By David Greisman
Sergey Kovalev Keeps Canelo Hopes Alive By Stopping Anthony Yarde
One thing is now on the line every time Sergey Kovalev fights — his future in a light heavyweight landscape that has changed tremendously since he first stood atop the division.
But one other thing was on the line when Kovalev faced Anthony Yarde this past Saturday — a potential megafight with middleweight champion Canelo Alvarez.
That fight had been in discussion several weeks before Kovalev was to face Yarde. Rather than pull out of this bout to face Canelo instead, Kovalev went through with the Yarde fight, with performing in his native Russia for the first time in three years, and with the belief that he could still make a deal with Canelo were he to come out victorious.
For much of the fight, it seemed like Kovalev was well on his way to victory. And then for one round, it seemed like Kovalev’s latest reign as a light heavyweight titleholder was about to come to an end, and that any hopes of facing Canelo were about to disappear along with it.
Kovalev recovered, however, and went on to score an 11th-round knockout. His victory — and his vulnerability — make a fight with Canelo a strong possibility so long as they can agree on the timing and other terms.
Kovalev is no longer the destroyer who’d captured three world titles and was once considered one of the two best at 175, if not the best light heavyweight around. Then came a close loss to Andre Ward in a hotly debated decision, and a stoppage loss to Ward in their rematch that also had some controversy. Ward retired. Kovalev picked up one of the vacant titles.
Then, a year ago, Eleider Alvarez dropped Kovalev three times in one round for a technical knockout.
Most fighters will get hurt if cracked right by a hard puncher. What those losses had shown was that Kovalev was no longer seemingly invulnerable, that he needed to rely on more than his heavy hands. His power meant people often didn’t pay attention to the fact that he’s also pretty skilled. Those skills were going to become more important.
Under the guidance of new trainer Buddy McGirt, Kovalev regained his title in a rematch with Alvarez. And those skills were key once again against Yarde.
Kovalev relied on his jab to establish distance and pace. Through three rounds, Kovalev had landed 39 punches, and 34 of them were jabs. Yarde, who had advantages in hand speed but not in experience, often sought to counter with left hooks or right hands. Kovalev began to let more power punches go in Round 4, increasing the pressure, taking advantage of the fact that his jabs both upstairs and to the body had set up the right hands that began to come with more regularity.
McGirt didn’t want Kovalev to get carried away with his success, though.
“Stay focused on what you got to do. Double and triple the jab,” McGirt said after Round 4. “And shoot that right hand to the body. Don’t worry about the head.”
McGirt wanted Kovalev to keep boxing, to make Yarde expend energy. While the 28-year-old Yarde is eight years younger than Kovalev, he had never gone deep into a fight. Yarde had been seven rounds just twice, and five rounds once. He also does not spar or do roadwork, according to Yarde’s trainer, a supposedly strategic decision that called into question Yarde’s stamina and ability to keep going in a tough fight.
Yarde clearly wasn’t able to fight three minutes per round. He fought in bursts, dangerous in those moments. Kovalev remained steady in Round 5, popping Yarde’s head back with the jab, dealing fine as Yarde began to throw more combinations. By the end of the round, Yarde’s mouth was wide open, taking in air. And at the beginning of Round 6, Kovalev landed a left hook on that open mouth, knocking Yarde’s mouthpiece out.
Kovalev looked like he was taking over. And then Yarde realized what he needed to do — go to Kovalev’s body. That’s exactly what he did for much of Round 7, going downstairs over and over again, putting Kovalev on defense. And that work paid dividends. Yarde was energized, and he was able to score with a right hand and a left hook upstairs that had Kovalev holding on with a minute to go in Round 8.
Then things got worse for Kovalev. Yarde landed with a big right hand to the head. Kovalev was rocked. Yarde followed up with more, and Kovalev was trying to hold on for a respite, trying to survive and avoid a repeat of what had happened in his first fight with Alvarez.
He made it out of Round 8. McGirt was concerned about what would happen in Round 9.
“Listen, if you take more shots like that this round, I’m stopping it,” McGirt said before the round began. “I’m giving you this round to show me something.”
Whether he was serious or it was just a motivational tactic, McGirt’s words worked. The minute to rest and not take punches also helped. Kovalev came out on steady legs and with much more energy in Round 9. Yarde, however, seemed spent.
Kovalev regained control. Yarde’s output and effectiveness dropped considerably. In that great Round 8, Yarde had gone 34 of 90. In Round 9, Yarde was just 5 of 39. In Round 10, he was 4 of 46.
