"I should defend my title, I will defend my title," Kovalev said. "If I lose, I lose more than Canelo loses. Canelo, he is trying to make his history, but I'm here. I'm in my position." That position would be on top of the light heavyweight division — at least according to one of the ranking organizations that stake claims to legitimacy in the convoluted world of boxing. Kovalev rebounded from two losses to Andre Ward to regain a title belt and then stopped Anthony Yarde just two months ago in his native Russia to move into position for a lucrative fight with Alvarez.
There are questions about his age (36) and the wear and tear the fights with Ward took out of him. But Kovalev can still punch and, armed with new trainer Buddy McGirt, believes he still has some good days in the ring ahead of him — beginning with his scheduled 12-round fight with Alvarez.
"This is the biggest fight of my career," Kovalev said. "I've never been in this situation, where someone is coming from middleweight. I'm not going to make a prediction, but I am going to go in there and defend my title."
For Alvarez, the fight is later in the year than his normal Mexican Independence weekend bout in September, and against an opponent who wasn't the first choice of boxing fans or his promoter, Oscar De La Hoya. They wanted him to fight a third bout against Gennadiy Golovkin but Alvarez refused, believing his business with GGG has already been settled.
Faced with having to find a name opponent to satisfy his 10-fight, $350 million deal with the streaming service DAZN, Alvarez turned to Kovalev instead. "Obviously I wanted to fight in September but couldn't," Alvarez said. "Things just happen."
Alvarez, whose only loss was to Floyd Mayweather Jr. in 2013, is a 4-1 favorite to beat Kovalev and stake his claim to the mythical pound-for-pound title that boxing fans love to argue about. Should he win he would also add a title belt in a fourth weight class in a pro career that began as a 15-year-old in Mexico in 2005.
But Kovalev has some pedigree of his own, even if his stature was tarnished when he lost a close decision to Ward and was then stopped in their rematch. Kovalev was also stopped last year by Eleider Alvarez before beating him by decision in a rematch, and he was in trouble against Yarde before coming back to stop him.
Now he is back in the ring for a huge fight just 10 weeks after traveling to Russia to beat Yarde. "I had a short rest since my last fight. But I think that's better," Kovalev said. "My body feels really good, and I'm ready for this fight. This fight will be very interesting. It has a worldwide intrigue."
Kovalev is confident that he will continue his improvement under McGirt, whom he turned to after his losses to resurrect his career and refine his style. McGirt said Kovalev got too comfortable while knocking almost everyone out and trying to live up to his nickname of "Krusher."
McGirt said his fighter is rediscovering some of the boxing skills he let lapse in previous fights. "People underestimate his boxing IQ because he's always knocked everybody out," McGirt said. "He's smarter than people give him credit for."
Smart enough to make a multimillion-dollar payday, and possibly smart enough to win the fight. Kovalev will have the advantage of being the bigger man and being comfortable at 175 pounds, but McGirt said Alvarez has an advantage in not having to lose weight just before the fight.
"He's very dangerous now because he's younger and he's not losing the weight now, so he's not losing the energy," McGirt said. "I just think that they picked the wrong veteran to mess with when they picked Sergey. They should have found somebody else."