LAS VEGAS — Many boxing fans would have liked to have seen middleweight world champion Canelo Alvarez, boxing’s biggest star, face rival and former unified titleholder Gennadiy Golovkin for a third time after two highly entertaining but disputed bouts — a draw in 2017 and a majority decision win for Alvarez in the 2018 rematch. However, as much as GGG, Alvarez promoter Golden Boy and DAZN, the broadcaster that has both fighters under exclusive nine-figure deals, wanted that fight next, Alvarez had other ideas.
Canelo had said that a third GGG fight held no allure for him and that he was focused on other goals. That’s why Alvarez will move up two weight classes to challenge Sergey Kovalev, a much bigger man and three-time light heavyweight world titleholder.
Alvarez, who has already won titles at junior middleweight, middleweight and super middleweight, sought out Kovalev, the biggest name in the division, for a chance to add another belt to his impressive collection.
Kovalev is no longer at his best but still formidable. This fight is the biggest one of his career, against a superstar foe in what many believe will amount to a battle of Alvarez’s powerful body attack and Kovalev’s punishing jab.
This is your Ringside Seat for the fight:
Canelo chasing history
Alvarez (52-1-2, 35 KOs), 29, has said time and again that his goal in boxing is to continue to make history and go down as an all-time great. He believes this fight, Saturday at the MGM Grand Garden Arena (DAZN 9 p.m. ET), is a big part of that quest.
“It’s going to be one of the most important fights for me and my career,” Alvarez said through an interpreter. “This title is very important, to be a four-time world champion in different divisions. This is historic for my career. In boxing you have to take risks to make history and it’s a huge risk for my career, but we’re ready.”
Beating Kovalev, which Alvarez is favored to do, would give him multiple historical accomplishments:
He would become only the fourth boxer to win a junior middleweight world title and one at light heavyweight, a spread of 21 pounds (154 to 175). The other three are in the International Boxing Hall of Fame: Sugar Ray Leonard, Thomas Hearns and Mike McCallum.
A win would make Alvarez the fourth Mexican fighter to win world titles in four division. The others are Hall of Famer Erik Morales and two fighters who are on the ballot for the Hall of Fame this year, Juan Manuel Marquez and Jorge Arce.
Alvarez can become only the second fighter from Mexico to win a light heavyweight title, joining the late Julio Gonzalez, who briefly held a belt in late 2003 and early 2004.
Size: Advantage Kovalev
The 6-foot Kovalev (34-3-1, 29 KOs) is as natural a light heavyweight as there is. He has boxed in the division for his entire career, which began in 2009.
Alvarez, who is 5-foot-9, turned pro in 2005 as a teenager at 139 pounds. He has boxed above 160 pounds only twice, his shutout of Julio Cesar Chavez Jr. at 164 pounds in 2017 and his super middleweight title win against Rocky Fielding in December, when he weighed 167 pounds.
“Fighters move up in weight class to make history and to separate themselves from ordinary fighters,” said Golden Boy CEO Oscar De La Hoya, Alvarez’s promoter, who won titles in six divisions. “Two weight classes is not an easy task, but when did Canelo ever take easy tasks?
Alvarez agreed to fight Kovalev without making any strong push for a catch weight in an effort to drain Kovalev at least a few pounds below 175.
“I respect his steps and his risks,” Kovalev said. “But this is my division. I have been in this division since my first fight, and I want to make my history, my story. He’s just trying.”
Alvarez said he didn’t do too much differently in training to accommodate for the added weight except to incorporate some weightlifting into his program.
“I hadn’t lifted that much previously. A lot of reps but not that much weight, so I’m lifting more weights, eating more carbs, eating protein, and that’s what we’re doing to make weight,” he said.
Kovalev isn’t counting on the size difference being much of a factor.
“I think Canelo will be just as strong at light heavyweight. I think he will weigh the same as me, 175 pounds,” he said. “He will be heavier than usual, but I think he will be comfortable. When you lose weight for a fight, you lose power and stamina, and he won’t have to do that.”
It will be interesting to see how Kovalev’s body responds to a relatively quick turnaround. Kovalev, 36, is coming off an 11th-round knockout of mandatory challenger Anthony Yarde in August. Kovalev won fairly handily, but was in huge trouble and was nearly stopped in the eighth round.
This fight will mark Kovalev’s shortest break between fights since before winning his first title in 2013.
“I like short rest between the fights. One month [is] enough,” Kovalev said.
After the Yarde fight, Kovalev took off about three weeks before returning to camp with trainer Buddy McGirt and strength coach Teddy Cruz.
McGirt, going into his third fight as Kovalev’s trainer, said he made only minor accommodations because of the brief time between fights.
“The only thing we had to change is … really not coming to camp full force because he was already in shape,” McGirt said. “So we just took it day by day nice and easy, nice and slow. We didn’t have to get in shape like normally. Didn’t have to lose weight like normal. So I think it’s a blessing that it was a quick turnaround.”
If Alvarez wins, there will continue to be a drumbeat for a third fight with Golovkin. However, he’ll have plenty of options because he could return to middleweight for attractive fights with titleholder Demetrius Andrade or even with Sergiy Derevyanchenko, who lost a disputed decision for a vacant belt to GGG on Oct. 5.
Alvarez could also defend his secondary belt at super middleweight or seek a unification with Callum Smith, who also boxes on DAZN. Or he could stay at light heavyweight.
He’s boxing’s money man and whichever division he goes to, top opponents will want to fight him. He said he has not thought about which division he will compete in following Saturday’s fight.
A Kovalev win could lead to a rematch at Alvarez’s option. If there isn’t a rematch, Kovalev could look to unify titles with Artur Beterbiev, who unified two belts earlier this month by defeating Oleksandr Gvozdyk.
“I’m the best in light heavy. I cannot say Beterbiev is better,” said Kovalev, who lost twice to Beterbiev in the amateurs. “Yes, he has two titles. But I have the experience. This is big motivation against Canelo — to fight Beterbiev.”
Rafael’s prediction: It’s an exciting and historical match and I expect a good fight. Even though Canelo is moving up two divisions to challenge Kovalev, given where each man is in their career, it’s hard to pick against the younger, fresher Canelo, who handpicked Kovalev to fight and continues to improve. The Kovalev of a few years ago probably beats Canelo handily. Now? The tide has turned. I like Canelo to wear down Kovalev and stop him late.