Is Canelo Alvarez next for light heavyweight world titlist Sergey Kovalev? He just might be.
Kovalev retained his 175-pound belt for the first time in a homecoming fight by knocking out Anthony Yarde with one shot in the 11th round on Saturday on ESPN+ at the Traktor Sport Palace in Chelyabinsk, Russia.
The Los Angeles-based Kovalev was fighting in his hometown for the first time in his 10-year professional career and scored a resounding victory in front of a sellout crowd of 7,500 to set up a likely fight with middleweight world champion Alvarez, boxing's biggest star, on Nov. 2.
Alvarez plans to fight on that date but has not yet locked in an opponent because he and promoter Golden Boy wanted to wait to see if Kovalev defeated Yarde and came out of the fight with no injuries.
"Canelo? I will fight anybody. Canelo is a great fighter and if he wants to fight, I am ready," said Kovalev, who has fought several top opponents in his career, including Bernard Hopkins, Andre Ward (twice), Jean Pascal (twice), Eleider Alvarez (twice) and Nathan Cleverly. "I will fight Canelo. I will fight (light heavyweight titlist Dmitry) Bivol. I want the biggest fights for my career. It is my career. I have not much time left, so I will fight the best fights I can."
The teams of Kovalev and Canelo Alvarez had previously seriously discussed the fight for Sept. 14, but the deal for Kovalev to face mandatory challenger Yarde had already been agreed to and they ran out of time to make the fight at that time, one of the reasons Alvarez decided to push his next fight into November.
But now, with Kovalev having disposed of his mandatory obligation and Alvarez wanting a high-profile opponent, their teams will soon resume talks in an effort to close the fight, which would present Kovalev with by far his biggest payday.
Alvarez, who would move up two weight divisions, would have the chance to win a world title in a fourth weight division after having already claimed belts at junior middleweight, middleweight and super middleweight, after which he returned to middleweight.
Although Kovalev won on Saturday -- and did so in somewhat dominant fashion -- Yarde pushed him hard at times and had his moments, especially in a big eighth round. But Yarde had never faced an opponent remotely on Kovalev's level and simply did not have the experience or conditioning for such a rough fight.
In the immediate aftermath of the bout, Kovalev was not only thinking of the prospective fight with Alvarez but also about countryman Maxim Dadashev, the 28-year-old junior welterweight who died from brain injuries suffered in an 11th-round knockout loss in a world title elimination fight on July 19 in Oxon Hill, Maryland.
"I am dedicating this win to Max Dadashev," said Kovalev, who shared trainer Buddy McGirt and manager Egis Klimas with Dadashev. "It's hard for me now when everyone is celebrating, and I have to think about him and dedicate this win to him."
Yarde's speed advantage was clear from the start of the fight, but Kovalev got his jab going in the second round and that punch was the big difference.
Even when Kovalev landed some nice combinations in the fourth round, McGirt, in his second fight with Kovalev, begged him in the corner after the round to keep firing the jab no matter what. Kovalev (34-3-1, 29 KOs), 36, did just that, using his jab to snap Yarde's head back repeatedly in the fifth round. By the end of that round, Yarde looked very tired with his mouth hanging open. Yarde's mouthpiece dropped out in the sixth round as his fatigue was even more obvious.
Yarde landed a few hard shots in the seventh round that got Kovalev's attention and then had his best round of the fight in the eighth round. Yarde had never gone past seven rounds in any previous fight.
Yarde (18-1, 17 KOs), 28, of England, landed several powerful right hands that rocked Kovalev in the eighth and had Kovalev in trouble. After the round, McGirt yelled at Kovalev that he would stop the fight if Kovalev took too many more clean punches. Kovalev resisted, telling McGirt that Yarde was getting tired.
Kovalev, boxing in his 16th consecutive world title bout, bounced back well in the ninth round, staying at a distance and once again snapping Yarde's head back with his jab. Kovalev outlanded Yarde 31-5 in the round.
Kovalev had a huge 10th round as he rocked an exhausted Yarde several times with right hands and outlanded him 41-4. He seemingly was on the verge of stopping Yarde in the final seconds of the round, but the bell rang and Yarde survived -- but not for long.
In the 11th round, Yarde's legs appeared weak and wobbly, and when Kovalev nailed him with a clean and stiff left jab on the chin, Yarde fell flat on his back and was counted out by referee Luis Pabon at 2 minutes, 4 seconds.
Kovalev led on all three scorecards at the time of the knockout, 98-92, 97-94 and 96-93. ESPN also had Kovalev up 97-93.
"Yarde is strong and has a good boxing IQ. He needs more experience," Kovalev said. "I have a lot of experience and I am the 'Krusher.'"
According to CompuBox statistics, Kovalev landed 223 of 686 punches (33 percent), including 115 of 404 jabs (29 percent). Yarde connected with 132 of 575 blows (23 percent), and if there is any kind of moral victory to be had for him in his first major fight, he landed more punches against Kovalev than any opponent in the 21 Kovalev fights that CompuBox has tracked, a stat that just might catch Alvarez's attention.
The win was the second in a row for Kovalev, who is in his third light heavyweight title reign. He lost his belt by upset seventh-round knockout to Eleider "Storm" Alvarez last August, leading many to question whether he was finished as a top fighter. But he changed trainers to McGirt, and in their first fight together Kovalev regained the belt in the immediate rematch by convincingly outpointing Alvarez in February. Then "Krusher" beat Yarde to set up the possible huge fight with Canelo Alvarez, the 28-year-old Mexican superstar (52-1-2, 35 KOs).
"We did everything we were supposed to do for Canelo," Klimas said. "Does Canelo want the fight? They have my number."
Also on the card:
• In the tough, grinding, action-packed co-feature, cruiserweight contender Ilunga Makabu (26-2, 24 KOs), 31, a southpaw from Congo, won a majority decision over Aleksei Papin (11-1, 10 KOs), 31, of Russia, gaining the winning margin thanks to a knockdown on a straight left hand with 30 seconds left in the 12th round. Two judges scored it 115-113 for Makabu and the third judge had it 113-113.
• Russian heavyweight Evgeny Romanov (14-0, 10 KOs), 34, stopped journeyman Dario German Balmaceda (19-18-2, 13 KOs), 34, of Argentina, at 2 minutes, 33 seconds of the first round of their scheduled 10-rounder.