Canelo-Kovalev: How The Unlikely Mega Fight Came To Be


By: Sean Crose

“We promised to make this fight happen, and now we are delivering it.”

So said Golden Boy Promotions honcho Oscar De La Hoya this past September when the light heavyweight title matchup between the aging, but still menacing, Sergey Kovalev and boxing’s biggest star, Saul “Canelo” Alvarez was announced to great fanfare. It was an odd pairing, Canelo and Kovalev, but it was an intriguing one, nonetheless. Kovalev, the WBO light heavyweight champion, was bigger but older. Canelo, a multidivision champion, was younger, but considerably smaller. Both were entertaining, must see fighters for fans. Still, the leadup to Canelo-Kovalev was long and winding, it’s unique destination virtually unimaginable a mere year ago.

One has to go back a full fourteen months, to August of 2018, the grasp things in their entirety. That’s when Kovalev was stopped by the game and talented Eleider Alvarez in Atlantic City. It looked the like the end for the Russian lion. He was no longer WBO champion, he was getting older, and he had just lost this third fight. By the time September rolled around and Canelo entered the ring to fight Gennady Golovkin a second time, Kovalev was essentially an afterthought in the minds of fight fans.

As for Canelo himself, he had much to prove in his second go round with arch rival, Golovkin. For the first Canelo-Golovkin fight, which went down in 2017, had ended in wildly controversial fashion. The judges ruled it a draw, but that decision was widely viewed as a Las Vegas gift to Canelo. In the meantime, Canelo had tested positive for a banned substance. The Mexican star’s stellar reputation was getting tarnished, and a signature, dominant win was needed. That dominant win didn’t come, though. Instead, Canelo was awarded a decision victory over Golovkin in their rematch – a decision that many considered yet another Las Vegas gift to the city’s favored fighter.

Enter DAZN, a streaming service that was hoping to break through in America. By reaching out to De La Hoya, the outlet was able to land the entire Golden Boy Stable – including the prized Canelo. In fact, boxing’s biggest star found himself with an eleven fight contract worth over three hundred fifty million dollars, making him one of the most highly paid athletes on earth. Canelo made his debut for DAZN in December of 2018, when he easily plowed through Rocky Fielding at Madison Square Garden in a fight that earned him a super middleweight belt for his efforts.

Yet, while Canelo was making hundreds of millions of dollars, Kovalev was planning a comeback. Hooking up with highly regarded trainer Buddy McGirt, Kovalev returned for a rematch with Eleider Alvarez in February of 2019 – and won decisively via decision in Texas. Still, no one was matching the names of Canelo and Kovalev together. In fact, by March, Golovkin had gone and made his own highly lucrative contract with DAZN. Now it seemed that a third fight between he and Canelo was all but settled business. That third fight seemed even more logical after Canelo bested Daniel Jacobs in Vegas in May, while Golovkin bested Steve Rolls the following month in New York.

It became clear, though, that Canelo might not have wanted a third Golovkin fight, at least not anytime in the near future. Team Canelo turned to a match against the undefeated Sergey Derevyanchenko, but that deal eventually fell through. By August, Canelo was stripped of his IBF middleweight title, and the Derevyanchenko fight was known to have amounted to wishful thinking (Derevynachenko went on to fight and lose to Golovkin in an exceedingly close match).

Canelo eventually decided to skip his traditional September bout. “As a Mexican,” Canelo said, “it’s a responsibility and an honor to represent my country in both May and September…those are my dates. However, as a world champion in multiple weight classes, I also have the responsibility of delivering the most exciting and competitive fights possible. That’s why Golden Boy and my team have decided to postpone the date in order to do right by my fans by promoting the best fight possible and with the best opponent possible.”

With Golovkin seemingly out of the picture, Canelo needed another top name if he didn’t want to open himself to arguments of cherry picking. There was also the matter of DAZN, which clearly wanted a return on its very steep investment. Enter team Kovalev, who was riding particularly high after their man bested Anthony Yarde in Russia the previous August.

The rest, as they say, is history. This Saturday’s bout should prove to be nothing if not quite interesting.

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