Kovalev outworked Pulev, causing the latter’s face to puff up. Still, Pulev, the naturally bigger fighter, was able to land power shots every now and again that dissuaded Kovalev from opening up and using his right hand.
The fight marked Kovalev’s debut at the cruiserweight (200 lbs) limit, but it was abundantly clear throughout the fight that the Russian’s best days are behind him. Once regarded as a ferocious knockout artist at 175, Kovalev now relies on his jab to win him rounds. This was, moreover, Kovalev’s first fight since his punishing 11th-round knockout loss at the hands of Canelo Alvarez in November 2019.
Even Kovalev, 39, admitted he did not look his best against the ham-handed Pulev, and suggested he needed to fight more frequently in order to look like his usual self.
“After a long rest, it was a little harder than usual,” Kovalev said. “But I’m back. I’m okay. I’m gonna keep [in] shape after this fight. Rest one week and then be back in the boxing gym. Next fight will be much more [better]. I promise you.”
“I worried about how I was going to be in this fight,” Kovalev continued. “Pro boxing at a high level. More than one year, this is very big rest. My body don’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 like he needs to come in lighter in his next fight in order to regain some of his former quickness.
“The plan was to use the jab and long distance,” Kovalev said. “But I felt my body [had an] additional 10 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 land something big in the 10th and final round. He landed a right that threw Kovalev’s head back. Kovalev countered with a left hook. Moments later Pulev landed a right hand that seemed to cause Kovalev to touch the canvas, but the referee called it a slip.
Kovalev regained his footing in the ninth round, pressing the action against Pulev and mixing in more right hands to the body.