Sergey Kovalev may have knocked out Anthony Yarde, but he nearly lost his world title in the process.
Coming back to his home country of Russia to fight for the first time since 2016, Kovalev survived a big scare in the eighth round to knock out Yarde in the 11th round to retain his WBO light heavyweight title. The fight headlined a Top Rank on ESPN+ broadcast in Chelyabinsk.
At first, Yarde's speed kept him in the fight through the opening four rounds as Kovalev was still trying to figure him out. Kovalev then utilized his jab to throw off Yarde's rhythm and Yarde didn't have an answer for it throughout the entire fight.
It wasn't until the seventh round where Yarde would piece together a string of hard body shots that not only hurt Kovalev but almost stopped him entirely in what would have been a major comeback. Yarde, however, was not able to use his momentum to win the fight and started to get tired out by the time the ninth round began.
After trainer Buddy McGirt threatened to stop the fight if Kovalev didn't do anything to get back into the fight, Kovalev worked the jab once more and Yarde was still unable to defend well against it. Once the 11th round began, Yarde was gasping for air and barely able to stay vertical. Kovalev then would score a big left jab around two minutes into the round and knock Yarde out to win the fight.
At the time of the knockout, Fightful had Kovalev winning 97-93 after 10 completed rounds on its live coverage page. This was Kovalev's first title defense since winning the WBO light heavyweight title a third round back in February when he defeated Eleider Alvarez in a rematch back in February.
Now that Kovalev was able to overcome that challenge that was his mandatory challenger in Yarde, the Russian could potentially have set himself up for a shot at Canelo Alvarez before the end of the year. The two sides were negotiating a potential fight that will have Alvarez go up from middleweight to light heavyweight, but the fight fell through. Alvarez's planned September 14 fight was pushed back and the Mexican star still does not have a fight lined up for him.