In what could be considered Thanksgiving leftovers at the Theater at Madison Square Garden, in New York City, former unified light heavyweight champion Sergey Kovalev showed he still packed a wallop in dispatching Vyacheslav Shabranskyy in two rounds to capture the vacant WBO light heavyweight title.
Kovalev, 31-2-1 (27), scored his first knockout win, since January of 2016, when he halted Jean Pascal in their rematch. Against “Slava,” he was able to hurt the Ukrainian with just about everything he landed.
In many ways, Shabranskyy was the perfect comeback opponent for “Krusher,” who was coming off a pair of defeats to Andre Ward, in which he was only occasionally able to flash his vaunted power. Shabranskyy is a decent fighter with heavy hands but, going back to his fight with Paul Parker and, then more recently, last December’s stoppage loss at the hands of Sullivan Barrera, it was evident he had low punch resistance.
There were plenty of questions marks coming into this fight, as Kovalev’s fearsome reputation and persona had taken a hit and it was unclear just what he was going to bring to the table. However on this particular night – matched against a foe who had been buzzed by lesser punchers – he looked more or less like the Kovalev of old.
Truth be told, not much can be gleaned from this outing. As Chris Rock once riffed, long ago – Kovalev did what he was supposed to do.
The truth will start to be revealed in 2018 and beyond, as Kovalev turns the page to the next chapter of his career. One thing is clear, though: He still has something left in the tank. No matter what revisionist history the HBO broadcast crew (mainly Roy Jones Jr. and Max Kellerman) try to spin, the reality is, in the eyes of most observers, Kovalev won the first match-up versus Ward and the rematch was being fought on even terms, till Ward’s booming right hand in the eighth round opened the floodgates.
Kovalev – whose return is being earmarked for March 3, at MSG, according to Kathy Duva, the head of Main Events – will have plenty of opportunities in the future to add to his legacy. Even with Ward’s retirement, the division is filled with dangerous dance partners, such as newly-minted IBF titlist Artur Beterbiev (who already has a long-standing amateur rivalry with Kovalev), Dmitry Bivol, the WBA beltholder, who is highly regarded and has already been recently showcased by HBO and Sullivan Barrera (who is also handled by Main Events) and Oleksandr Gvozdyk.
The 175-pound class hasn’t been this deep or interesting in years and, for the time being, Kovalev is its centerpiece.
– No, I didn’t forget WBC champion Adonis Stevenson but let’s be honest; he has no interest in tangling with the aforementioned names and beyond on the other side of the fence with Al Haymon and Premier Boxing Champions.
In 2016 and 2017, Stevenson fought just once against Thomas Williams Jr. and Andrzej Fonfara and it’s not clear just what his immediate future holds (whether it’s his long-overdue mandatory challenger Eleider Alvarez or former super middleweight titlist Badou Jack).
And time is not on his side, as he is now 40.
Call me crazy but a fight pitting Stevenson versus Kovalev is still one I yearn for. It’s one of the great “What if?”s in recent boxing history and it illustrates how the business of boxing and its alliances oftentimes get in the way of the sport.
– I found it ironic that, all of a sudden, RJ and Kellerman suddenly want to be sticklers for the Queensberry Rules, when it comes to clinching and low blows. Geez, now that Ward has retired, they want the regulation of this sport to be so tightly enforced. Funny how that works out.
– Like the majority of observers, I had Jason Sosa out-pointing Yuriorkis Gamboa after 10 rounds but it the Cuban (who once again hit the canvas) got the nod.
But regardless of the verdict, Sosa wasn’t nearly forceful enough throughout the fight and he paid for it. As for Gamboa, despite the victory, it’s clear his best days are in the rear view mirror. However with this win, he probably gets another opportunity on HBO, where the announcers can wax poetically about his once-vaunted skills.
So it looks like Sullivan Barrera, who defeated the awkward Felix Valera, on this card, will have his choice of facing Kovalev or Bivol next…Speaking of Stevenson, he’s just the most recent and obvious example of why just recognizing the “lineal” title is unrealistic in today’s boxing environment…Did Miami lay an egg in Pittsburgh or what? At some point, inconsistent/bad offensive football will catch up to you…The Philly Eagles have the look of a Super Bowl squad; don’t they?…So how were the Black Friday brawls this year?…I can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and I tweet (a lot) at twitter.com/steveucnlive. I also share photos of stuff at instagram.com/steveucnlive and can also be found at tsu.co/steveucnlive.