Sergey Kovalev was considered by some to be washed up after he lost two straight fights to Andre Ward, the second by knockout. He got stopped again a few fights later, then had to rally in his native Russia to stop Anthony Yarde and retain his 175-pound title just last month.
His reward for persevering through adversity? A Nov. 2 fight with Mexican star Canelo Alvarez that Kovalev believes will be his best ever.
"I already have experience at this level and am much smarter," Kovalev said Wednesday. "I think this fight is going to be more interesting than my previous fights."
Alvarez will move up two weight classes to challenge Kovalev for his light heavyweight title Nov. 2 in Las Vegas in a fight loaded with intrigue.
For Alvarez, it's a chance to win a title in his fourth weight class and cement his standing as the biggest attraction in boxing. For the 36-year-old Kovalev, it's an opportunity to prove the critics wrong and win the biggest fight of his career.
"Canelo is a real fighter," Kovalev said. "I like fighting real fighters. Not a guy like Ward."
Kovalev lost a disputed decision to Ward in their first fight, then was stopped by him in the eighth round of their 2017 rematch. After getting knocked out by Eleider Alvarez he switched trainers, bringing in veteran Buddy McGirt, who helped him beat Alvarez in a rematch and stop Yarde to retain his title.
Kovalev believes the switch in trainers has revitalized his career, which had been based previously on simply trying to knock out everyone he got into the ring with.
"I believe in Buddy 100 percent," Kovalev said. "This is a real coach. After 10 years I finally have gotten a real coach."
Kovalev will find a smaller man in the ring when he meets Alvarez, who is considered among the top pound-for-pound fighters in boxing. Alvarez moved up to 168 pounds last year to win a title against an overmatched Rocky Fielding but returned to middleweight in his last fight to successfully defend his titles against Danny Jacobs.
The risk for Alvarez is that he runs into a big punch by Kovalev, who has 29 knockouts in his 34-3-1 career. The risk for Kovalev is that Alvarez (52-1-2, 35 knockouts) is too quick and too skilled a boxer to allow that to happen.
"It's a big fight for me, the biggest I've had," Kovalev said. "Canelo is one of the best pound-for-pound and I'm the best in the light heavyweight division right now. It will be a very good fight."
The fight at the MGM Grand hotel arena will be televised by the streaming service DAZN.