A new division, a new world title for Saul "Canelo" Alvarez. The Mexican superstar captured the WBO light heavyweight title from Sergey Kovalev with an 11th-round knockout on Saturday night at the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas.
There were concerns Kovalev's power might cause trouble for Alvarez, who jumped up two weight classes from middleweight to take on the Russian. Instead, Kovalev (34-4-1, 29 KOs) fought almost exclusively behind the jab. Alvarez (53-1-2, 36 KOs) struggled to establish an offense, but he crumpled Kovalev in the 11th round with a left hand followed by a crunching right.
Here's the incredible finish, per DAZN USA:
The flashbulb moment was a long time coming. The fight started past 1 a.m. on the East Coast because DAZN delayed the matchup to allow fans to catch the UFC main event between Jorge Masvidal and Nate Diaz. When the bout finally did get underway, it lacked action.
Alvarez and Kovalev were engaged in a chess match. Alvarez calmly looked for opportunities to throw power punches to the body, while Kovalev threw jab after jab, ditching the power that made him a knockout artist in his prime.
SportingNews.com's Andreas Hale and CBS Sports' Brian Campbell reacted to the finish:
Bleacher Report's Jonathan Snowden showed how close the cards were before Alvarez rendered them worthless:
Per the DAZN broadcast, Alvarez said through an interpreter that the plan all along was patience, but "everything came out the way we had planned."
Both fighters indeed showed patience throughout the match. Kovalev kept up a steady stream of jabs, using his reach to control the distance. Alvarez stayed calm, using a high guard to deflect many of the jabs before snapping off combinations aimed at Kovalev's midsection. The volume heavily favored Kovalev early on. There wasn't much power behind his left hand, but it kept Alvarez from establishing a rhythm.
Ring's Ryan Songalia noted Alvarez found a few cracks to push through:
It was controlled, subdued work from a fighter nicknamed Krusher. It was clear Kovalev and his corner wanted to avoid a big countershot, so they stuck almost exclusively with the jab. This allowed him to control long stretches of each round, but there was no menace to his method. Instead, it was the shorter, smaller Alvarez who played the role of predator, biding his time and ripping off power shots when he saw opportunities like this one, per DAZN USA:
Even with moments like those, some, like boxing writer Patrick Connor, felt Kovalev was in control in the first half of the bout:
Alvarez looked like he was gearing up for a big second half, but the surge never came. ITRBoxing.com's Lukie Ketelle likened the fight to an expensive training session:
ESPN's Steve Kim noted the crowd was not happy:
Alvarez would eventually reward the crowd for its patience in the 11th. He got a clean shot at Kovalev's chin with a left hook, and the champion started to wobble. The right hand was simply the capper, putting Kovalev down late in a bout that went deep into the night.
Alvarez has now won world titles in four divisions. Kovalev, 36, has lost four of his last eight fights and could be done as a world-title contender. Canelo is in his prime at 29 years old and can continue to choose his career path as he sees fit. If he stays at light heavyweight, Artur Beterbiev or Dmitry Bivol are possibilities, or he could move back down in weight and once again establish his dominance in the middleweight ranks.