This weekend sees an exciting Light Heavyweight boxing showdown when Sergey Kovalev (33-3-1; 28 KOs) defends his WBO 175 lbs. title against challenger Anthony Yarde (18-0; 17 KO). Kovalev vs. Yarde takes place this Saturday, August 24 and airs live on ESPN+ with a fight time of 12:30 p.m. ET.
- 3-3 - Kovalev was at one time undefeated at 30-0-1, but for this fight, it almost feels like all that matters is his last 6. That includes a pair of losses to Andre Ward (both controversial to various degrees), then a pair of bounce back wins, both against very worthy opposition, then a 1-1 series with Eleider Alvarez. He’s certainly not the unstoppable killer he once was, but two arguable losses to one of the best in the world and one loss that has since been avenged is not too shabby either.
- Written off too soon? - I know I have been guilty of writing Kovalev off, twice now. First after the 2nd Ward loss, then after the Alvarez loss. Both times I thought he was done, both times I was wrong as he came back to defeat high level opponents. Maybe it’s because he’s 36, maybe it’s because there has been some decline in skill, but there’s certainly a desire to write Kovalev off, and that probably shouldn’t be the case. But...
- Outside the ring - Things outside the ring have not been the best for him in recent years. He split with longtime trainer and mentor John David Jackson, he’s been dealing with a felony assault charge, and he’s just generally come across like someone whose head is not entirely in the game.
- Canelo - The invisible third man in the ring here will be boxing’s current golden goose: Canelo Alvarez. There’s talk of a seemingly improbable Canelo vs. Kovalev fight coming up. And short of a Floyd Mayweather return fight, that’s likely the biggest non-Heavyweight fight boxing can make right now. A Kovalev loss here doesn’t end that idea, but it certainly causes problems.
- Hyped prospect - Yarde is 28, so far from a young gun, but he also has only 4 years in the game, coming to the sport late. And he certainly has been impressive, with 18 fights, 18 wins, and only one decision (and that was a 4 rounder in his 2nd pro fight). He’s got big power, and he has been putting people out, and that’s a surefire way to get people excited about you.
- Untested - All that said, he’s taking a massive step up here. It would be unfair to say he’s been fighting cans as of late, but he has not been fighting anyone even remotely at the level of Sergey Kovalev. This is a massive, massive test for Yarde.
- Fast finisher - He’s only gone past the 4th three times, never past the 7th. He will look to get things done, and done fast.
- On the road - Until now, Yarde has fought virtually his entire career in his native UK (though he does have a lone US fight in 2016 on the undercard of Canelo vs. Liam Smith). Now, he not only leaves the UK, but he steps into Kovalev’s backyard, fighting in Russia - Kovalev’s first fight at home in over three years. Some fighters love that role, some struggle with it. We don’t know which Yarde is yet.
What else is on the card?
- Ilunga Makabu (25-2; 24 KO) vs. Aleksei Papin (11-0; 10 KO) - Great Cruiserweight fight here with the #6 ranked Junior Makabu against the undefeated Russian fighter. Definitely worth a watch.
- Evgeny Romanov (13-0; 9 KO) vs. Dario German Balmaceda (19-17-2; 13 KO) - A Heavyweight showcase fight here for Russia’s Romanov, who is unlikely to have any issues with the Argentine journeyman Balmaceda. It’s Heavyweight, so it could be a fun slugfest, or it could be a bore. I suspect the former, thankfully.
The odds have this close, and I get why. Kovalev is not quite the KO artist he once was, going the distance in his last fight. And Yarde is dynamic, aggressive - he’s in many ways what Sergey Kovalev was about 5 years ago. And what he is looking for here is exactly what Kovalev got when he faced Bernard Hopkins - a fading veteran prime for the taking. But, no offense to B-Hop, Kovalev isn’t there yet. I see Kovalev being able to deal with Yarde’s aggression, slow him down, then apply his own pressure and take the younger fighter out. But it could be fireworks to get there. Add in a nice undercard and this is a show to check out.
Prediction: Sergey Kovalev, KO R7