By Lem Satterfield
Once the “Boogey Man” of the light heavyweight division, Sergey Kovalev is 2-3 in his past five fights with two each in stoppage wins and knockout losses.
“The Krusher” (32-3-1, 28 KOS) was considered the division’s best as IBF/WBA/WBO champion at 30-0-1 with 26 KOs, eight title defenses and stoppages against 10 of 12 previous opponents before suffering consecutive losses to two-division champion Andre Ward in November 2016 and June 2017.
The now retired Ward (32-0, 16 KOs) rose from 168-pounds for his third and fourth appearances at 175 pounds. “SOG” rose from a second-round knockdown to win their first fight by unanimous decision, and more decisively took their second by eighth-round TKO, folding Kovalev with a debilitating body attack.
Kovalev bounced back in November 2017 and March with consecutive second- and seventh-round TKOs of Vyacheslav Shbranskyy and Igor Mikhalkin, earning the WBO’s vacant crown with the former and defending it with the latter.
But Kovalev was more devastatingly dethroned, yet again, in August by Eleider lvarez (24-0, 12 KOs), whose dramatic come-from-behind seventh-round knockout ended with three, final-round knockdowns.
The loss to Alvarez has some wondering if “The Krusher” is damaged goods with a fragile psyche.
Enter renowned corner man James “Buddy” McGirt, a 54-year-old former two-division titlist who has trained champions Sergey Lipinets, Arturo Gatti, Antonio Tarver, Vernon Forrest, Joel Casamayor, Lamon Brewster and Laila Ali.
“I just got Kovalev,” said McGirt of Kovalev, who could rematch Alvarez on February 2 at The Ford Center at The Star, the Dallas Cowboys’ training facility just outside Dallas.
“He came to me a couple of months ago. We worked a few days, he liked it, we talked, and we’re going to start our run after Thanksgiving for the fight in Ferburary.”
Kovalev dethroned previously unbeaten Nathan Cleverly as WBO titlist by fourth-round TKO in August 2013. He had a career-defining shutout unanimous decision over two-division champion Bernard Hopkins in November 2014, flooring him in the first round of a win that added Hopkins’ IBF and WBA titles to Kovalev’s WBO version.
Kovalev’s initial reign included stopping former champion Jean Pascal in the seventh and eighth rounds, a unanimous decision over title challenger Isaac Chilemba (July 2016), and knocking out previously unbeaten fighters Cedric Agnew (TKO 7) and Blake Caparello (TKO 2) in March and August 2014.
“We didn’t talk about the Ward fight, only the Alvarez fight. One thing he said was he waited until the last minute to get his weight down,” said McGirt, from his training facility in Vero Beath, Florida.
“But he’s already working on bringing it down. So that’s the first thing Kovalev said to me is that he knows what he did wrong and what mistakes he made.”
Kovalev hammered Alvarez with a fourth-round bludgeoning jab, but “The Storm” displayed a granite chin, bravado and swagger, trash-talking by round’s end.
Alvarez initially floored Kovalev with a head-swiveling, overhand right to the temple, and the second time on a left hook, overhand right combination.
Alvarez fired a pair of right crosses around a left uppercut for the final knockdown, leaving “The Krusher” on all fours as referee David Fields ended his most devastating loss at the 2:45 mark.
“The weight factor is something Kovalev believes led to his defeat. So he’s starting on that right now, doing cardio to bring it down,” said McGirt.
“We spent time together, but not the kind of time where I could really feel him out. That’s going to happen once we get deeper into training. We’ll know more as time goes on.”