Saturday night at Madison Square Garden Theater, New York, we saw the return of Sergey Kovalev. The 34-year-old Russian was coming off back-to-back defeats at the hands of his nemesis Andre ‘SOG’ Ward. He lost his titles to the American but at MSG was getting a chance to regain the WBO portion.
Gone were the belts, his trainer John David Jackson and his undefeated record. Gone was Andre Ward–he’s now retired. How would the former ruler of the light-heavyweight division bounce back?
Rumours of ill-discipline, faded desire and a camp in turmoil preceded the contest. He was said to be training himself. A month before the fight, the Russian boxer unveiled his new team, “I’m presenting you my coaches, Aleksandr Sedov for physical training, and boxing coach Abror Tursunpulatov. I feel very comfortable to be working together and preparing for Kovalev vs Shabranskyy at MSG in New York City. Hope our connection will bring us new success for my boxing career.”
Kovalev had not taken the Ward defeats well. In the first bout, he dropped the American, in round two, but faded later in the fight. Ward won a razor-thin unanimous decision by three scores of 114-113.
After the first fight, which ended in a close, controversial decision to Ward, he said: “I overrated the guy before the fight. When I get in the ring, I was surprised. Why I did a lot of workouts for the fight. I could have had more fun in my training camp. Belts are like a magnet, but they’re not his belts. He’s not a real champion in my eyes,”.
The rematch, also, ended in controversy. Ward getting a surprising stoppage victory, in the eighth round, though a lot of the blows seemed low. Ward was on top and in control when the referee intervened. “It was a low blow, again another one. We are boxers. I could still continue. Why stop the fight?” protested ‘Krusher’ immediately afterward.
Five months later and Kovalev was back, live on HBO and at the famous Madison Square Garden.
Ukrainian Vyacheslav Shabranskyy, 30, was the man facing the returning Kovalev. He entered the ring with a reputation as a puncher having dispatched of 16 of his 19 foes. He holds a win over contender Yunieski Gonzalez but in his other significant fight, against Sullivan Barrera, he was on the canvas several times and KO’d in the seventh round. Going in it was possible that he was getting Kovalev at the right time and with the vacant WBO light-heavyweight title on the line.
Both men started the fight positively. Kovalev working well with his left jab, he seemed lighter on his feet. It was Shabranskyy that landed a solid left jab that sent the former champion backward. Kovalev soon replied by dropping the Ukrainian with a hard right hand. Vyacheslav (19-2, 16 KOs) rose quickly, but a hard combination of lefts and rights had him down again, by the end of the round. Not enough time to end it. Kovalev had shown that his power hadn’t deserted him.
The second round and it was a matter of time. Kovalev was throwing shots in a much more fluid way than I’ve seen before. A quicker step. It wasn’t til the last minute of the round that his right hand dropped his man, for the third time. Shabranskyy, once again, beat the count but Kovalev went to work, firing in bombs. Referee Harvey Dock halting the action, as Kovalev kept connecting and his beaten foe kept wobbling like a drunken sailor.
After the fight, Kovalev said, “I did it and worked very hard to get to champion status. My brain, mentally, my conditioning, my body–I’m back. It’s my goal to be the best in this division. I am here, I love boxing, I love to make great fights. This makes boxing interesting. We can make good fights for boxing fans, and make boxing history. Let’s find out who is the best. ‘Chickenson’ is on my list. This is very good for boxing. Let’s do it.”
There are still going to be question marks about Sergey Kovalev (31-2-1, 27 KOs) and time will answer them. In this fight, he looked impressive and did what the old Kovalev would’ve done. He did look sharp and focused and it’s good to have him in the mix. The 175lb division is alight with names like Badou Jack, Sullivan Barrera, Adonis Stevenson, Eleider Alvarez, Artur Beterbiev, Marcus Browne and Dmitry Bivol. Let’s hope the fights get made.