ATLANTIC CITY — Sergey Kovalev admits he had it all wrong when he tried to essentially be his own trainer and operate his training camps on his terms. It worked well enough for the Russian to become the light heavyweight champion, but turned to ill-advised when he lost back-to-back fights to Andre Ward.
After an ugly split with previous trainer John David Jackson, Kovalev hired Abror Tursunpulatov to orchestrate his training camps and work his corner. It has resulted in two straight wins and the reclamation of his light heavyweight title. Kovalev will defend his WBO belt Saturday night against Eleider Alvarez as part of a double-header to be televised by HBO.
In the co-main event, Dmitry Bivol defends his WBA light heavyweight belt against Isaac Chilemba. The fights will take place at the new Hard Rock Hotel and Casino, which is hosting its first boxing event and the first major boxing show in Atlantic City since 2014, when Kovalev defeated former middleweight and light heavyweight champ Bernard Hopkins.
Kovalev (32-2-1, 28 KOs) is riding a wave of confidence thanks to trusting Tursunpulatov.
“Now I have a coach who is working with me and I feel much better,” Kovalev said. “It’s much more professional. This Saturday I’ll show my best skills to the boxing world.”
Kovalev unified three of the four light heavyweight titles when he defeated Hopkins four years ago. Since then, boxing has all but died in Atlantic City after the casinos began hemorrhaging money. With the opening of the Hard Rock at the old Taj Mahal and the Ocean Resort Casino replacing the old Revel, Atlantic City is hoping to become a destination again now that sports betting is legalized in New Jersey.
”I’m glad to be here in Atlantic City,” said Bivol, also from Russia. “I know there were many great fights here like Arturo Gatti against Micky Ward. I’m glad to be part of boxing in Atlantic City.”
Tentative plans are for the winners to possibly meet in a unification fight, though it might be wise to continue to build Bivol’s profile in the United States. At 13-0 with 11 knockouts, he’s 27, but relatively early in his career and needs to look impressive against Chilemba (25-5-2, 10 KOs), who fights out of South Africa.
“When I got my belt, I made one small step to my dream to be a big name in boxing,” Bivol said. “I’m not going to give my belts up. I’m going to keep them for a long time. I hope will be an enjoyable fight.”
Kovalev will have his hands full with Alvarez, who is unbeaten in 23 fights with 11 knockouts. The native of Colombia, who now lives in Montreal, sees this as his chance to make a name for himself.
“I’m in the best shape I’ve ever been in,” said Alvarez, whose most recent win came against former champ Jean Pascal in June 2017 when he won a majority decision. “It’s an opportunity against the best contender I can think of.
“I want to let the world know who Eleider Alvarez is.”
Prediction: Kovalev by KO. Bivol by KO.
Meanwhile, former welterweight champions Andre Berto (31-5, 24 KOs) and Devon Alexander (27-4-1, 14 KOs) battle each other at NYCB Live: Home of the Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum on Saturday night.
The main bouts promoted by Premier Boxing Champions will be seen on Fox. Other matchups include: Peter “Kid Chocolate” Quillin (33-1-1, 23 KOs) facing J’Leon Love (24-1-1, 13 KOs); Marcus Browne (21-0, 16 KOs) against Lenin Castillo (18-1-1, 13 KOs); Luis Collazo (37-7, 20 KOs) versus Bryant Perrella (15-1, 13 KOs), and Alicia Napoleon (9-1, 5 KOs) defending her WBA super middleweight title against Scottish boxer Hannah Rankin (5-1).
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