Kovalev Outboxes Alvarez in Rematch

By Caryn A. Tate on February 2, 2019
Kovalev Outboxes Alvarez in Rematch
Kovalev did something almost no one thought he could do. (Mikey Williams/Top Rank)

All too often, big punchers have myths or hype built up around them. Not only by the media and fans, but also by their own teams…

All too often, big punchers have myths or hype built up around them. Not only by the media and fans, but also by their own teams, who adorn their charges with nicknames to celebrate the fighter’s knockout power, and all too often don’t help the fighter stay grounded and remember their fundamental boxing techniques that will help him set up that power—at all levels of the sport.

Unfortunately, what often happens because of this is said fighter will finally face an opponent who doesn’t crumple when the puncher lands what are normally his knockout shots. The puncher is stunned. Then the opponent comes on, applying pressure and landing shots of his own. Because of the years of buying into his own hype, the puncher is now at a loss as to what to do, and often loses, sometimes even by knockout.

This is essentially what happened to Sergey “Krusher” Kovalev leading into tonight’s rematch with Eleider Alvarez. But Kovalev was able to come back and do something almost no one thought he could do.

Tonight, from Frisco, Texas, light heavyweight champion Eleider Alvarez (24-1, 12 KOs) defended his WBO world title against Sergey Kovalev (33-3-1, 28 KOs) in a rematch of their stunning August 2018 contest. Most people expected the same result as the first fight, as I wrote earlier in the week. Not because Kovalev had lost, but because of his mental state in recent years, since his first loss to Andre Ward in 2016. Not many thought Kovalev could come back from that and change the way he was thinking, and hence, what he was doing to suffer those losses.

Since the first bout, Kovalev changed trainers and began working with superb coach Buddy McGirt, a former world champion fighter himself. Tonight, we saw what a difference a change in mindset (in Kovalev) and a great trainer can make.

Kovalev seemed to surprise Alvarez by boxing in the early rounds. He seemed a bit less concerned about the knockout, appearing to care more about moving well and keeping Alvarez off balance. When he could land his power, he did, but he didn’t seem to be only seeking it the way he once did.

Alvarez had his moments as well, but he wasn’t throwing as many punches as he did in their first encounter. Most importantly, he wasn’t throwing nearly as many body shots as he did in the first fight, which was key to how the fight played out. It seemed like Alvarez might be waiting for Kovalev to wear himself out down the stretch as opposed to doing the work he needed to do to ensure Kovalev couldn’t hang in the later rounds.

All credit must be given to Kovalev. He stuck to the game plan as the fight progressed, continuing to box very well and stick to basics. He was breathing through his mouth in the sixth, but he seemed to do a better job of taking his foot off the gas during the rounds when he was fatigued and held back on the volume punching he had become known for prior to his losses. Instead, he moved his feet, boxed, and focused on jabs or a jab followed by a right hand. Then more of the same.

It also appears McGirt has helped Kovalev develop his hook. While he tried to use one in his last few fights, it was never something that came together, but tonight, Kovalev utilized it to good effect, keeping Alvarez on his toes.

In Alvarez’s corner, Marc Ramsay implored his fighter to throw more punches, to jab more. It just didn’t happen.

In the last half of the fight, one had to wonder how Kovalev would hold up. Would his stamina issues raise up once again?

Surprisingly, they didn’t. He was clearly fatigued in the later rounds, but not to the degree he was in the fights he lost. He not only appeared to be in better shape than he’s been for quite a while, but he continued to think and hold back on his habitual volume punching when he was tired, and opted instead to box and take his time. It made all the difference.

Occasionally, Alvarez landed some clean and damaging punches that appeared to hurt Kovalev. But the Russian kept a cool head and took his time, and before long, Alvarez’s hands were again kept at home while Kovalev outboxed the champion.

In the end, the scorecards read 116-112 twice, and 120-108. How two judges could have seen four rounds for Alvarez escapes me, but it is unfortunately in line with the Texas commission’s reputation for poor officiating.

