Canelo Alvarez, centre, knocks out Sergey Kovalev in the 11th round of their WBO light heavyweight fight in Las Vegas, NevadaCanelo Alvarez, centre, knocks out Sergey Kovalev in the 11th round of their WBO light heavyweight fight in Las Vegas, Nevada (AFP Photo/Steve Marcus)
Las Vegas (AFP) - Saul 'Canelo' Alvarez knocked out Sergey Kovalev with a vicious combination in the 11th round to win the WBO light heavyweight title on Saturday, moving up two weight classes to become a four division champ.
The 29-year-old Mexican superstar caught Russia's Kovalev with a left hook-right hand combination that sent the former champion almost crashing through the ropes near the end of the 11th round at the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas.
"This is just one step in my history," Alvarez said. "Be patient because Canelo will make history. It's a guarantee."
'Krusher' Kovalev was officially knocked out at 2:15 of the 11th and stayed down for some time while being attended to by his corner and the doctor.
It was one of the most devastating knockouts of the brilliant career of boxing's biggest star Alvarez, who was fighting in the 175 pound division for the first time.
"The plan was patience, to have patience. We knew it would take time for me to get to him. I am new at this division, but overall it was successful," Alvarez said.
The fight had been close throughout with Kovalev (34-4-1, 29 KOs) winning most of the early rounds by using a steady jab to keep the burly Alvarez at a distance. Alvarez was ahead 96-94, 96-94, 95-95 on the scorecards.
Alvarez (53-1-2, 36 KOs) becomes just the fourth boxer in history to win a junior middleweight world title and one at light heavyweight, a spread of 21 pounds (154 to 175). The other three are Sugar Ray Leonard, Thomas Hearns and Mike McCallum.
Alvarez is also the second fighter from Mexico to win a light heavyweight belt, joining Julio Gonzalez who did it in 2003 and 2004.
- 'Very close' -
Despite giving up a size and reach advantage, Alvarez's best punch throughout was the left hook which he used in the 11th to initially send Kovalev staggering backwards to the ropes. As a defenceless Kovalev was going down, Alvarez then landed a vicious right hand to the face that knocked the champion out cold.
"It was a very close fight. He was defensive, closing up his guard. All he was doing was establishing his points, getting points. But we knew it was coming and everything came out the way we had planned," Alvarez said.
This was Alvarez's first fight since a unanimous decision over Daniel Jacobs in May.
Alvarez is now riding a four fight winning streak with his lone blemish being a majority draw against Gennady Golovkin in their first of two bouts.
He sought out Kovalev to add another belt to his impressive collection which includes titles at junior middleweight, middleweight and super middleweight.
Many boxing fans would have liked to have seen Alvarez face rival and former unified titleholder Golovkin for a third time after two highly entertaining but disputed bouts -- a draw in 2017 and a majority decision win for Alvarez in the 2018 rematch. But Alvarez had other plans.
Alvarez left that door open on Saturday for another showdown with Golovkin.
"It is really not a challenge for me," he said. "We fought 24 rounds and we beat him. But if it represents business then why not."
Kovalev was the biggest name in the light heavyweight division having boxed there his entire career, which began in 2009.
"I tired after the sixth round," said Kovalev. "I had instructions to use more jabs. Just not enough stamina. It is okay, I will be back."
The Russian was hoping that a win over pound-for-pound king Alvarez would help resurrect an ageing career that had been on shaky ground of late.
Kovalev lost his WBA, IBF and WBO belts in back-to-back defeats to Andre Ward in 2016 and 2017, but regained a share of the title after beating Colombia's Eleider Alvarez in a rematch in February.
- Short break -
Kovalev was coming off an 11th-round knockout of mandatory challenger Anthony Yarde in August, making this one of the shortest breaks between fights in his career.
Even though he beat Yarde, Kovalev still found himself in trouble and was nearly stopped in the eighth round.
In bizarre move for a major boxing card, Saturday's main event was delayed for over an hour with both fighters left to lounge in their dressing rooms with gloves on because the boxing streaming service DAZN wanted to wait until a televised mixed martial arts bout in New York had finished first.
The Vegas boxing crowd was shown the martial arts fight on a big screen in the arena while they waited.