It was an unlikely and unexpected event before it became one of the most anticipated showdowns of the year. Canelo vs Kovalev: a crossroads fight with major implications for pugilism and the careers of two of its most accomplished champions. But unfortunately it proved to be less about thrilling competition and more about how the intense passion die-hard fans have for this brutal game leads them to situations where they must shrug their shoulders and mutter, “What can I say? That’s boxing.”
In the end Canelo vs Kovalev was less like taking a seat on a Las Vegas rocket ship to spectacular and unforgettable entertainment, and more like being stuck in a rundown bus terminal in the middle of nowhere wondering when that broken-down jalopy was finally going to show up. Depending on what you were hoping for, it never did. That said, the implications of Canelo vs Kovalev are significant so herewith eight important things we learned from this less-than-scintillating duel in the desert.
1. First and foremost: DAZN needs to get its shit together. The brand that hopes to dominate sports broadcasting on a global level inexplicably delivered a huge middle finger to boxing fans in arguably the biggest card of the year, certainly the biggest boxing event yet for the fledgling streaming service that has staked its future on the drawing power of Canelo. In a move that will remembered for a long time to come, the powers that be at DAZN decided to yield their hard-earned spotlight to a UFC event taking place in New York City and did not allow Canelo vs Kovalev to start until after the festivities in the Big Apple were finished.
In a lame attempt to keep fans at the MGM engaged, DAZN or Golden Boy or someone, elected to broadcast the UFC main event on the giant screens. This was nothing but an insult to the thousands who had paid big money for prime tickets to a championship boxing match, not an MMA fight. Sergey and Saul were clearly none too thrilled with the delay either, looking bored and surly in their dressing rooms while Diaz and Masvidal earned their paychecks in an entirely unrelated event. Had the fight itself been a thriller, this probably wouldn’t be such a big deal but unfortunately, violent conclusion aside, Canelo vs Kovalev was more like a sparring session than a high-stakes prizefight. The unnecessary delay was an exercise in self-sabotage on a grand scale, a move that helped kill whatever buzz remained in the MGM Grand Garden Arena. Clearly, someone at DAZN should be packing a cardboard box on Monday. Which brings us to …
2. It’s time for Sergey Kovalev to walk away. The Russian light heavyweight has carved out an impressive career but not without setbacks or more than one vicious knockout defeat. Having competed in some 200 amateur contests, Kovalev began his pro career at the relatively late age of 26. He stopped Nathan Cleverly in 2013 to win his first world title and big victories over Bernard Hopkins and Jean Pascal followed.
But against Canelo, Kovalev looked every day of his 36 years. Those who expected him to be markedly stronger than the Mexican were surprised to see him out-muscled by the former welterweight, while his vaunted jab lacked snap and he couldn’t pull the trigger on his once-potent right hand. Similar to past losses, he ran out gas of in the fight’s later stages and then became alarmingly vulnerable. Having survived defeats to Andre Ward and Eleider Alvarez to then rebound and score the biggest payday of his career, it would be a shame if he now hung on to absorb more punishment. You’ve had a great career, Sergey. Time to move on and enjoy your family and the riches you’ve earned.
3. Canelo has carried his power up to light heavyweight. As just noted, the Kovalev who faced Canelo last night was nowhere near his prime, but that doesn’t mean he wasn’t a worthy foe for Alvarez’s first foray at 175 pounds. The Russian was the biggest and strongest opponent Canelo’s ever faced and one of four legitimate title holders at the weight. Nevertheless, Canelo destroyed him after wearing him down with body shots and then striking with authority when Kovalev was vulnerable. The Mexican proved his eyes were on the prize the whole night, and delivered a signature win, one which showcased his intelligence and patience, an unmissable sign of his maturity as a fighter. But in terms of Canelo’s future and the viability of staying at light heavyweight, one can’t overstate the importance of how he closed the show. It was sheer power that decided the outcome, the kind of power that his future adversaries, even if naturally bigger and heavier, will have to respect.
