This Saturday night at the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino in Atlantic City, New Jersey, one of the most fearsome and menacing characters in the sport returns as Sergey Kovalev aims to make his third successful title defence of his current WBO World light heavyweight championship reign against undefeated Colombian Eleider Alvarez.

Kovalev, a former unified and two-time World champion, won the vacant title by eviscerating Ukraine’s Vyacheslav Shabransky in two rounds last December, before stopping compatriot Igor Mikhailkin five months ago at Madison Square Garden.

Five summers ago, meanwhile, was when Kovalev announced his arrival on the world stage, by dispatching of Welsh WBO champion Nathan Cleverly in four brutal rounds on away soil.

His subsequent uninterrupted win streak saw him defend his position of World champion against a plethora of challengers, unify three of the titles against the legendary (albeit ageing) Bernard Hopkins and consolidate his position as one of the top pound-for-pound fighters on the planet.

However, a showdown with the sole remaining WBC belt-holder, Haitian-Canadian Adonis Stevenson, remained elusive – but nevertheless still remains an attractive prospect for boxing fans, despite the fact it is long overdue and would no longer be for the status of undisputed champion.

This is because Kovalev’s win streak came to a screeching halt in a November 2016 ‘super fight’ with Oakland’s former super middleweight great Andre Ward, who eked out a highly controversial unanimous decision victory by one point on all three judges scorecards.

After acrimoniously splitting with John David Jackson following an equally-controversial eighth-round stoppage defeat in the June 2017 rematch, Kovalev purports to be reinvigorated under the guidance of a new trainer.

It remains to be seen whether Alvarez – someone who admittedly does not possess Kovalev’s devastating punching power, but is unquestionably a tough and skilled operator with a respectable record – can exploit Kovalev’s apparent vulnerabilities that were exposed by Ward in their two fights.

Alvarez, unbeaten in twenty-three outings, was last seen in action in June when he claimed a majority decision victory over former World champion Jean Pascal in Montreal. Having inflicted a career-ending stoppage loss on Lucien Bute in his prior outing, Alvarez enters Saturday’s bout with Kovalev in the best form of his career.

However, it remains to be seen whether wins over past-their-best campaigners in Pascal and Bute will bear any significant relevance when Alvarez faces the man aptly nicknamed ‘Krusher’ in Atlantic City.

Ward’s sudden retirement in 2017 left a vacuum in the division – and correspondingly, WBA titlist Dmitry Bivol of Russia, someone who has recently emerged as one of the division’s burgeoning talents, will be facing durable Malawian veteran Isaac Chilemba on the undercard.

A stoppage win over Chilemba – who went the distance with Kovalev two years ago and someone, it can be argued, who has never legitimately lost via stoppage – therefore certainly speaks volumes as to Bivol’s immense potential and suitability as one of Kovalev’s future opponents, should the bout with Stevenson fail to materialise.

Ultimately, however, Kovalev cannot afford to overlook Alvarez. A win over the Colombian is by no means a formality.

Article by: Navi Singh

Follow Navi on Twitter at: @hombre__obscuro