Middleweight champion Canelo Alvarez finally has an opponent to fight this fall, but it won't be a title defense.
Instead, Alvarez, who decided he was not interested in a third fight with Gennady Golovkin just yet, will move up two weight divisions to challenge still-formidable Sergey Kovalev for his light heavyweight world title on Nov. 2 (DAZN) as Alvarez seeks to win a belt in a fourth weight division.
The showdown looms as a very intriguing -- and probably entertaining -- fight between boxing's biggest star in Alvarez and Kovalev, who has a big punch and the biggest name and best résumé by far of anyone in the deep light heavyweight division.
Dan Rafael and Steve Kim are here to answer some key questions about the fight:
Is going up in weight two divisions to fight Kovalev a disadvantage for Canelo?
Rafael: Yes, because weight classes were created for a reason. Sugar Ray Robinson might be the best fighter ever, pound for pound. He was welterweight and middleweight champion. When he went up to challenge for the light heavyweight title, he got stopped against Joey Maxim in 1952. In this era, Alvarez moving up to face Kovalev, especially if there's no catchweight to drain a few pounds from Kovalev, puts him at a distinct disadvantage. It does not mean Canelo won't win the fight, but he is certainly at a disadvantage. It is a dangerous move for Canelo, but he has -- to his credit and his fans' delight -- taken risky fights, and this is one is no different.
Kim: While Alvarez is in his physical prime at age 29 and considered one of the very best fighters in the world, Kovalev at 36 has lost a few miles off his fastball. But make no doubt about it -- he is still a formidable light heavyweight, as he has shown his power in recent fights against Eleider Alvarez and Anthony Yarde. This particular matchup will be contested at a weight limit of 175 pounds, which certainly favors Kovalev. Keep this in mind: "Krusher" has been a light heavyweight throughout his whole career, while Canelo, just three years ago, was a junior middleweight -- and now he's essentially moving up 15 pounds in weight from his last fight against Daniel Jacobs in May.
Is Canelo-Kovalev a legit fight?
Rafael: It's an extremely legit fight and a very big one. To me, it's the biggest fight Canelo can make, other than a third fight with Golovkin. No matter how faded anyone thinks Kovalev might be at this point, the fact is he is still formidable. Maybe not on the pound-for-pound level he once was, but weight classes were created for a reason. He is a much bigger man with a heavy punch, a good jab and massive experience against the elite fighters of his time, such as Bernard Hopkins and Andre Ward. Alvarez has had two fights above middleweight -- a 164-pound catchweight with Julio Cesar Chavez Jr. that was a mismatch in every sense but a massive payday, and a secondary title fight against the massively inferior Rocky Fielding that was simply an opportunistic fight to grab a lesser title. Kovalev is better than both of them by a landslide and much bigger. It's a real fight, for sure.
Kim: Absolutely. You have two of the best known boxers in the sport, both of whom seem headed to the International Boxing Hall of Fame, and because of the mileage on Kovalev's odometer, many believe that it mitigates his advantage in natural size and strength. In fact, I believe Canelo will win this fight based on his overall skills and the trajectories of their respective careers. Because of all the variables involved, there is great intrigue in this bout.
How does Canelo win this fight?
Rafael: Canelo might be the smaller man, but he is a lot fresher, a powerful puncher, a terrific counterpuncher and a Hall of Fame-level body puncher. Kovalev's greatest weakness is body shots. Canelo needs to fight him on the inside and absolutely pound the heck out of Kovalev's body. If he does that enough, he can win the fight and do so by stoppage. If it becomes more of a boxing match, Canelo can win that way also because he's quicker with his hands and feet. More likely, though, Canelo's combination punching and body shots will have to be on point for him to win against an opponent who is still very good but not where he was in his heyday a few years ago.
Kim: The book on Kovalev is that he doesn't take damage too well downstairs. And in Canelo you have one of the better body punchers in the sport, who has that classic left hook that a lot of Mexican fighters employ. The question is, can he maneuver himself inside by slipping Kovalev's consistent jab and get in proper range to get to Kovalev's body? The closer he gets to Kovalev the better, because on the outside he just might be at the end of Kovalev's jab for much of the night.
How does Kovalev win this fight?
Rafael: For Kovalev to win, he must impose his size and power advantages. He is the much bigger man and the more powerful puncher. He must do what he did to defeat Yarde by 11th-round knockout, which is to use his heavy jab. That is a huge weapon for Kovalev, and ramming it down the middle against a smaller opponent in Alvarez will keep Alvarez at bay and also keep him away from Kovalev's body and pay big dividends. His jab is like a power shot, and he needs to never forget that in this fight. When in doubt, jab. And then jab some more, and make sure he jabs to the head and to the body.
Kim: If you go back to Canelo's 24 rounds with Gennady Golovkin, the most consistent punch that gave Canelo issues was Golovkin's left jab. Kovalev himself has a very educated left hand, and it has been key in his last two victories. Perhaps Kovalev is no longer that guy that can hit right through opponents as he had in the past, and maybe he's more cautious now after taking a couple of stoppage losses (against Ward and Alvarez). But to his credit, under the guidance of head trainer Buddy McGirt, he has evolved into a heavy-handed boxer who gauges distance and spacing well and is more than willing to win fights one round at a time with his boxing skills. Kovalev is taller and longer than Canelo. If he controls the distance, it will be tough for Canelo to lay his counterpunching traps.
What happens if Canelo wins?
Rafael: If Canelo wins, he most likely will return to middleweight, where he is a world champion, or at least drop down to super middleweight, where he holds a secondary belt. Both divisions have good fights for him. At middleweight remains the third fight with GGG, assuming GGG beats Sergiy Derevyanchenko for a vacant belt on Oct. 5. That's Canelo's biggest fight by far in any division, and GGG will have claimed a belt, which is something Alvarez has been saying Golovkin needed to get a third fight -- no matter how weird that is since the belt GGG will have won is the one that Alvarez allowed himself to be stripped of for not making the mandatory bout with Derevyanchenko. There is also a unification fight with Demetrius Andrade that is possible, especially since they both fight on DAZN. At super middleweight, a fight with titleholder Callum Smith is also quite doable (and very interesting) since they also have the same broadcast home and it's a fight both fighters have said they are interested in.
Kim: Should Alvarez defeat Kovalev and capture the WBO light heavyweight title, it will further raise his standing as not only one of the best fighters in contemporary times but among the all-time Mexican greats, alongside the likes of Julio Cesar Chavez, Salvador Sanchez, Juan Manuel Marquez, Marco Antonio Barrera and Erik Morales. In terms of his immediate future, you get the sense that, given the politics of the sport, his best options moving forward reside at 160 and 168. You get the sense that in Kovalev, Canelo and his handlers sensed a fighter who was more vulnerable and older than the other current light heavyweight titleholders (Dmitry Bivol, Oleksandr Gvozdyk and Artur Beterbiev).
And keep this in mind, Canelo is listed at just 5-foot-8, which means in just about every fight at 175, he will be the smaller guy. There are many opponents at middleweight and super middleweight who are aligned with DAZN, as Canelo is, including Billy Joe Saunders, Andrade and his old nemesis, GGG.