2018 Knockout Of The Year

Nominations:
Teofimo Lopez KO1 Mason Menard
Murat Gassiev KO12 Yuniel Dorticos
Dereck Chisora KO8 Carlos Takam
Dillian Whyte KO11 Dereck Chisora
Vasyl Lomachenko KO10 Jorge Linares
Eleider Alvarez KO7 Sergey Kovalev
Jermall Charlo KO2 Hugo Centero, Jr.
Naoya Inoue KO1 Juan Carlos Payano
Oleksandr Usyk KO8 Tony Bellew

Winner: Eleider Alvarez KO7 Sergey Kovalev

For many, the knockout of the year is about choosing the most spectacular and devastating finish to a prizefight, that highlight reel moment when a brutal combination or vicious shot decides the outcome. And no doubt visual imagery is a central aspect of what makes a great knockout, the scene and the spectacle becoming etched in the collective memories of fight fans. But the other important element is significance and here at The Fight City we tend to give more weight to a violent finish that also registers genuine and widely felt impact on the sport at large.

Eleider Alvarez had been a top contender in the light heavyweight division for years, but despite this he lacked a high profile, his name prompting replies of “Who?” south of the border. No doubt a stumbling block in his securing a chance to finally face WBC champion Adonis Stevenson was that he represented a very high risk but not a higher payday. Stevenson would be paid the same amount to face Tommy Karpency or Sakio Bika, so why take on “Storm” Alvarez? And yet there was no denying the fact that Alvarez deserved both a high ranking and a title shot. He had defeated Isaac Chilemba, Lucian Bute and Jean Pascal, but those wins only reinforced his credentials with the hardcore boxing fraternity; they barely registered for mainstream U.S. sports fans.

A promised Stevenson vs Alvarez match never materialized.

But those wins and solid credentials made Alvarez the perfect opponent for a Sergey Kovalev who was trying to re-establish himself as the top dog in the light heavyweight division. Not long ago, “Krusher” was a man feared by many, both for the devastating power he unleashed on fellow top contenders and titlists such as Nathan Cleverly and Jean Pascal, as well as for the ring acumen and skill he displayed against both Bernard Hopkins and, in their first meeting, Andre Ward.

But after Kovalev-Ward I ended in a controversial points win for the American challenger, Sergey was humbled in the immediate rematch. Exhausted and hurting from Ward’s body attack — which appeared to include a healthy number of low or borderline low blows — the fearsome “Krusher” was reduced to something much less fearsome. Thus the Russian embarked on a comeback, scoring two stoppage victories and picking up some belts in the process, but to fully regain his status as the best light heavyweight in the world next to Adonis Stevenson, a win over someone truly dangerous was required. Enter Eleider “Storm” Alvarez.

Kovalev and Alvarez weigh-in.

But if Alvarez fit the bill in terms of an opponent who could give Kovalev a needed extra dose of credibility, he also represented a somewhat unknown quantity. Yes, he had those previously mentioned big wins, but how good was he really? Bute and Pascal were faded entities, while the Chilemba fight had been a highly competitive distance fight. Many, if not most, pundits suspected that a largely inactive Alvarez lacked both the power and the toughness to stand up to a resurgent “Krusher” for 12 rounds.

Thus, what unfolded at the Hard Rock Casino in Atlantic City was a prizefight that sent shockwaves through the light heavyweight division and the sport of boxing at large. The match proved a competitive and tactical affair, with a patient Alvarez using a sharp jab and timely counters to keep the champion at bay while the more aggressive Russian found precious few opportunities to get home his big power shots. But Kovalev had connected with enough blows, especially in round four, to enjoy an edge on most scorecards as the bell rang for round seven.

As our own Michael Carbert reported: “By the time Alvarez landed that vicious right hand in round seven Kovalev was beginning to tire, an understandable fact given the intensity of the battle and the fact the Russian was jousting with an opponent significantly larger and heavier … The same punch four or five rounds earlier would likely have rocked “Krusher,” not finished him, but at that particular juncture it was clearly enough to scramble his faculties. Add to that Kovalev rising much too quickly from the knockdown, and the fact there was a full minute left in the round, and the match was effectively over the instant that perfect punch detonated on the champion’s cranium.”

Credit to Kovalev for twice beating the count, but there was no way Alvarez was going to let him off the hook after landing that first big shot. And yet credit for “Krusher” was difficult to find in some circles after the bout as many decided the outcome was less about the skill and power of Alvarez and more about Kovalev being a so-called “shot fighter.” Funny, but few, if any, were speculating this was the case prior to the match.

No, the truth of the matter was this fight and its result was all about Eleider Alvarez finally getting the title chance he deserved and cashing in big time with the best performance of his career. And in the process scoring a spectacular knockout against an elite-level foe, a KO whose reverberations are still being felt and which has re-defined the careers of two top prizefighters in a stacked light heavyweight division. No other knockout in 2018 had such an impact, both literally and figuratively. And thus it is our Knockout of the Year.              — Neil Crane 

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