Yarde tried to find his second or third wind at the beginning of Round 11. But after an initial round of offense, Yarde willingly settled into a clinch with Kovalev just 30 seconds in. He was so tired that Kovalev easily pushed him down to the canvas. Yarde’s hand speed advantage was gone, too. Kovalev continued peppering the jab, throwing in short combinations, dominating the action.
Yarde tried to stem the tide. He threw a left hook. Kovalev countered with a jab. Yarde went down, not so much hurt as exhausted, and remained on the canvas. The fight was over.
Kovalev moves to 34-3-1 with 29 knockouts. It was a good performance against an inexperienced but dangerous opponent. But it also highlighted Kovalev’s weaknesses. He is 36, slowing down with age and the accumulation of time and punishment. He is vulnerable against fighters with faster hands. He can be hurt to the body and shaken by the right head shot.
It’s no wonder that Canelo Alvarez is aiming for Kovalev, rather than some of the other top names at light heavyweight. He and his team see something they believe can be exploited. Kovalev wants to prove them wrong — and wants the payday, of course, earning far more against Canelo than he would against anyone else at 175.
Yarde suffered his first loss and is now 18-1 with 17 KOs. He needs another trainer to mold his natural ability, refine his skills, and put more gas in his tank. There are some good tools in his toolbox. He must learn how to use them better.
Brandon Figueroa Pounds Javier Chacon, Teases Fight With Stephen Fulton
On paper, Brandon Figueroa’s fight might have looked like it was going to be a good test for him. In reality, it was an uncompetitive showcase for the 22-year-old — a showcase that at least helped set up a good test for him in his next fight.
Showcase fights are part of boxing. They’re acceptable when a fighter stays busy — when he’s not wasting too much of his time or ours — and gets the rare opportunity to perform in front of his hometown crowd and send them home happy.
Figueroa was headlining about 20 miles from his home in southern Texas. The crowd that came out for him got what they wanted, roaring as he dominated Javier Chacon, scoring a one-sided fourth-round knockout.
Figueroa is at the point in his career where he’s transitioning from a rising 122-pound prospect and becoming a potential contender in the junior featherweight division. That means facing guys who’ve fought for world titles before — Oscar Escandon, Moises Flores — and beating them.
Chacon’s last three losses all came against good fighters: bantamweights Anselmo Moreno and Jamie McDonnell in 2014, junior featherweight Isaac Dogboe in 2017. He didn’t bring much in the way of veteran savvy against Figueroa, however, nothing that would help Figueroa grow as a fighter and advance to the next level.
Chacon didn’t bring much of anything at all. He was just 18 of 69 over the course of four rounds, according to CompuBox, throwing fewer punches than Figueroa (who was 96 of 297) landed. That allowed Figueroa to keep pounding away until Chacon couldn’t take any more.
It didn’t help Chacon’s cause that Figueroa had such an advantage in size, squeezing his 5-foot-9 frame down to 122 pounds on the scales, then rehydrating by fight night. Figueroa pressed forward, sending out hooks to the head and dedicating much of his energy on digging into Chacon’s body. Chacon focused on moving or covering up — defense that didn’t really help his own cause. He was surviving, but he wasn’t doing anything to discourage Figueroa.
Figueroa landed 19 punches in Round 1. Chacon landed just four. Figueroa scored with 26 shots in Round 2. Chacon had one.
Chacon showed a bit more fire in Round 3, particularly at the end of the round. Figueroa doused that fire in Round 4, scoring with a right hand to Chacon’s body, following up with a right uppercut, and soon after with a right hook to the ear that upset Chacon’s equilibrium. Figueroa saw his man hurt and kept throwing, finishing things off with a left uppercut.
Chacon’s mouthpiece came out. He was on all fours, collapsing downward as the referee finished counting.
Figueroa moved to 20-0 with 15 KOs. He’s bested a pair of recognizable names, though both Escandon and Flores were coming off defeats. Chacon, meanwhile, is 38 years old, is now 29-5-1 with 9 KOs, and may want to consider calling it a career.
It’s time for Figueroa to move on to better opposition. It doesn’t need to be any of the top titleholders at 122 — not yet, at least, not so long as he takes on someone young and coming into their prime.
It’s no wonder, then, that another up-and-coming fighter named Stephen Fulton was in the co-featured bout on the broadcast. And then it was no surprise that Fulton was in the ring during Figueroa’s post-fight interview.
“He hasn’t fought nobody like me before,” said Fulton, who improved to 17-0 with 8 KOs after a sixth-round knockout of Isaac Avelar. “This is going to be easy for me.”
On paper, it’s a good fight. Hopefully it can be made a reality soon.