Sergey Kovalev outpoints Tervel Pulev over 10 rounds in his cruiserweight debut

Sergey Kovalev’s start in a new weight class got off to an inauspicious start.

In a clinical, albeit fairly quiet outing, Kovalev, the long-time former Russian light heavyweight champion, battled his way to a lopsided decision over Bulgaria’s Tervel Pulev in their 10-round cruiserweight main event of a Triller undercard. Fight Club at the Kia Forum. in Inglewood, Calif.

All three judges scored the fight for Kovalev on scorecards reading 98-92, 98-92 and 97-93.

There were no knockdowns in a fight that Kovalev controlled from the first round. Primarily using his jab, Kovalev outplayed Pulev, causing the latter’s face to swell. Still, Pulev, the naturally bigger fighter, was able to land power shots from time to time that discouraged Kovalev from opening up and using his right hand.

The fight marked Kovalev’s debut at the cruiserweight limit (200 pounds), but it was abundantly clear throughout the fight that the Russian’s best days were behind him. Once regarded as a fierce knockout artist at 175, Kovalev now relies on his jab to win rounds. This was also Kovalev’s first fight since his eleventh-round knockout loss at the hands of Canelo Alvarez in November 2019.

Even Kovalev, 39, admitted he didn’t look his best against the clumsy Pulev, suggesting he needed to fight more often to look like his usual self.

“After a long break, it was a bit more difficult than usual,” said Kovalev. “But I’m back. I’m fine. Im going to maintain [in] form after this fight. He rests for a week and then goes back to the boxing gym. The next fight will be much more. [better]. I promise.”

“I was worried about how I was going to be in this fight,” Kovalev continued. “Professional boxing at a high level. More than a year, this is a very big break. My body doesn’t like this. I want to fight every three, four months.”

Kovalev, who weighed in at 196 1/2 pounds, also stated that he feels he needs to get lighter in his next fight to regain some of his earlier quickness.

“The plan was to use the jab and long distance,” Kovalev said. But I felt my body [had an] 10 additional pounds. I need to lose five, six pounds [for my next fight].”

Kovalev improves to 35-4-1, with 29 knockouts; Pulev drops to 16-1, with 13 KOs.

A desperate Pulev tried to get something big in the tenth and final round. He landed a right hand that snapped Kovalev’s head back. Kovalev responded with a left hook. Moments later, Pulev landed a right hand that appeared to knock Kovalev to the canvas, but the referee ruled it out.

Kovalev regained his footing in the ninth round, pressing the action against Pulev and mixing in more right hands to the body.

Kovalev dominated most of the eighth round, courtesy of his jab, but faltered toward the end. Pulev landed a right hand that seemed to hurt a visibly fatigued Kovalev.

In the seventh round, Pulev threw an elbow that landed on Kovalev’s cheek, rocking the Russian Kovalev momentarily. Kovalev continued to work his jab effectively, but took more punishment from Pulev in this round than in previous rounds.

Kovalev and Pulev opened up a bit more in the sixth. Kovalev had the best of exchanges. Referee Raul Caiz Jr. briefly stopped the fight because Kovalev’s shoes needed to be re-tied. Kovalev continued to throw his jab, which opened a cut under Pulev’s right eye.

In the fifth round, Kovalev continued to jab at Pulev’s face, while throwing occasional right hands to the body. Pulev managed to land a solid two-punch combination, but otherwise landed mostly inside shots.

Kovalev boxed Pulev in the fourth round. Pulev was unable to avoid Kovalev’s blows, and a swelling began to form under his right eye as well. Pulev landed a right hand on one of Kovalev’s jabs.

Kovalev began to land some more heavy punches in the third round. A right hand down the middle caught Pulev’s attention. Kovalev followed up with a couple of hooks. A noticeable swelling began to form under Pulev’s left eye. The two traded hard hooks and right hands.

In the second round Kovalev repeatedly beat Pulev. A forehand lead landed clean for Pulev. Kovalev varied his blows, shooting his right hand toward the body. A Kovalev left hook pushed Pulev on his heels. Pulev’s only successful moment of the round came when he responded with a left hook of his own that momentarily knocked Kovalev off balance. Kovalev outboxed Pulev in the final 30 seconds, landing several clean, unanswered shots.

Pulev came out aggressive in the first round, but he didn’t get anything remarkable. Kovalev was eventually able to hold off Pulev with his jab and keep the fight at his preferred distance.

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