Canelo Alvarez’s circuitous summer finally comes to a close with a solution, and news of his next opponent appropriately arrives on Mexican Independence Day weekend, a date that he was originally supposed to be fighting for the eighth time this decade.
Boxing’s biggest breadwinner will move up two weight divisions and face light heavyweight champion Sergey Kovalev on Nov. 2 at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas. The showdown will stream on DAZN, the digital sports platform that that signed Alvarez to an unprecedented 10-fight, $365-million deal last year.
“The second phase of my career is continuing just as we had planned, and that’s why we are continuing to make great fights to enter into the history books of boxing,” said Alvarez. “Kovalev is a dangerous puncher, and he’s naturally the bigger man, but that’s the kind of challenges and risks that I like to face.”
Alvarez (52-1-2, 35 knockouts) will try to become a four-division champion in the 175-pound weight class when he fights for Kovalev’s World Boxing Organization title. Just getting the opportunity appeared to be the hardest part.
The 29-year-old Mexican fighter’s last match, during Cinco de Mayo weekend, took place at 160 pounds, a date where he unanimously decisioned Daniel Jacobs for the IBF title.
However, Alvarez never had a chance to defend his IBF crown. Golden Boy first missed the mark on securing a September date for Alvarez’s traditional Mexican Independence Day clash. Then, it failed to secure a fight against mandatory IBF challenger Sergiy Derevyanchenko. After a deadline passed with no deal in place, Alvarez was stripped of his IBF title. Rumblings started to swirl in boxing circles that Alvarez and Oscar De La Hoya, the Golden Boy chairman and chief executive who presides over his pupil’s career as a promoter, were not on the same page.
“We promised to make this fight happen, and now we are delivering it,” said De La Hoya. “Historic fights have been a hallmark of this company, and we are pleased to once again live up to the high expectations we’ve set for our fans.”
Alvarez officially shifted his intentions to uncharted waters once he learned Derevyanchenko would be fighting loathed foe Gennadiy Golovkin for the title he no longer owned.
Alvarez, who’s won championships at 154, 160 and 168 running through everyone thrown at him, wanted to bulk up 15 pounds and face Kovalev months ago but a deal was not reached because Kovalev (34-3-1, 29 KOs) had a mandatory fight of his own in August.
A step-aside fee could not be secured with Kovalev promoter Main Events, so Alvarez sat on the sidelines and patiently waited for the proceedings to play out. Once Kovalev survived a brief scare and earned a tough knockout victory over Brit Anthony Yarde, a contract that was originally tabled became one that was eventually signed.
Alvarez also had to work in conjunction with DAZN and pick a palatable opponent. The streaming platform’s primary choice was Golovkin, also a fighter with a lucrative deal with the platform, but Alvarez had very little interest in a trilogy. DAZN approved the likes of Demetrius Andrade, Jermall Charlo, Derevyanchenko, Golovkin and a list of others opponents, but Kovalev ended up being the most attractive one to Alvarez.
Golden Boy first reached out to Main Events head Kathy Duva in February to gauge interest in a deal, but didn’t come back with an offer until months later as he was preparing for Yarde, and when the offer came it was an unsatisfactory compensation package. On Labor Day weekend, the contract finally came through, and both sides started marching toward the finish line once Kovalev was presented with an eight-figure offer.
“It didn’t take long for things to work out for us and Golden Boy. But Top Rank had options on Kovalev, so we had to settle our business with them. Top Rank should be very pleased now,” Duva told the Los Angeles Times on Friday. “This is a beautiful opportunity for Kovalev and it should be a throwback fight for us to see if Alvarez is truly the best.”
“DAZN is exceedingly happy with the Alvarez-Kovalev fight and feels that it will draw more subscribers to the platform,” DAZN chairman John Skipper told The Times, adding that hopes are for a Golovkin fight to be procured in 2020.
Kovalev, while a recognizable name, at 36 is well past his prime. He is 4-3 in his last seven fights but still owns knockout power and a devastating jab. He has enjoyed an Indian summer of sorts ever since he switched trainers to Hall of Fame fighter turned coach Buddy McGirt this year.
“In order to be the best you have to beat the best,” Kovalev said. “I have always tried to fight the toughest opponents in my division, but many have ducked me throughout my career. Canelo wanted to fight me; to step up to higher weight and challenge for my belt. I will be ready.”
Kovelev will bring a significant size advantage into the ring come November: four inches in height and two inches in reach. But size never seems to matter to Alvarez. Kovalev’s kryptonite appears to be that he’s severely susceptible to body shots.
The body-attacking Alvarez could have a field day against Kovalev, using his smaller frame to work the ribs and stomach of Kovalev, much like Andre Ward successfully did twice against Kovalev.
Alvarez used a barrage of body blows against the much taller but overmatched Rocky Fielding in December when he cherry-picked a secondary version of the super middleweight crown, and thus, became a three-division titlist.
Decorating his resume even further against the battle-tested Kovalev should likely be a much tougher task, but one many believe he’ll successfully pass.
Manouk Akopyan has been a member of the Boxing Writers Assn. of America since 2011 and has written for USA Today and the Guardian.