4. The Vegas judges are Canelo’s biggest fans. Remember all that talk about how a third fight with Golovkin had to be at Madison Square Garden so the Kazakh could get a fair shake? Yeah, well, Canelo is never leaving Vegas, and we mean never. It’s a good thing he ended Kovalev in the emphatic fashion he did, because otherwise all anyone would be talking about would be the ridiculous scoring from ringside with two of the judges having Canelo ahead at the time of stoppage. That Dave Moretti gave Canelo two of the opening three rounds is simply inexcusable. Those were rounds where the Mexican did literally nothing but try to cut the distance while the Russian peppered him with jabs. Botton line: Vegas is an even more comfortable home for Canelo than any mansion his DAZN money could afford him, reminiscent of how Floyd Mayweather chose to fight in Vegas, and only Vegas, for more than a decade.
5. There’s a new must-see match-up at 175. For years, light heavyweight has been a hot-bed of elite talent, and while some terrific battles have happened, the ghosts of what-might-have-been are still hard to shake. Boxing fans don’t forgive easily and so they haven’t necessarily moved on from the fact that Adonis Stevenson vs Kovalev or Pascal never happened, and that instead of giving us battles with Eleider Alvarez or Dmitry Bivol, Andre Ward opted to retire. But now there’s a new top tier match-up at 175, that being Canelo Alvarez vs Artur Beterbiev. Both have recently scored huge wins and, Bivol aside, have to be regarded as the two best fighters in the division. It would be a huge event, but if it ever happens depends on whether or not Bob Arum and Oscar De La Hoya can sit down and make the deal. But if we can’t have Canelo vs Golovkin III, can we instead have the next best thing? (Something tells me we can’t.)
6. Canelo’s ego is so huge it can now be seen from space. It was a bizarre scene that followed Canelo’s brutalizing of the Russian. The first thing Alvarez did after landing the crushing right hand that almost knocked Kovalev out of the ring, was walk to a neutral corner, stare out at the 14,500 fans cheering for him, and bring a glove to his mouth while doing a shushing motion. It was a direct response to the loud boos Canelo had heard at several points during the less-than-thrilling fight, especially when he back pedaled at times in an effort to lure Kovalev in.
The Mexican confirmed this in his post-fight interview, in a slightly less deriding way, when he asked his fans to “be patient,” i.e. to trust him. Notwithstanding the fact Alvarez clearly had a plan and followed it to its impressive conclusion, the fact he had the nerve to tell his adoring fans–who had just dropped millions on tickets and shamelessly overpriced merch–to ‘shut the fuck up’ instead of celebrating with them, is mind-blowing. Is there anyone left whom Saul isn’t willing to antagonize? Clearly it’s King Canelo’s world, while the rest of us should just be grateful to exist in it. After all, who can argue with success? Which brings us to …
7. Canelo is not only boxing’s biggest star but a rising power broker. And the Kovalev victory is a major component of this undeniable fact. Beyond his ability to inspire ticket sales and global attention, Canelo now enjoys more options than any fighter in the sport. Assuming he can still make 160 pounds, he has his pick of matches from three different weight divisions and all the titles and belts which that affords. Any match-up with any champion from 160 to 175 pounds is a guaranteed major event, worth millions. And Canelo has even stated that a foray into the cruiserweight division isn’t out of the question. Thus, in terms of real estate and control of the boxing landscape, no one has more pull than Canelo. And when one considers the likely effect this will have on various title-holders who may choose to sit by the phone and hope for a call from a red-haired Mexican, this isn’t necessarily great news for fight fans. Which brings us to …
8. Canelo vs Golovkin III is officially never going to happen. Given how well the Kazakh and the Mexican match-up and the intense, high-level action they gave us, especially in their razor-close second clash, the fact many boxing fans appear ambivalent, if not indifferent, to the premature ending of what could and should be a great rivalry is a source of unending puzzlement for some. But for those expressing impatience with the idea of a trilogy fight, we have some good news: the Kovalev KO means it almost certainly is never going to happen. For whatever reason, Canelo isn’t interested and he’s made that very clear. But now with the plethora of intriguing match-ups potentially available to him, what could possibly compel him to change his mind?
His post-fight comment that he’d accept Canelo vs Golovkin III strictly as a “business” opportunity is merely a diplomatic statement to placate DAZN, who gave Canelo his massive contract in part because they assumed chapter three in the Saul vs Gennady saga was a given. As we’re all finding out, this is not the case. And even if that match ever got to the negotiation stage, no doubt Canelo, who is intent on taking more and more control of his career, would drag things out and impose so many “A-side” conditions as to make it impossible for Golovkin to sign on. Like it or not, Canelo vs Golovkin is done like dinner. Time to move on. — Robert Portis