After the fight, Alvarez said, “I have no excuses. I knew if it went the distance, he would be the favorite, so I tried to press the fight.”

Kovalev thanked Buddy McGirt and his other coaches for stopping him from overtraining. “My amateur style was similar to how I worked today. When I first turned pro, I fought five, six times a year. I was always in shape. Now, working with Buddy, he’s [helping] bringing my skills back to what they were.”

When asked who he wants to face next, Kovalev said, “It doesn’t matter. I want to fight a champion. Who’s ready? I’m here to make history.” He mentioned Bivol and Beterbiev by name.

After losing by knockout to Andre Ward and, later, Eleider Alvarez, then coming back six months later to win the rematch against Alvarez in a manner no one thought he would—by simply, purely outboxing his opponent, not by knocking him out—Kovalev didn’t just win the title back. He earned it, and I suspect he feels it and appreciates it much more deeply this time than any of the other two times he won a world title.

Earlier on the card, lightweights Teofimo Lopez (12-0, 10 KOs) and Diego Magdaleno (31-3, 13 KOs) fought a 10-rounder. Magdaleno, an experienced southpaw, was thought to be Lopez’s best opponent so far as a pro, though to be clear, he was not expected to win.

Lopez was an accomplished amateur and it shows in his supremely well-rounded fundamentals. Often when Lopez is mentioned, people discuss his flashiness or his power. But what I feel is most impressive about him is the fact that he appears to be a well-rounded, complete fighter. He is a master of distance, has great timing, and his angles are fantastic.

From the beginning, Magdaleno showed a lot of heart and skill. He was fairly mobile, moving his feet in an effort to keep Lopez off balance and make him less effective. At times the tricky Magdaleno had success, landing a few clean punches on Lopez, but otherwise, it was Lopez’s show.

Lopez landed almost at will and utilized excellent footwork to get in proper position. Facing a southpaw in Magdaleno, Lopez got his lead foot inside Magdaleno’s, rather than outside (which is the position most tend to think is the most advantageous against a southpaw). But by doing this, Lopez was able to largely mitigate Magdaleno’s jab hand—he could simply bat it aside with his own lead hand, in essence reducing Magdaleno to one hand—his power hand.

As the rounds progressed, Lopez had begun to beat up Magdaleno. Magdaleno’s nose was busted up and bleeding from a cut over the bridge, perhaps broken. Yet Magdaleno’s corner, trainer Ismael Salas, didn’t stop the fight, and neither did the referee.

In the seventh, the punishment continued. Lopez landed almost at will on Magdaleno, who seemed dazed and out on his feet. The referee and Magdaleno’s corner unbelievably allowed the bout to continue. Finally, Lopez landed two concurrent left hooks upstairs on Magdaleno. The first was damaging enough, but the second was devastating, snapping Magdaleno’s head around and dropping him heavily.

It was clear the brave Magdaleno was done, but somehow the referee didn’t see this and gave the downed fighter an unnecessary count. Finally, after it was clear Magdaleno wasn’t rising, the referee waved it off. It was an atrocious bit of officiating that caused absolutely avoidable damage to Magdaleno, and it was surprising and disappointing that Diego’s corner also didn’t throw in the towel at any point to save their fighter.

Check out more of Caryn’s work at http://www.CarynATate.com and follow her on Twitter@carynatate

Follow us on Twitter@boxing_com to continue the discussion

Discuss this in our forums

Related Articles


This is a place to express and/or debate your boxing views. It is not a place to offend anyone. If we feel comments are offensive, the post will be deleted and continuing offenders will be blocked from the site. Please keep it clean and civil! We want to have fun. We want some salty language and good-natured exchanges. But let's keep our punches above the belt...
  1. Your friend 06:22pm, 02/06/2019

    Thanks Caryn. Great stuff.

  2. Koolz 01:32pm, 02/05/2019


    Lopez vs Magdaleno

  3. Steven 07:17pm, 02/03/2019

    Laughing my ss off at all the people that claimed Kov was washed up and getting KOd. I predicted this. I predict he will be exonerated as a rapist. LMAO at his accusers and detractors.

