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Column: Has Canelo Alvarez overestimated the interest fans have in a Sergey Kovalev fight?

Canelo Alvarez stands on the scale during Friday’s weigh-in in Las Vegas.
Canelo Alvarez stands on the scale during Friday’s weigh-in in Las Vegas ahead of his bout against Sergey Kovalev on Saturday night.
(John Locher / Associated Press)

Less than half of the seats were occupied in the part of the MGM Grand Garden Arena that was open. The fans who were there were noticeably lacking in enthusiasm.

The crowd was nothing like the raucous masses in front of which Canelo Alvarez typically has weighed in on days before his fights. The fans never broke into song, never chanted his name loud enough to echo throughout the venue.

The scene at Friday’s weigh-in was alarming, considering the significance of Alvarez’s showdown against light-heavyweight champion Sergey Kovalev.

This will be more than a fight. This will be a measure of Alvarez as a matchmaker.

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Whether Alvarez has the right feel for deciding whom to fight, and when, will have significant consequences, not only for his legacy, but also for the sport.

As many matches are televised or streamed online these days, the sport continues to require major events to thrive. Alvarez is about the only active fighter with the profile necessary to deliver such fights.

Canelo Alvarez and Sergey Kovalev went through the formal ritual of stripping down to their shorts and stepping onto a scale in front of a few thousand people at Friday’s weigh-in the day before their title fight. Alvarez looked comfortable. Kovalev did not.

The burden was inherited from Floyd Mayweather Jr., a great fighter who was an even greater matchmaker. The objective of a fighter is to maximize earnings while minimizing risk, and Mayweather never lost sight of that.

The question is whether Alvarez did that by selecting Kovalev as his opponent.

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The lack of enthusiasm around this fight indicates the public is skeptical of Kovalev’s chances. With Alvarez moving up two divisions from his optimal fighting weight of 160 pounds, however, Kovalev has a size advantage that could present serious problems.

At 5-foot-9, Alvarez is three inches shorter than Kovalev. With this fight taking place at 175 pounds, Alvarez also will be the naturally lighter fighter. And while he has successfully forced previous opponents to fight at close range, it’s entirely possible he never gets anywhere near Kovalev and loses by a wide margin.

Canelo Alvarez looks to underline his reputation as the best while Sergey Kovalev will try to resurrect his career when they meet in the ring Saturday.

In which case, Kovalev would be a low-reward, high-risk opponent, which would make him the worst possible option Alvarez could have chosen.

Then again, maybe Alvarez knows something no one else does. Maybe the perceived danger is entirely an illusion.

At 36, Kovalev is physically diminished. He also could be psychologically damaged, as the menacing aura that made him special was seemingly extinguished by a couple of losses to Andre Ward.

Ward revealed that Kovalev was particularly vulnerable to body punches, which are a specialty of Alvarez.

Alvarez has explained that he chose to fight Kovalev because of the opportunity to win a world title in a fourth weight class. But Kovalev wasn’t the only fighter who offered him that chance. There are two other fighters who hold versions of the light-heavyweight championship, Artur Beterbiev and Dmitry Bivol.

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So why did Alvarez pick Kovalev? Kovalev has the most recognizable name, but another factor could be that Beterbiev and Bivol are undefeated.

Whatever the case, Alvarez appears to have erred in not taking a third fight with hated rival Gennady Golovkin.

The two most important fights of Alvarez’s career were with Golovkin. The initial encounter was declared a draw, the second a narrow decision victory for Alvarez. The consensus was that neither fighter did enough to separate himself from the other.

Golovkin, now 37, fought last month against Sergiy Derevyanchenko. He was awarded a close decision, but looked his age. The ageless Golovkin became old overnight.

Alvarez would have triumphed easily against that version of Golovkin. He could have been credited with sending Golovkin toward retirement.

Instead, the way in which his rivalry with Golovkin has played out has diminished his reputation. As it was, Alvarez was criticized for waiting until Golovkin was 35 to fight him. If he fights Golovkin again and wins, he won’t be seen as having conquered a longtime tormentor, but as having beaten up a geriatric.

The failure to detect Golovkin’s decline earlier raises questions about whether Alvarez shares Mayweather’s ability to perceive barely noticeable shortcomings in his opponents that can be exploited.

The worst-case scenario is that Alvarez misjudged Kovalev. Streaming service DAZN didn’t invest $350 million in Alvarez for him to lose the third fight of their 10-fight deal.

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But the alternative is also problematic. Even if Alvarez has identified Kovalev’s weaknesses and is certain he can take advantage of them, he appears to have overestimated the public’s appetite for this fight.


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