The McIntosh: Eleider Alvarez stuns Sergey Kovalev
William Urina’s eyes were bloodshot, his white collar ruffled, bowed at the points. Most of the spectators had already beaten a hasty retreat for the roulette tables but the air inside the former site of Trump Taj Mahal was still crackling, the beer still freshly wet on the floor. “Oh my God; oh my God,” Urina muttered repeatedly, half-dazed, in his thick Colombian accent. “I can’t…I can’t.” He would not end up finding the rest of the words to the sentence, what with his rudimentary English and all that adrenaline coursing through his veins. It is absurd, anyway, to expect coherence from someone who had just seen one of his best friends pull off an upset in stunning fashion. So Urina just smiled and whipped out his iPhone, extending his arm far enough to capture a selfie that could take in the raucous ringside scene before him: a whirling, impenetrable mass of ecstatic fans, hustling media types and overwhelmed security personnel clamoring to gain access to the eye of the storm, in this case, “La Tormenta” himself.
Just minutes before, in front of a sold-out crowd at the Hard Rock Resort & Casino in Atlantic City, Colombia’s unheralded Eleider “Storm” Alvarez felled the once-fearsome Sergey “Krusher” Kovalev, in a climactic seventh round of a competitive fight Alvarez was losing and largely expected to lose. The knockout was as unsparing as it was unambiguous. There was no fouling, no dodgy decisions made by the referee, no lingering questions about the outcome. Dropped three times before referee David Fields finally called off the fight, Kovalev, 35, not only lost his WBO light heavyweight title but likely said goodbye to the last vestiges of his prime in that ring. Here was another one of boxing’s cruel paradigm shifts, played out in real time. The light heavyweight division’s most intimidating figure of the past five years was reduced to a helpless, teetering victim, as Alvarez capitalized on what Andre Ward, the fighter against whom Kovalev had logged two controversial losses, had begun a year ago. For Alvarez, the victory offered more than a mere reprieve to his interminable status – three-and-a-half years and running – as the mandatory challenger to longtime divisional champion and promotional stablemate Adonis Stevenson. One boxing legal expert described Alvarez’s situation as “the most blatant example of malpractice I’ve ever seen.” At least for now, he was no longer “Mr. Step-Aside Fee.”
“Finally,” Urina said, shaking his head in disbelief, as he tried to muscle his way past Alvarez’s supporters, a sizable contingent that intermittently broke out with chants of “Olé, olé, olé!” while they waited for Alvarez to finish his ringside interview with a Montreal television crew. “He waited forever, man.” This was not the first time one of Urina’s friends became a world champion but it was easy to see why Alvarez’s case was easily the most satisfying. They all came up together, poor yet carefree, in the Colombian amateur program: Alvarez, Urina but also Darleys Perez and Jhonatan Romero, the latter three of whom represented the country in the 2008 Summer Olympics. As professionals, both Perez and Romero would earn titles, albeit with less than glamorous and meritorious ways. Perez held a WBA interim position before being promoted to lightweight champion; Romero won a vacant IBF junior featherweight title. Until now, these were the highest accomplishments that the group could point to. Even Urina could occasionally pat himself on the back for that time, back in 2013, when he contended for a bantamweight world title against Anselmo Moreno – and wound up losing a wide unanimous decision.
But there is no comparing those feats to what Alvarez achieved on Saturday night. “He fought the best guy,” Urina stated, referring to Kovalev, the 1-6 favorite, according to the bookies of Atlantic City’s new sports betting scene. Alvarez’s Montreal-based promoter Yvon Michel concurred, his face beaming, as he traded bear hugs with friends who made the trip down from Quebec to Atlantic City. “To fight on the road against a star on HBO and putting on that kind of performance – it’s unique,” said Michel. “Alvarez has all the tools to become an international star.” He grinned and added, stumbling over his words in excitement, “I feel like we’re on top of the world.” Nearby Kathy Duva of Main Events, the promoter of the card, wore a painful smile, as reporters huddled around her for quotes but what else was there to say? That they had sold out all the tickets and had given the fans a real show? Main Events’ matchmaker Jolene Mizzone sat in an empty press seat with her slumped head resting on her hand. In front of her, the breakdown crew bustled about to dismantle the ring.
“Taking my personal feelings out,” Duva said in her opening remarks at the post-fight press conference, “this has been a great night for Atlantic City boxing.”
Should Kovalev and his people be so willing to pursue it, a rematch could take place as soon as December 8, the tentative date HBO had penciled in for a unification showdown between Kovalev and upstart/WBA counterpart Dmitry Bivol, who, earlier in the night, had coasted to a unanimous decision in a 12-round dud against cagey Isaac Chilemba. So much for those plans. “We are respectful people,” Michel said, regarding the potential rematch, “and we will respect the arrangement.”
Given his opponent was not known for concussive power – going into the fight, Alvarez produced knockouts a paltry 48% of the time – Kovalev might be advised to think twice. What’s more, his physical conditioning, a source of constant speculation in recent times, seemed to fail him again after the first few rounds, just as it did for the two Ward fights. Even though Kovalev was winning the majority of the rounds (all three judges had Kovalev leading comfortably at the time of stoppage), Alvarez’s sharp counter jabs and constant movement kept him in the fight. Indeed according to Alvarez’s trainer Marc Ramsay, the knockout was all in the works. The plan was for Alvarez to stay patient on the inside, popping his jab and eventually working his way to Kovalev. And as if hindsight was not perfect enough, Ramsay even had a name for the left jab to the body/overhand right that produced the first Kovalev knockdown: The “McIntosh.”
There would have been no unfurling of the McIntosh, however, had Alvarez not shown earlier in the fight that he could take a punch. In the fourth round, Kovalev landed several stiff right hands and threw in a few body punches that had Alvarez tottering around the ring and threw the pro-Kovalev crowd into a frenzy. “I was screaming at him to move,” Urina recalled. “We don’t know why he was just standing there.” Somehow buoyed by the punishment, Alvarez ended the round egging Kovalev for more. Later that night, before they hit the club, Urina asked Alvarez to explain himself in the fourth round. “That was bad for you, bro,” Urina said. “Why did you shell up like that? That wasn’t in the game plan.” Alvarez shrugged. “I know,” he told Urina, “but I wanted to get closer to him.”
Around 1 a.m., Alvarez, flanked by friends, teammates and a crew of security guards, rolled out of the press conference and into the gaudy, cavernous hallways of the Hard Rock. Cries of “Olé, olé, olé!” erupted once more from the victory parade, as oblivious onlookers either cocked their heads or drunkenly joined in on the chorus. One man seated at a ramen bar, recognizing Alvarez, emerged from his bowl of noodles and shouted, “There’s the champ! Let’s go, champ!” Alvarez smiled behind his sunglasses and acknowledged the fan with a point of the fingers. Then he draped his left arm around Urina’s shoulders. “Fuck, you’re the champion now, man,” Urina said, patting him on the chest. Alvarez looked at his friend and nodded impulsively, as though no other fact could be more obvious than this. “Yeah, I know. I know.”