Sergey Kovalev knows something about big fights, having had a few in his career. And he knows that there still are opportunities to make some important fights in the light heavyweight division. But he also knows what can happen when a fighter overlooks the opponent directly in front of him.
On Saturday, Kovalev (32-2-1) is hoping to take another step in that direction when he defends his WBO 175-pound title against Colombia's Eleider Alvarez (23-0) at the Hard Rock Hotel and Casino in Atlantic City. The fight will be televised by HBO, and while much of the coverage surrounding this fight is looking at who might be next, Kovalev has refused to look past Alvarez.
"It's not the biggest fight in my life, but it's a big for me because it's the next chapter in my boxing career," said the 35-year-old Kovalev at a media workout this week. "I don't want speak about anybody except Alvarez. Right now, I have a fight with him and I respect this guy."
The 34-year-old Alvarez is a clever boxer, with solid defensive skills. Although he hasn't fought in over a year, his last two fights resulted in wins against former world champions Jean Pascal and Lucian Bute.
Kovalev has won two straight since getting stopped by Andre Ward in June 2017 and hopes to continue his march toward more meaningful fights with a win over Alvarez. Kovalev long has been one of the division's premiere fighters. He lost a controversial decision to Ward in 2016, decisioned Bernard Hopkins in 2014 and holds a pair of stoppage wins against Pascal.
"I am fighting everybody who is ready to fight me, who is available at this point," said Kovalev. "I never had a choice; do I want this fight or this other guy to fight. (Manager) Egis Klimas or (promoter) Kathy Duva inform me, 'your next opponent is Eleider Alvarez.' OK. It's new, I keep my head and prepare for this guy, because I should be better than him."
Should Kovalev defeat Alvarez, there are a multitude of possibilities.
A trio of local light heavyweights - Marcus Brown (Staten Island), Joe Smith Jr. (Shirley) and Seanie Monaghan (Long Beach) - are all in the top 10 and have been on the cusp of fighting for a world title. Each would make a good opponent for Kovalev.
The more likely scenario for Kovalev, though, would be a unification match against WBA champion Dimtriy Bivol, who defends his title against Isaac Chilemba on the same card in Atlantic City on Saturday. Both Kovalev and Bivol are favored to win their respective bouts.
There is, of course, always the specter of a showdown against WBC champion Adonis Stevenson, who has held the title since 2013. Kovalev and Stevenson have traded barbs for several years, but this unification bout has proven difficult to make. So the immediate goal for Kovalev remains Alvarez, while the potential for higher profile fights await.
"He's dangerous," said Kovalev. "I cannot say whether I can knock him out or get a victory by points. It's a good fight for the boxing fans. I never said that I don't want to fight this guy because he's very strong. I'm ready for everybody. As a champion, as a boxer, I'm ready for anybody."