By John J. Raspanti
Sergey Kovalev won’t admit it, but he’s probably happy that his comeback opponent isn’t named Andre Ward.
Kovalev was last seen in the ring grimacing in his corner after being stopped by Ward in round eight at the Mandalay Bay Events Center in Las Vegas, NV.
The fight resembled their first encounter, competitive and tactical. During that contest, Ward, after being floored in round two, rallied to win by a controversial decision. But after staggering Kovalev with a big right hand in the sequel, it was obvious that the now-retired, two-division champion had the Russian’s number.
Ward also worked over Kovalev’s body, (Yes, a few were low) something the former light heavyweight champion didn’t like.
Kovalev’s former trainer John David Jackson concurs.
“I’ll tell any fighter this – if you go to the body with Sergey, you can beat him,” Jackson told BoxingScene.com recently. “It’s like I told [assistant trainer] Don Turner before the second fight, ‘If Ward goes to the body, he’s gonna stop him.’ And that’s what he did, he stopped him. Ward went to the body and found his weakness.”
After initially rejecting the results of his two fights with Ward, Kovalev (30-2, 26 KOs) has moved on. He traveled to a monastery in Greece to reflect on his life and career. The trip rejuvenated him.
"When you don’t win and when you suffer adversity, it makes you stronger," Kovlaev said during a recent media conference call. "It also shows you who your real friends are. I feel like I cleaned out my life and now I’m ready to start fresh. I’m very excited to get back in the ring, and fight at Madison Square Garden for the first time, and I’m focused on the future. I’m not looking back."
After his acrimonious breakup with Jackson, Kovalev has been working with trainer Abror Tursunpulatov. They will debut as a team this Saturday when Kovalev faces Vyacheslav Shabranskyy (19-1, 16 KOs) in a 12-round bout at The Theater at Madison Square Garden in New York,NY.(HBO, 10 p.m. ET/PT) for the vacant WBO light heavyweight title.
Shabranskyy has won two straight fights after being stopped by ranking contender Sullivan Barrera. The big man can punch, scoring 16 knockouts in his 19 wins.
Golden Boy President Oscar De La Hoya, whose company is promoting Shabranskyy, likes his fighter’s chances.
"Vyacheslav Shabranskyy is back, and ready to prove he will do everything to climb to the top, including facing a top-level fighter such as Kovalev," said De La Hoya.
"Shabranskyy is stronger and smarter inside the ring, and will show off his mastered talent when he faces Sergey."
Not withstanding De La Hoya’s hyperbole, Kovalev will look to exploit Shabranskyy’s leaky defense. Shabranskyy wants to test Kovalev’s body, but I see the former champion stopping his taller opponent before round eight. If he doesn’t--more questions will arise.