ATLANTIC CITY — Eleider Alvarez had waited three years for a title shot.
When it finally came Saturday night, he delivered.
Alvarez won the World Boxing Organization light-heavyweight championship with a shocking seventh-round knockout over Sergey Kovalev at Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Atlantic City.
"I wanted to show that I could stay strong and do good things," Alvarez said. "I am ready for all the best fighters in my division and the best in the world."
A sellout crowd of 5,642 filled Hard Rock Live at Etess Arena erupted with a roar when Alvarez (24-0, 12 KOs), a native of Colombia who lives in Montreal, sent Kovalev (32-3-1, 28 KOs) to the canvas with a crushing right hand to the temple in midway through the round.
Kovalev, a native of Russia now living in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, got to his feet but wasn't upright for very long.
Alvarez connected with a left-right combination that put him back on the floor. Kovelev again got up, but Alvarez jumped back on the attack and landed another right hook. Kovelev toppled to the ground, prompting referee David Fields to stop the fight without a count at 2 minutes, 45 seconds.
"It was a two-punch combination that I have been throwing my whole career, and we worked on it in camp," Alvarez said. "We thought it would work."
The bout marked the return of big-time boxing to Atlantic City for the first time in four years.
Kovalev-Alvarez was the first major fight in town since Kovalev beat Bernard Hopkins at Boardwalk Hall on Nov. 8, 2014.
"I'm completely thrilled at the attendance," Hard Rock Vice President of Entertainment Bernie Dillon said. "I could feel the excitement and the energy in the whole building all afternoon. You had Russian fans, Canadian fans and local boxing fans. There's nothing like a big fight in Atlantic City."
The Russian fans rooting for Kovalev were heard in the early stages of the fight. The 35-year-old mixed his boxing skills with an occasional flurry to ward off Alvarez's early charges. He appeared to be in command.
After six rounds, Kovalev was ahead on all three scorecards according to judges Carlos Ortiz (58-56), Joseph Pasquale (59-55) and Lynne Carter (59-55). The Press also had him leading 59-55.
"After six rounds, I was thinking, 'Sergey is back and looking good,'" Main Events president Kathy Duva said. "I don't know if he got tired or what, but he got caught with a huge shot."
It wasn't long before the Colombian and Canadian contingents were celebrating, however.
Alvarez jumped onto a ring post and screamed, then rushed to join his supporters who had rushed toward the ring.
"I want to thank God and all my fans in Colombia and Canada," Alvarez said. "This was all for them. Now I'm ready for all the best fighters in my division and the best in the world."
Bivol keeps belt
One possible opponent appeared in Saturday's co-feature.
WBA light-heavyweight champion Dmitry Bivol (14-0, 11 KOs), of Russia, retained his title with a 12-round, unanimous decision over South African Isaac Chilemba (25-6-2, 10 KOs).
Judges Henry Grant (120-108) and Ron McNair (120-108) had Bivol winning every round while George Hill (116-112) had it slightly closer. The Press had Bivol ahead 119-109.
Bivol (14-0, 11 KOs) dominated the bout with an effective, methodical attack. He repeatedly cracked Chilemba with sharp combinations and solid body shots before dancing out of danger.
Chilemba's only chance was to turn the fight into a slugfest, but chose to keep his distance, despite the urgings of trainer Roy Jones Jr., the former three-division world champion.
The lack of action drew a smattering of boos after the final round.
"Chilemba is a good fighter, and he had champion spirit tonight," Bivol said. "He is a strong fighter. Now I want to fight more good fighters."
Russian junior-middleweight contender Bakhram Murtazaliev (13-0, 11 KOs) delivered the most impressive performance on the eight-bout undercard, knocking out Mexico's Fernando Carcamo (23-9, 18 KOs) in just 41 seconds.
He wobbled Carcamo in the first 10 seconds, then finally dropped him with an overhand right. Carcamo stayed on the canvas while referee Eddie Claudio completed the 10-count.
In other bouts, Kazakhstan junior-middleweight Madiyar Ashkeyev (10-0, 6 KOs) earned a fourth-round TKO over Ecuador's Eduardo Flores (24-30-4, 14 KOs).
Flores lost his mouthpiece four times.
Frank Galarza, of Brooklyn, New York, landed a pair of vicious body shots en route to a second-round knockout over Alex Duarte (13-6-1, 10 KOs) of Orlando, Florida. Philadelphia lightweight Karl Dargan (18-1, 9 KOs) took a six-round unanimous decision over Colombia's Jonathan Perez (37-23, 29 KOs). Kazakhstan middleweight Melirim Nursultanov (8-0, 7 KOs) won via TKO when Jonathan Batista's (17-15, 10 KOs) corner stopped the bout after the second round.
In early action, Marlboro super-middleweight Denis Douglin (20-6, 12 KOs) earned the only upset of the undercard with a 10-round unanimous decision over formerly unbeaten Vaughn Alexander (12-1, 8 KOs), of St. Louis.
Philadelphia lightweight Karl Dargan (18-1, 9 KOs) took a six-round unanimous decision over Colombia's Jonathan Perez (37-23, 29 KOs). Georgia welterweight Enriko Gogokhia (8-0, 3 KOs) took a six-round unanimous decision over Colombia's Ronald Montes (18-10, 16 KOs).
Bronx, New York, junior-middleweight Ismael Villareal (3-0, 0 KOs) opened the show with a four-round unanimous decision over Philadelphia's Kieran Hooks (3-1-1, 1 KO).
What are the top 10 boxing matches held in Atlantic City?
Atlantic City once rivaled - and maybe even surpassed - Las Vegas as the unofficial "Boxing Capital of the World." Starting in the 1980s, the resort hosted some of the best fighters and fights in the sport. Thrilling brawls and stunning knockouts were earned at Boardwalk Hall and casino showrooms.
Dave Weinberg breaks down his 10 most memorable fights held in Atlantic City over the last 30 years.