What Next For Sergey Kovalev?

IMG_1505By Jake Collins (@MelancholyFolly)

The result of the first fight between Andre Ward will continue to be disputed for a long time. Regrettably, I fear the manner of the outcome of the second fight may well suffer the same treatment. In an interview immediately after there was talks of Ward going up to Heavyweight and the like, but what of Kovalev? Where will the Russian’s career head now?

Sergey Kovalev is 34. Up at Light Heavyweight, this isn’t exactly retirement territory yet but it certainly is toward its climax. That means he can’t waste a year with a rest, some rebuilding of confidence and then a reasonably tough fight. He needs to stay relevant in a division full of prodigal talent. Kovalev has said he wants to seek a third match but in all honesty I can’t see Ward going for it. Officially, Ward has bested Kovalev twice and that will be enough for him to consider this chapter closed (as it would for most people, I suspect). Losing to Ward should hardly be seen as a sign of decline or even a big deal, especially given how close the two fights actually were. Even though the second resulted in a stoppage, it was still clear the fighters were at pretty even terms up until the stoppage. Kovalev’s success over both fights came from outside fighting behind his jab; his actual boxing ability shouldn’t ever be e questioned again.

What can we question then? Well, certainly his stamina over 12 rounds. Kovalev looked fine in the later rounds against Hopkins and didn’t appear to be tiring against Pascal but these are fights where he was dictating the pace. Chilemba is quite an awkward customer and Kovalev looked less sturdy there as the fight went along. Now what Ward can do is change his style and approach off the cuff. He’s a very smart boxer and this is why he’s so successful. He is dynamic and adapts as required. As a result of that, you have to spend a lot of time (and crucially, energy) thinking about what Ward is up to – more so than you would with most other boxers. This taxes a fighter, as does Ward’s inside work. One telling difference between the first and second fight was Kovalev’s work on the inside when the two locked up. He did successful work for sure, but hard work comes at a price on the body.

Psychologically, being stopped can have an effect on anyone – even if the stoppage is disagreed with. Confidence can drop slightly and they can become more risk averse, see Wladimir Klitschko. Though in fairness, Kovalev’s chin stood up but his body folded. Even so, this image of the unbreakable ‘krusher’ will be a little tainted now too. The fear factor surrounding him won’t quite be the same for a certain level of fighter. This could well be to their detriment as if he isn’t affected by the two losses then he’s still just as likely to pummel pretty much everyone else in the division.

Given how high profile he became, his age and the nature of his career I don’t think Kovalev will slump to a journeyman for his return bout. I would expect a vaguely recogniseable name before fighting a properly ranked opponent. In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if he gets the loser of Barrera-Smith Jr within the next 6-8 months (seeing as the winner will likely be next in line for a title shot). A win there would put him right back among the top dogs, not that he should be considered as anything else yet anyway. Should Kovalev stutter once more, the 175lb Eastern throne could we be seized upon by Dmitry Bivol, Artur Beterbiev or the equally impressive Oleksandr Gvozdyk.

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