Boxing's biggest star will take on one of his most challenging opponents to date on Saturday when unified middleweight champion Canelo Alvarez faces light heavyweight titleholder Sergey Kovalev.
The 175-pound title bout will headline a pay-per-view card from the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas and represents an opportunity for Alvarez (52-1-2, 35 KOs), the 29-year-old Mexican star, to win a world title in a fourth weight division.
Kovalev (34-3-1, 29 KOs), a native of Russia, will defend the WBO title he won by outpointing Eleider Alvarez in their February rematch.
Let's take a closer look at the biggest storylines entering this weekend.
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1. This is the very definition of daring to be great. Alvarez has built a large part of his reputation upon the idea of willingly taking on difficult challenges that his level of star power would provide him the opportunity to avoid. But there's a difference between seeking out fights against shifty, defensive specialists like Austin Trout and Erislandy Lara compared to the challenge Alvarez has accepted on Saturday. By moving up two weight divisions without forcing Kovalev to compromise himself by cutting down to a catchweight, Alvarez is accepting the possibility of legitimate danger against one of the sports' biggest punchers in exchange for extending his legacy from a historical standpoint. Alvarez has fought just once at 168 pounds when he stopped an overmatched Rocky Fielding for a secondary title last December. The fact that a certified global star and future Hall of Famer like Alvarez is willing to take such a chance is what makes this fight a must-see affair.
2. Kovalev may very well be a tailor-made opponent. Those who are predicting an easy Alvarez knockout are certainly overlooking the power and size advantage Kovalev brings in, as well as his ability to box. But with that said, there's a reason why Alvarez sought out this 36-year-old version of the man called "Krusher." For everything Kovalev brings in terms of power, he has just as many questions in terms of durability. A pair of PPV losses to Andre Ward in recent years exposed Kovalev as a bit of a front-runner who is unable to right the ship when things don't go his way. The second Ward fight, which ended via stoppage, also exposed Kovalev's weakness to body shots that just so happens to be Alvarez's speciality. The speed advantage Alvarez will hold should play a major role, as will the fact that he's in his physical prime. Kovalev's knockout win over then-unbeaten Anthony Yarde in August was the perfect showcase for everything good and bad that he brings to the table at this age as he bounced back from the verge of a knockout loss to rely on his boxing skill and score a dramatic late finish.
3. All bets are off if this becomes a war. The best thing Kovalev could seemingly do for his chances in this fight is avoid letting it turn into a long, technical fight, which would allow the quicker Alvarez to systematically break him down to the body. But what happens if Alvarez's middleweight power doesn't have the same effect on Kovalev that recent punchers like Yarde and Eleider Alvarez have had? And what happens if Kovalev, whose best option just might be his stiff and accurate jab, is willing to throw caution to the wind in the first half of the fight in order to put the pressure on the smaller fighter's chin? From an entertainment standpoint, Kovalev going all-in on the idea of an early finish being his best chance would be the best thing to happen. It might also be his only shot at beating a fighter as precise as Alvarez who has a long history of getting the benefit of the doubt on the scorecards in close fights.
4. If this isn't a one-off for Alvarez at 175, things will get interesting quickly. Although this fight has been perceived as a one-time, calculated gamble for Alvarez just to add another world title to his collection, he has been largely noncommittal during interviews about what his long-term future at light heavyweight would be with a win. Keep in mind, Alvarez largely sought out Kovalev as a way to keep fans happy following his decision not to grant Gennadiy Glolovkin a trilogy bout (to the chagrin of fans, his promoter and DAZN). He has also been forthcoming about having no interest in a separate middleweight unification bout with WBO champion Demetrius Andrade, whom Alvarez called boring. While most would assume a fighter his size would (and should) want no business with the other champions at 175 pounds, including lineal and unified titleholder Artur Beterbiev, Alvarez surprised journalists at a recent media day by saying he's open to the fight. Considering Beterbiev just steamrolled then-unbeaten Oleksandr Gvodzyk, it's an idea that's hard to believe. Then again, so was the chance any of his critics would have ever guessed he would be fighting Kovalev this weekend.
5. Ryan Garcia has only enlarged the target on his back. As a brash, unbeaten lightweight with movie star looks and an enormous following on social media (particularly among the female persuasion), Garcia (18-0, 15 KOs) is used to hearing his name called out by just about everyone who has mistaken his pretty boy image for being easy prey. But the 21-year-old, who has positioned himself as a confident of Canelo Alvarez by hiring his trainers and joining his training camp, switched roles recently went he went on a public campaign against his own promoter, Golden Boy. The result was a lucrative new deal and prime placement in Saturday's co-main event against Romero Duno (21-1, 16 KOs) who went as far as having a t-shirt made up to wear before his last fight begging Garcia for a fight. If their social media use is any indication, Alvarez played a big part in helping Garcia maximize his profits while negotiating with Golden Boy (which came at a crucial time when Alvarez was also feuding with CEO Oscar De La Hoya). Now the pressure is on Garcia to live up to his promise, not just against Duno but to justify the amount of money thrown his way after such a victorious power play.