SERGEY KOVALEV has had a hard time of it of late.

The fights he has won have been difficult and gruelling, while the defeats, three of them in the last three-and-a-half years, have been crushing, hard to take and seemingly ushering him towards retirement.

Now 36, the Russian is without a title, having recently been stopped in 11 rounds by Saul ‘Canelo’ Alvarez, and would be forgiven for walking off into the sunset with his career-high payday. But that, according to his promoter, Kathy Duva, isn’t the plan – not yet anyway.

“In the end, the decision is his, but in the ring he told me he was going to fight again,” Duva told Bad Left Hook. “So I don’t expect he’s going to change his mind. It was Canelo’s speed that made the difference in the end. Sergey’s not going to encounter that speed with bigger guys.”

Some before the fight suggested Kovalev was simply happy to having been chosen by Canelo. They said he was happy to be there, happy to surrender his WBO light-heavyweight title for the kind of money only the Mexican can these days guarantee. Yet Duva says this is wide of the mark and reckons Kovalev not only believed he would win the fight but wasn’t too far away from doing so on the night, either.

“Of course he’s quite disappointed, because wow, he came so close,” she said. “But he fought a great fighter, he made one mistake, Canelo made him pay, that’s how it works.

“Listen, all praise to Canelo, he took it away from him. That’s what the chess match is about, it’s about taking away your opponent’s strongest asset.

“In the end, we thought Sergey’s right hand would be the determining factor, Canelo thought his body punching would be the determining factor. Turns out neither one of them was. Sergey took the body shots and Canelo shut down his right hand. So, that’s why they fight the fights. [It was] not what anybody would have ever expected.”

Rest assured, Kovalev, 34-4-1 (29), can still win fights at light-heavyweight and still conquer most who claim to be contenders. However, if it wasn’t made clear the night he succumbed to Eleider Alvarez in 2018, or the night he came ever so close to being stopped by Anthony Yarde in August of this year, it’s abundantly clear now: The ‘Krusher’ isn’t quite what he used to be.

sergey kovalev v jean pascal fight
Kovalev beats Jean Pascal (Eric Bolte/USA Today Sports)

Bulgarian Kubrat Pulev is next in line for a shot at the IBF heavyweight title, which will either mean he faces the winner of the December 7 rematch between Andy Ruiz Jnr and Anthony Joshua, or, more likely, this belt soon becomes vacant.

Pulev, though a capable contender whose only defeat came against Wladimir Klitschko, isn’t the most marketable heavyweight on the planet, nor somebody Ruiz or Joshua will be in any rush to face having made ungodly amounts of money in Saudi Arabia next month. Yet that doesn’t make the ‘Cobra’ any less deserving of an opportunity.

“Kubrat Pulev’s next fight will be for the IBF world heavyweight title,” claimed a Top Rank statement issued to Sky Sports. “If the Joshua-Ruiz winner decides not to fight Pulev, his next fight will be for the vacant IBF title.”

Also in the running for a shot at Ruiz or Joshua is former cruiserweight king Oleksandr Usyk, the current number one contender with the WBO. His appeal is far greater than that of Pulev, of course, and the Ukrainian’s chances of landing a shot at a champion are aided by the fact he shares a co-promoter with Joshua.

Eddie Hearn, the promoter in question, said in August: “We’re going to have a problem where [Usyk and Pulev] both say, ‘You’ve got to fight me next.’

“Some belt could become vacant because the IBF and the WBO are both going to order their mandatories after Joshua-Ruiz Jr. Unless a deal can be done with someone, you’ve either got to do that or vacate. But the Joshua-Ruiz fight is so big, it’s almost bigger than the belts.”

Belts once signified dominance of a weight class and provided a framework for a sport kept in place by shoddy scaffolding. Nowadays, though, Hearn is right. Belts, rather than stand for something, are merely decoration, pretty trinkets sanctioning bodies apply to fighters they wish to keep happy.

Kubrat Pulev
Kubrat Pulev believes he is next for a world title shot (Action Images)