  4. Bruce 06:11pm, 02/03/2019

    Kudos to Buddy McGirt’s fight plan and Sergey’s ability to stick with it.  With his June 2019 induction in the IBHOF, it looks like a banner year for Brother McGirt.  Too bad his old manager/trainer Al Certo didn’t live to see it.

  5. Pete The Sneak 03:36pm, 02/03/2019

    Ok… looking at the fight, Caryn’s review was pretty much on point… Pretty good performance by Krusher…Koolz, as always good looking out my friend… Peace.

  6. Koolz 01:00pm, 02/03/2019


    Kovalev better feet better timing.  Just boxing and playing it safe.

    Hope is life and is safe as well.

  7. Your Name 08:59am, 02/03/2019

    I accidentally crossed my name off the “receive E mails” from others on the
    fight.  Please put me back on.


    Mike from

  8. thrashem 08:55am, 02/03/2019

    Always liked “Da Crusher”. Yes, he won the 1st fight with Ward and the ref won the 2nd. Kovalev switched trainers in 2nd fight to reclaim something he thought he had lost (mental thing). Good to see McGirt bring out the old Kov and he listened. You don’t have to KO everybody.
    Well written article so I don’t have to watch fight (I will).

  9. Bobby Peru 08:25am, 02/03/2019

    Whoa! Teofimo just moved way up on the shittiness scale…standing over and taunting a badly beaten Diego who had given it everything he had! WTF was the Great McGirt watching….he thought the fight was close?! Lots of scientific analysis here….physicality Goddammit….physicality! If Alvarez didn’t have a head like a bowling ball he would have been out of there!

  10. Your Name 08:25am, 02/03/2019

    To Mr. Mau-Mau,

    I agree that Kovalev won his first fight with Andre Ward.  It was close but I (and) many others thought he won..
    Re: Buddy McGirt helping Kovalev, sorry Mau-Mau don’t agree with you.  Someone had to convince Kovalev how to fight Alvarez.  It took a well respected trainer and former world champ to tell him.  Also by Kovalev’s admission Buddy McGirt helped him with his left hook.  Sure Kovalev was the guy in the ring, but it was the great Buddy McGirt who told him how to proceed and succeed.
    Kudos to Kovalev for realizing that he needed help and sort out one of the best boxing therapists around.

    Mike from Brooklyn

  11. Pete The Sneak 08:11am, 02/03/2019

    Well, I’ll wait for our resident Boxing.com fight posting Guru ‘Koolz’ to put up a link to see the fight, but reading Caryn’s article, sounds like Krusher put up quite an impressive performance. Out box Alvarez. Whodathunkit?...Peace

  12. Mau-Mauing The Flak Catchers 08:07am, 02/03/2019

    Kovalev NEVER LOST to Andre Ward in their first fight. He lost only on the judge’s scorecards.

  13. Mau-Mauing The Flak Catchers 07:39am, 02/03/2019

    Wow, just wow. Will watch the fight later but it looks as though from reading the article that Caryn thinks Kovalev pitched a shutout. The part that really makes my smdh and irks me is that one would think that Buddy McGirt won the fight and not Kovalev. A good trainer, a good football coach, a good baseball manager MIGHT contribute 10% at the most to his fighter or team’s success. I could have managed the mid 1990’s New York Yankees to a championship or taken a 2000’s Patriot team to a Super Bowl. Hell, I probably could have “won” the heavyweight championship if I trained a prime Ali as well.

  14. Johnathan Lee Iverson 04:47am, 02/03/2019

    Great reporting as always, Caryn. Kudos to Buddy McGirt for bringing Kovalev back to basics. Interestingly enough this is the same kind of composure Sergey displayed vs. Bernard Hopkins. He’s actually a very good boxer. He doesn’t have to cling to his power. He’s more we’ll rounded than he’s allowed himself to be.

Leave a comment