Sergey Kovalev to headline at MSG Theater again; Dmitry Bivol to face Sullivan Barrera

WBO light heavyweight titlist Sergey Kovalev (center) vs. Vyacheslav Shabranskyy. Photo credit: Stacey Verbeek


What had been bandied about the last week or so was finalized on Friday: WBO light heavyweight beltholder Sergey Kovalev will face Igor Mikhalkin, with Dmitry Bivol defending his WBA 175-pound strap against Sullivan Barrera, from the Theater at Madison Square Garden, in New York. The bouts will be part of an HBO broadcast on the evening of March 3.


There’s probably one question many fans have: Just who in the world is Mikhalkin?


“Igor Mikhalkin is a southpaw and he boxes,” said Kathy Duva, the head of Main Events, which is promoting this event. “And that’s not something guys generally want to face and he has earned his shot by winning a string of fights and give the guy credit. He didn’t hesitate. He said, ‘Yeah sure; I want the fight.’ So Jolene (Mizzone, matchmaker for Main Events), when the time comes to make fights for Sergey, it’s always the same. She calls people – even those who are calling him out in public – ‘Hey, you want the fight? Here it is.’


“And then they say, ‘Oh geez, sorry; I can’t make it.’ So when you get one that says, ‘Yeah, let’s make the fight,’ that’s interesting to us.”


A press release announcing this fight said the following about Kovalev’s opponent:


“Mikhalkin (21-1, 9 KOs), 32, a southpaw originally from Irkutsk, Russia, now resides in Hamburg, Germany. He made his professional debut in 2007 with a second-round stoppage against Stefan Stanko and went on to win his first 11 bouts with seven of those wins coming by way of knockout. The lone blemish on Mikhalin’s record is a unanimous decision loss to former WBO Light Heavyweight Title contender Aleksy Kuziemski in 2010. In the eight years since, Igor amassed several belts: the IBO Light Heavyweight World Title, EBU Light Heavyweight Title and the WBO Intercontinental Light Heavyweight Title. Mikhalkin will be making his US debut against Kovalev on March 3.”


While Kovalev seems to facing another J.A.G. (as renowned NFL coach Bill Parcells would say – just a guy), the real main event of this HBO telecast is Bivol-Sully B. In an interesting twist, Barrera had his choice of facing Kovalev or enforcing his mandatory position in the WBA, with Bivol and he chose to take less money to face Bivol.


Back a few months ago, Barrera turned down a reported $400,000 to face Kovalev, on November 25 (Kovalev ultimately faced Vyacheslav Shabranskyy on this date), and, according to Duva, this time around, the offer to have the Cuban face the “Krusher” “was roughly the same because you pretty much have the same situation.” In essence, Barrera is hoping to parlay a victory over Bivol into what would a more lucrative unification bout with Kovalev. (Both boxers are under the Main Events banner.)


“I respect his position and I respect where he’s coming from and I will give him credit for having the courage of his convictions,” Duva said of Barrera. “So he’s made the choice he’s made and it creates an interesting dynamic. We would’ve seen him in an interesting fight, no matter which way he went, so I don’t think there’s a wrong choice, so let the games begin. It’s a good fight, a good show.


Barrera is gambling on himself and, in the meantime, has made it very clear, on social media, that Kovalev-Mikalkin isn’t much of a fight. Duva is rather amused, saying with a chuckle, “That’s really up to him. It’s funny; he’s always had a lively presence online and I think he’s good to make that fight with Sergey, one day, as big as it can be, so look: As a promoter, it’s terrific if a guy is out there talking about a fight.


“Look, it’s an interesting card. We’ve got Barrera and Bivol, which looks like a pick ’em fight going in. I imagine Sullivan would dispute that. Sergey is against a guy who stepped up and took advantage of the opportunity, who wanted the fight in Mikhalkin. It’s a nice, strong doubleheader and if Sullivan is out there talking about it, then that’s great. And we may have a third fight on the card (on HBO) but we’re not there yet.”


When asked if the victors on March 3 will then meet, Duva answered, “I can’t swear it’s next. I just don’t know. It’s certainly in the cards, at one point or another; win or lose. I think they’re all good fighters. They’re all viable; they’re all terrific and they can fight each other and all the fights are interesting. So I’m not sure we’re in a situation with these light heavyweights where a loss is going to take a guy out.


“It will set them back a little bit but it’s not taking them out of the mix. So it’s all good; it’s nice when you have people who are all competitive with one another and willing to fight.”





It’s being reported that, on this same date, a bout between WBC heavyweight titlist Deontay Wilder and Luis Ortiz could take place at the Barclays Center, in Brooklyn, which would be broadcast on Showtime.


“I can only be concerned about what I can control,” stated Duva, of the possibility of having a competing card on the same night in New York. “Sergey fought in November and, right as that fight ended, we did our post-fight press conference and I announced, at that time, that we were going on the third of March. Everybody has known all along; we staked our claim on that date in November.”


She continued, “If people want to come along and play spoiler, I don’t know why. They hurt themselves as much as they hurt us. That’s their decision; I can’t control it.”





Here’s the final edition of “The Next Round” for 2017. Gabe Montoya and I welcome “Mr. KO Tickets” Jim Boone once again.





According to Ms. Duva, Bakhram Murtazalievm, Meiirim Nursultanov, Frank Galarza, LeShawn Rodriquez and Cassius Chaney will be part of the March 3 undercard…IBF lightweight titlist Robert Easter Jr. will face Javier Fortuna on January 20 at the Barclays Center as part of the Showtime broadcast…Are there UFOs flying around in Southern California?…The Lakers young nucleus is coming along nicely…I can be reached at and I tweet (a lot) at I also share photos of stuff at and can also be found at




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