Sergey Kovalev Beats Tervel Pulev by Unanimous Decision in Cruiserweight Debut

Nate Loop@Nate_LoopFeatured ColumnistMay 15, 2022

LAS VEGAS, NEVADA - NOVEMBER 02:  Sergey Kovalev prepares for his WBO light heavyweight title defense against Canelo Alvarez at MGM Grand Garden on November 2, 2019 in Las Vegas, Nevada. Alvarez won the title by an 11th-round knockout.  (Photo by Steve Marcus/Getty Images)
Steve Marcus/Getty Images

Sergey "Krusher" Kovalev put together a well-rounded performance in his cruiserweight debut, defeating Tervel Pulev by unanimous decision on Saturday night in the main event of TrillerVerz V at The Kia Forum in Inglewood, California.

The judges scored the bout 98-92, 98-92, 97-93. The scorecards reflected the action, as the former world champion and knockout artist showed he can outclass opponents with a great jab and expert timing. 

Triller Fight Club @trillerfight

The Krusher is back! 😤 @KrusherKovalev defeats Pulev in his cruiserweight debut 🔥🥊 #TrillerVerz5 https://t.co/VM6vMnYUuX

This was Kovalev's first fight since suffering a brutal knockout at the hands of Saul "Canelo" Alvarez in November 2019. He lost his WBO world light-heavyweight title in that fight, and rather than try to make another go of it in the division with an increasingly difficult weight cut, the 39-year-old decided a move up to cruiserweight might offer him a better shot at a late-career revival.

Steve Kim @SteveKim323

Not a bad cruiserweight debut for Sergey Kovalev. But it's clear that in this weight class at this stage of his career, he's a boxer, who will win distance fights.. #boxing

That appears to have been a sound decision. Kovalev weighed in at 196.5 pounds for his tilt against Pulev, comfortably within the division's 200-pound limit. He carried the weight well, wasting little time in establishing the tempo of the bout. His attacks were disciplined, and he did a fine job of mixing up punches to the head and body.

Pulev, 39, struggled to keep up with Kovalev's pace  throughout the contest. When he did put together a couple of punches, Kovalev usually got the better of him anyway, sneaking in a trailing jab behind his right-handed shots. The Russian's constant jab also served as a set-up punch and helped him maintain a comfortable distance. 


Buddy McGirt gives instruction to Kovalev in between rounds. #TrillerVerz5 https://t.co/BuMl7NoCkk

Other than age and rust, the big concern for Kovalev coming into the bout was whether his chin would hold up against a bigger fighter. Kovalev was 4-4 in his last eight bouts coming into Saturday, with three of those losses coming by stoppage.

If "Krusher" is more susceptible to a KO at this weight, it will be up to another fighter to prove it. Aside from a couple of well-timed hooks scattered across the bout and a decent stretch in the 8th round, Pulev didn't do much to rattle Kovalev. 

Pulev's inability to throw Kovalev off his gameplan shows that he might be stuck a rung below the titleholders and contenders in his division. While the Bulgarian was undefeated coming into this match, none of his previous opponent's had a track record anywhere near that of Kovalev. The skill gap was readily apparent.

As for Kovalev, his performance and reputation might get him a shot at a world-title fairly soon. Thanks to his multiple world championships at light heavyweight and long history of highlight-reel knockouts, Kovalev is already the biggest name in the division. If he fights like he did against Pulev, he should make plenty of noise in the division.