Former unified Light-Heavyweight world champion Sergey Kovalev has earned a reputation as one of the sport of Boxing’s feared “Knockout Artists.” After a rise that saw him win and partially unify the World Light-Heavyweight championship successfully defending his crown eight times between 2013-2016, Kovalev was defeated in November 2016 by Andre Ward in what some feel was a controversial twelve round unanimous decision. The bout, which was highly competitive as well as the subject of the decision fueled demand for a rematch between Ward and Kovalev.
The second encounter between the two that took place in June of this year would also have an element of controversy as Ward would be declared the winner via stoppage in the eighth round after a series of body punches caused Kovalev to take a seated position on the middle rope as Referee Tony Weeks stopped the bout. Although the second encounter between the two appeared to be more conclusive in Ward’s favor, video replays indicated that some of the punches, which led to stoppage were in fact low blows as Weeks acknowledged shortly after the fight that he had stopped the bout because Kovalev was not protecting himself, but did not see the low blows and that if he had seen those punches hitting the former world champion below the belt, he would not have stopped the fight.
In an era where there is much criticism of how the sport of Boxing is officiated both in terms of the refereeing of bouts as well as how fights are scored, Weeks’ acknowledgment of a mistake on his part as one of the best referees in the entire sport is something that should have been applauded by Boxing fans and experts alike. Despite the acknowledgment of a human error by Weeks, the technical knockout in favor of Ward did stand.
Now coming off two consecutive losses including the controversial knockout loss, Kovalev will return to the ring on Saturday night to take on top Light-Heavyweight contender Vyacheslav Shabranskyy at The Theater at Madison Square Garden in New York City, NY in the main event of a card televised here in the United States by HBO Sports. The twelve round bout, which was to determine a new mandatory challenger in World Boxing Organization’s (WBO) Light-Heavyweight ratings, was charged recently following the retirement of unified WBO/IBF/WBA world champion Andre Ward.
With the International Boxing Federation (IBF) recently crowning a new world champion in the form of the undefeated Artur Betrebiev, the WBO will now crown its next World Light-Heavyweight champion between the former champion Kovalev, currently rated number two in the WBO Light-Heavyweight ratings and the number ten rated contender Shabranskyy. It is understandable how some may choose to criticize the WBO’s decision to designate this bout as being for its Light-Heavyweight world championship based not only on the current ratings of the two fighters, but perhaps more specifically the fact that Kovalev will enter the bout off of two losses with the most recent loss coming via stoppage.
Although it is understandable how one might question the WBO’s decision, it is important to remember that prior to his battles with Andre Ward, Sergey Kovalev was a long-reigning world champion and despite the second loss to Ward, the controversial way in which that fight ended could have played a part in the WBO’s decision. It certainly is not the first time that Boxing has seen a bout for a vacated world championship emerge under similar circumstances and it probably will not be the last.
The political elements of the sport notwithstanding, the story of this fight in addition to the WBO Light-Heavyweight world championship in this observer’s eyes will be Sergey Kovalev and whether he will be able to reemerge at the top of the Light-Heavyweight division. A fair question to ask of fighters that are known as “Knockout Artists“ once they suffer a loss is what effect will the setback or in Kovalev’s case setbacks have or have had on them. The controversial stoppage in his last fight may cause some to question the validity of that loss, but the fact remains that Sergey Kovalev has lost his last two bouts and that has to have some sort of impact on a fighter, particularly one who was able to dominate their division for as long as Kovalev had before suffering the adversities he has. Will this fight signal the return of the fighter known to his fans as “The Krusher” or will this be a different version of Sergey Kovalev?
Kovalev’s opposition on Saturday Vyacheslav Shabranskyy will enter the fight with a solid record of 18-1, with 16 Knockouts having stopped 80% of his opponents inside the scheduled distance of a fight. Shabranskyy has won his last two bouts including winning the World Boxing Council (WBC) affiliated United States Boxing Council (USBC) Light-Heavyweight championship in August of this year with a stoppage of previously unbeaten Todd May. Shabranskyy however, was stopped in his lone career defeat at the hands of top Light-Heavyweight contender Sullivan Barrera in December of last year.
Even though momentum appears to be on Shabranskyy’s side as this fight approaches, the edge in terms of experience will be in Kovalev’s favor and it will be interesting to see how Shabranskyy deals with the “Big Fight” atmosphere for the first time. Whether or not the outcome of Kovalev’s last bout will influence Shabranskyy’s strategy in this fight remains to be seen. Despite his recent setbacks however, Sergey Kovalev, who will enter the bout with a record of 30-2-1, with 26 Knockouts, is still a fighter who has the capability of knocking an opponent out with either hand who has also scored knockouts in nearly 80% of his career wins.
With Andre Ward now retired one might assume that the biggest fight that could be made in the 175lb. Light-Heavyweight division assuming Sergey Kovalev is successful in this fight against Vyacheslav Shabranskyy and becomes a two-time world champion on Saturday night would be a long-awaited showdown between Kovalev and longtime WBC world champion Adonis Stevenson. Before any talk can resume of that potential clash, Kovalev must show he can bounce back from adversity. In a division that is seeing it’s landscape change, it is a task that could prove to be difficult, but one that if Kovalev is successful and goes on to enjoy a second reign as a world champion, the adversities that have derailed his career in recent times could end up being mere chapters in the story of a great fighter.A new chapter in the career of Sergey Kovalev now begins and we will see what happens next.
“And That’s The Boxing Truth.”
Kovalev vs. Shabranskyy takes place tomorrow night (Saturday, November 25th) at The Theater at Madison Square Garden in New York City, NY. The fight can be seen in the United States on HBO Sports beginning at 10PM ET/PT. check your cable/satellite provider for time and channel in your area For more information about HBO, HBO Sports, and HBO Boxing please visit: www.hbo.com. In the United Kingdom and Ireland, the fight can be seen on Sky Sports Main Event (Formerly Sky Sports 1) on Sunday, November 26th at 3AM (Local UK Time.) For more information about Sky Sports please visit: www.skysports.com. Check your listings internationally.
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