By Manouk Akopyan
Sergey Kovalev survived a serious scare Saturday against Anthony Yarde.
In the eighth round of their fight, the Brit was manhandling the Russian and seemed moments away from securing a stunning upset. When the embattled Kovalev returned to his corner, trainer Buddy McGirt had a candid conversation with his fighter.
If he took any more punishment, McGirt was going to end the fight.
Stopping the fight might be a sensitive matter for McGirt. Just last month, McGirt was cornering another Russian in Maxim Dadashev, who took too much punishment in his fight, suffered brain injuries that placed him in a medically induced coma, and then died just days later.
Kovalev knew he had to show his coach something of significance.
“He told me, ‘don’t stop it. He’s getting tired now,’” McGirt told BoxingScene.com. “I knew he was OK. It was a matter of him losing focus for that moment. Sergey got a little lazy, keeping Yarde on the outside was a little too easy. I told him I’m going to give him one more round to show me something, and he got back on what he was supposed to do. I can’t let [Maxim Dadashev’s death] stop me from doing what I need to do.”
Kovalev returned in the ninth round a man renewed, and quickly turned around his gloomy outlook in a fight he was closely winning on all three scorecards.
“By him getting lazy, Yarde got more confident. But after that, he was a dead man. He shot his load,” McGirt said. “Sergey fought very well, especially in front of a hometown crowd when fighters have a tendency of wanting to impress and burning unnecessary energy. He pulled it together. It was outstanding.”
After the fight, McGirt walked over to Yarde’s locker and told him, “you surprised me.”
“He fought a young and strong guy who came to win,” said McGirt. “Anthony wasn’t there for a payday. In these kinds of fights, you’re going to get hit. It’s how you recover and come back. Sergey recovered and came back better.”
Yarde showed signs of success throughout the fight, particularly in the seventh stanza with a strong body attack that made Kovalev noticeably uncomfortable. Yarde landed a total of 132 punches on Kovalev, a tally that McGirt said was too much for his liking.
“You learn with each fight,” said McGirt. “Now he knows what he has to do in that situation, which is to make the guy pay for the price of coming inside. They can’t get past his jab. It’s too strong.
Kovalev knocked out a tired Yarde with a jab in the eleventh, a rare feat for any fighter.
When asked how Kovalev can withstand a body attack should he fight a smaller Canelo Alvarez next, a fight that is looking like a real possibility by each passing day, McGirt said “well have a remedy for that.”
Canelo had a field day crushing the body of Rocky Fielding in his super middleweight debut last year by attacking the taller fighter’s ribs for as long as the fight lasted. Standing four inches shorter than Kovalev, Canelo might just do the same should they ever meet. Kovalev succumbed to Andre Ward the second time they met due to a series of body blows.
McGirt said he was pleased with Kovalev’s endurance and heart, and that conditioning won’t be an issue for the body-attacking Alvarez.
“Sergey is ready for Canelo without a doubt. He showed that he still belongs. People wrote him off saying ‘he’s old, he’s this, he’s that,’ and he proved them wrong. He still belongs at the top. He still has that fire burning inside to be the best,” McGirt said. “I don’t care who Sergey fights next, but if Canelo wants to step up to the big boys, then Sergey’s going to have to beat him.”
Manouk Akopyan has been a member of the Boxing Writers Assn. of America since 2011 and has written for the Los Angeles Times, USA Today, the Guardian and Philadelphia Inquirer. He can be reached on Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn and YouTube at @ManoukAkopyan or via email at [email protected].