Sergey Kovalev destroys Vyacheslav Shabranskyy to regain WBO light heavyweight title

Newly crowned WBO light heavyweight titlist Sergey Kovalev (foreground) and promoter Kathy Duva. Photo credit: Stacey Verbeek


On Saturday night, from the Theater at Madison Square Garden, in New York City, former unified light heavyweight titlist Sergey Kovalev made his way back into the thick of the division with a second round stoppage of Vyacheslav Shabranskyy.


Kovalev, 31-2-1 (27), started out with a fast pace by throwing straight punches that made Shabranskyy’s face red. Shabranskyy, 19-2 (16), landed a nice jab that pushed Kovalev back but, ever the veteran and more experienced fighter, Kovalev patiently set up an overhand right that floored Shabranskyy. Although Shabranskyy was able to get back to his feet, he was dropped again by a combination from Kovalev.


Shabranskyy was clearly dazed and confused, even as the two fighters came out for the second round and Kovalev showed a new wrinkle in his arsenal by establishing a hard jab to the body of Shabranskyy.


This once again opened upstairs for straight shots that were crisp and crushing, as they bounced off Kovalev’s foe’s skull and chin. Shabranskyy went down from the onslaught of punches and was also clearly hurt. The end was near as Kovalev closed in to end the night.


Another combination, which started with an overhand right, spelled the end. The fight was rightly stopped at the 2:36 mark of the second round, by referee Harvey Dock, when Kovalev landed one more combination. With the victory Kovalev regained the vacant WBO light heavyweight championship and stated that he is looking for big fights to clear out the division.


An all out-war broke out in the first round of the co-feature between Sullivan Barrera, 21-1 (14), and Felix Valera, 15-2 (13). Valera came to make a statement but Barrera’s decision victory (98-88, 97-90 and 97-89) solidified his contention for a light heavyweight title shot.


Barrera may have won on the cards convincingly but there was a hurdle in the opening round. A left hand from Valera sent Barrera on his back midway through the first, leaving those gasping who were rooting for the Cuban defector in a fight he was matched to win. Once getting up, however, it seemed as though the 35-year-old woke up, repaying Valera with a knockdown of his own by round’s end.


Valera, who couldn’t hide his emotions during a tearful ringwalk, wore his emotions on his sleeve for the entire fight and his gutsiness to try and produce a game-changing shot created some intense exchanges in the second. Barrera ended up with a small cut above the left eye, in the second round, but low blows starting in the third were having a more serious effect on the fight. Valera continued to stray low throughout the rest of the fight and referee Michael Ortega deducted a point from him on three separate occasions in rounds three, six and eight. Meanwhile, Barrera was outboxing Valera with creative combinations that always ended with the cleanest punch to either Valera’s head or body. Eventually Barrera strayed low himself and was deducted a point from Ortega in the final round but the fight was tightly within his grasp by then.


With the victory, Barrera remains a No. 1 contender in the eyes of the WBA and a mandatory shot with its light heavyweight title holder Dmitry Bivol is imminent.


Two-time featherweight titleholder Yuriorkis Gamboa, 28-2 (17), was content to hold and try to land potshot combinations in order to score and avoid exchanges, in which the heavier punching Jason Sosa, 20-3-4 (15), could land combos of his own. It worked throughout the course of the fight because, despite being dropped and having a point deducted for excessive holding, Gamboa was awarded a 10-round majority decision.


The action started out slowly as both junior lightweights tried to figure out their foe, while establishing their game plans. Sosa, a former WBA junior lightweight titlist, pressed forward, while Gamboa used lateral movement in order to make Sosa reach and miss. Once Sosa established his jab, he consistently pushed Gamboa back and forced him to retreat. Several times, Sosa landed a hard punch that seemed to have Gamboa visibly shaky. His glove even touched the canvas but, both times it occurred, they were ruled slips.


That was until the seventh round when Sosa caught Gamboa. This time, his gloves touching the canvas was ruled properly as a knockdown. Both fighters were determined to impose their will, as the fight moved toward the final rounds. Gamboa was deducted a point during the final round for his holding and both fighters fought hard to finish the fight. In the end, one judge scored the fight 94-94, while the other two judges scored the fight 96-92 and 95-93, in favor of Gamboa.

Junior middleweight Bakhram Murtazalien, 11-0 (9), stopped Carlos Galvan, 16-6-1 (15), in the fifth round after blitzing Galvan from the start. Both fighters were throwing powerful shots; however Murtazalien’s better technique landed his punches first during their exchanges. Galvan was hurt to start the fifth and the referee stopped the contest after Galvan was dropped midway through the round.


Brooklyn native Frank Galarza, 18-2-2 (11), had a tough test in going eight back-and-forth rounds with Jaime Herrera, 15-5-1 (8). Galarza came out the fresher of the two junior middleweights to start and was feeding off of the crowd, which had a large section of supporters, and both fighters exchanged and provided constant action throughout the eight rounds. Galarza earned the unanimous decision by the scores of 80-72, 79-73 and 78-74. With the victory, Galarza could be back in the running for a bigger fight with one or two more wins.


Middleweight Eric Moon, 7-1 (6), succumbed to Meiirim Nursultanov’s best Gennady Golovkin impression. Nursultanov, 5-0 (4), of Kazakhstan, is clearly a prospect with power in both hands and a calm, stalking style behind a technical jab. Moon was stopped while getting pummeled on the ropes at 1:54 of the second round.


Middleweight LeShawn Rodriquez, 8-0 (7), looked good against Alex Duarte (13-3-1 (10), using his jab to land thudding body shots that dropped Duarte in the second round. Consistent body work, with a right hook upstairs, ended the fight at 1:48 of the third round.


Junior middleweight Enriko Gogokhia, 7-0 (3), did his best Vasyl Lomachenko impression by outboxing and dropping Jose Abreu, 13-3 (8), en route to a dominant six-round decision. Scores were 60-53 and 59-54 twice.


Ismael Villarreal, 1-0, of the Bronx, defeated Race Sawyer, 0-5, by four-round unanimous decision (40-35 and 40-36 twice) in his pro debut, at middleweight.




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