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Sergey “Krusher” Kovalev put together a well-rounded performance in his cruiserweight debut, defeating Tervel Pulev by unanimous decision on Saturday night in the main event of TrillerVerz V at The Kia Forum in Inglewood, California.
The judges scored the bout 98-92, 98-92, 97-93. The scorecards reflected the action, as the former world champion and knockout artist showed he can outclass opponents with a great jab and expert timing.
Triller Fight Club @trillerfight
The Krusher is back! 😤
@KrusherKovalev defeats Pulev in his cruiserweight debut 🔥🥊
This was Kovalev’s first fight since suffering a brutal knockout at the hands of Saul “Canelo” Alvarez in November 2019. He lost his WBO world light-heavyweight title in that fight, and rather than try to make another go of it in the division with an increasingly difficult weight cut, the 39-year-old decided a move up to cruiserweight might offer him a better shot at a late-career revival.
Steve Kim @SteveKim323
Not a bad cruiserweight debut for Sergey Kovalev. But it’s clear that in this weight class at this stage of his career, he’s a boxer, who will win distance fights.. #boxing
That appears to have been a sound decision. Kovalev weighed in at 196.5 pounds for his tilt against Pulev, comfortably within the division’s 200-pound limit. He carried the weight well, wasting little time in establishing the tempo of the bout. His attacks were disciplined, and he did a fine job of mixing up punches to the head and body.
Pulev, 39, struggled to keep up with Kovalev’s pace throughout the contest. When he did put together a couple of punches, Kovalev usually got the better of him anyway, sneaking in a trailing jab behind his right-handed shots. The Russian’s constant jab also served as a set-up punch and helped him maintain a comfortable distance.
Buddy McGirt gives instruction to Kovalev in between rounds. #TrillerVerz5 https://t.co/BuMl7NoCkk
Other than age and rust, the big concern for Kovalev coming into the bout was whether his chin would hold up against a bigger fighter. Kovalev was 4-4 in his last eight bouts coming into Saturday, with three of those losses coming by stoppage.
If “Krusher” is more susceptible to a KO at this weight, it will be up to another fighter to prove it. Aside from a couple of well-timed hooks scattered across the bout and a decent stretch in the 8th round, Pulev didn’t do much to rattle Kovalev.
Pulev’s inability to throw Kovalev off his gameplan shows that he might be stuck a rung below the titleholders and contenders in his division. While the Bulgarian was undefeated coming into this match, none of his previous opponent’s had a track record anywhere near that of Kovalev. The skill gap was readily apparent.
As for Kovalev, his performance and reputation might get him a shot at a world-title fairly soon. Thanks to his multiple world championships at light heavyweight and long history of highlight-reel knockouts, Kovalev is already the biggest name in the division. If he fights like he did against Pulev, he should make plenty of noise in the division.