. “He bit down and he did what he had to do. He dominated every second of the fight after [the eighth round].”
The 5-feet-8 Alvarez stands four inches shorter than Kovalev and has never boxed above 168 pounds. He’d still be favored over Kovalev because Kovalev has displayed vulnerabilities over the past two years, especially while absorbing body punches, that make the three-time light heavyweight champion a safer foe for the 29-year-old Alvarez than Kovalev would’ve been when he was in his physical prime.
Kovalev and his team still are anxious to resume negotiations with Alvarez’s representatives.
“We did everything we were supposed to do for Canelo,” said Egis Klimas, Kovalev’s manager. “Does Canelo want the fight? They have my number.”
Keith Idec is a senior writer/columnist for BoxingScene.com. He can be reached on Twitter @Idecboxing.