PHOTO: ED MULHOLLAND
By Sarah Deming
It’s a fight promoters are calling a clash of “Super Men” — an appropriate description given the power expected when the “Krusher” collides with a “Storm.”
On Saturday, August 4, two-time world champion Sergey “Krusher” Kovalev (32-2-1, 28 KOs) defends his title against undefeated Colombian-Canadian Eleider “Storm” Alvarez (23-0, 11 KOs). In the co-main, rising star Dmitry Bivol (13-0, 11 KOs) of St. Petersburg puts his own title on the line against Isaac “Golden Boy” Chilemba (25-5-2, 10 KOs) of Malawi. Both light heavyweight bouts will be televised live from the new Hard Rock Hotel & Casino in Atlantic City on HBO World Championship Boxing, beginning at 10 PM ET/PT.
Given the theme of the event, one could well wonder, if there were a Krusher comic book, what would the story be?
“He would have come from nowhere,” says promoter Kathy Duva of Main Events. “He would be someone who, everything has gone against him his whole life. And then he got his superpowers, and he crushed all his enemies.”
She describes watching him fight for the first time, at the urging of manager Egis Klimas, who bankrolled Kovalev’s early fights in small venues off TV: “Sergey gets in the ring and it was like he had lasers coming out of his eyes. It reminded me of Ray Leonard’s eyes before he fought Hearns.”
“I believe we were meant to meet each other,” says Duva.”I always needed to find that fighter who could go out and dominate his division. I knew what to do with a guy like that.”
Where do Kovalev’s powers come from? Maybe it’s something in the water in Chelyabinsk, Russia, or in the old tank factory where his mother worked. It can’t have been the 2013 meteor explosion. By that time, Krusher was already beating Nathan Cleverly to win his first world title.
But he hasn’t crushed all his enemies. This will be Kovalev’s third fight after the pair of losses to pound-for-pound great Andre Ward that sent his storyline into an alternate universe. Kovalev claims he grew so depressed after the second loss that he pursued a graduate degree, totaled his car in a forest, and made a pilgrimage to a Greek monastery.
He also switched trainers. Abror Tursunpulatov is an old school Uzbek who coached 2016 Olympic light welterweight champion Fazliddin Gaibnazarov. Their shared Russian language and cultural similarities seem to be making for better chemistry in the corner.
“We understand each other,” Kovalev says. “I feel comfortable. And right now I’m the passenger in our team. He’s the driver and says everything I should be doing, and I do it.”
Kovalev is not an easy man to coach. He feuded with longtime trainer John David Jackson and even rubbed Abel Sanchez the wrong way during a brief stint at Big Bear.
“Sergey wants to be the boss,” Sanchez said. “And it’s like wanting to be your own brain surgeon. It doesn’t work.”
So far, it seems to be working with Tursunpulatov, who has led Krusher to two easy wins against overmatched foes. Last November, Kovalev knocked out Vyacheslav Shabranskyy in two rounds to claim the vacant belt vacated by Ward after his retirement. In March, he defended against Igor Mikhalkin, stopping him in seven. But Alvarez, a classy, undefeated boxer, should prove a tougher test.
“Alvarez is dangerous,” Kovalev says. “I am sure that it's not gonna be easy to fight, because he is undefeated and he is a number one in WBC. Stevenson avoided him already like two or three times and he's the proof that he is scared. But I'm not scared of him.”
Eleider Alvarez’s origin story begins in Apartado, a small Colombian city rich in bananas and plantains and plagued with a violent history. Little Eleider had dreams of being a rapper, but his mother dragged him to a boxing gym to keep him off the streets.
When she died suddenly from complications related to her diabetes, her 11-year-old son vowed to become champion for her sake. He was one of Colombia’s most decorated amateurs, winning Pan-American gold before emigrating to Canada in 2009 to join the promotional stable of Yvon Michel.
“Every single dollar he makes, he sends back home to Colombia,” says his trainer Marc Ramsay.
“He bought a little piece of land over there when he beat Lucian Bute. And he’s very proud because his daughter is the only kid in their neighborhood going to a private school.”
Alvarez’s signature mohawk gets him stopped for autographs on the streets of Montreal, but thus far his boxing career has been a waiting game, as brighter stars from the same stable got the spotlight. Adonis Stevenson, Jean Pascal, Lucian Bute: All bigger name light heavyweights, all promoted by Michel.
Since 2015, Alvarez has been the mandatory for Adonis Stevenson’s world title, stepping aside twice as Stevenson chose other opponents, most recently Badou Jack. Rather than keep waiting, Alvarez and company jumped at the chance to challenge Kovalev, who has had his own trouble making a date with the lineal light heavyweight champion he tauntingly dubbed “Chickenson.”
Now 34, Alvarez finally gets that world title shot.
“Eleider is a complete fighter,” Marc Ramsay says. “He doesn’t have any big weakness. He has very good speed and the best jab in the division.”
The jab game is key. Kovalev’s is notoriously heavy, but Ramsay believes Alvarez’s edge in speed and reach will be the difference.
“Both of them have a great, great jab,” he says. “Kovalev also has a great right hand. But he needs to touch with the jab first. He never throws the right hand first. We think we will win the battle of the jabs.”
Ramsay has had ample opportunity to study Kovalev doing what he does best; he was in the opposite corner when the Krusher twice stopped Jean Pascal, but he does not think Kovalev is the same fighter now. Certainly the 35-year-old Kovalev is older in ring years than Alvarez, a relatively untested 34.
“I don't feel that I am old or something like that,” Kovalev says. “It's just a number for me, 35. God blessed me and gave me an opportunity as still fighting on this level, like a champion, and I'll be fighting, I hope, 'til I get all four titles.”
“He’s still the man in the division,” Duva says. “He’s still must-see TV.”