By Jason Gonzalez
“The Krusher” Sergey Kovalev returned to the squared circle for the first time since losing two straight to Andre Ward. Kovalev was victorious in his return, after dismantling Vyacheslav Shabranskyy within two rounds. With the victory, Kovalev improved to 31-2-1, (27), as well as capturing the vacant WBO light heavyweight strap [vacated by Ward post retirement] in front of 3,307 at the Theater at Madison Square Garden last Saturday.
And just like that, Kovalev is a major player in the division, once again.
"I did it. I worked really hard. Mentally, physically, I’m back," said the Russian native Kovalev, now 34 years-old.
With new trainer, Abror Tursunpulatov in his corner [he replaced John David Jackson], Kovalev came out roaring. Kovalev dropped Shabranskyy twice in the first round and then two more times in the second before prompting referee Harvey Dock to call a halt to the carnage.
The first knockdown was the result of an overhand right. Though he was on unsteady legs, to Shabranskyy’s credit he managed to beat the count. However, it was evident that he is visibly hurt. His “spaghetti legs” were a dead giveaway. Smelling blood, Kovalev pressed the action by throwing a combination of punches to the head and body of his counterpart ultimately scoring another knockdown. Although Shabranskyy may have survived the onslaught, the outcome was inevitable.
In the second round, Kovalev pummeled Shabranskyy with right hand after right hand for the third knockdown of the contest. It was obvious that Shabranskyy was overmatched and outclassed, but you would be remiss to not acknowledge his courage and valor. Kovalev continued to play “target practice” with right hands and left hooks to his foe’s dome piece, which backed Shabranskyy against the ropes. The stoppage came at the 2 minutes, 36 seconds.
The outcome was predictable. It was a mismatch on paper, we knew this going in. This bout was more about where Kovalev was physically and emotionally. We got our answer; we now know what Kovalev has left. We now know where he is at psychologically. His mean streak is still present; his comic book villain aura of invincibility is still there.
Kovalev was vocal about his trial and tribulations subsequently following the knockout loss to Ward. He admitted being by bothered the comments of those that thought he quit in the fight.
So now that Kovalev has shaken of the ghosts of Ward, he will move forward with his career, in search of bigger fights that present the right challenge as well as the proper monetary compensation.
"It’s my goal to be the best in the division," Kovalev said. "Last fight I was stopped, it was a decision by the referee. Here tonight was great boxing for me and I love boxing and I am here to make great fights.
"I’m happy that the belts have different owners and it makes everything interesting and we can make good fights for boxing fans and also boxing history. We have a bunch of belt holders and we can now find out who is the best in the light heavyweight division."
The other champions in the division include WBA title holder Dmitry Bivol, IBF champion Artur Beterbiev, and Adonis Stevenson who owns the WBC trinket. Kovalev said he is down to fight anyone.
"Adonis ’Chickenson’ [Stevenson] is on my list, but I am ready for any champion," Kovalev said. "Dmitry Bivol, Beterbiev, because this is very good for boxing. Let’s do it. I’m ready."
Kovalev’s promoter Kathy Duva of Main Events informed the media that she plans on bringing Kovalev back to Madison Square Garden in March of 2018. Kovalev’s opponent would be against the dreaded ‘TBD’. Rumors have it the Kovalev may share a bill with Bivol, in hopes of setting up a unification bout between the two in the summer. A fight with Stevenson isn’t realistic; the Haitian by way of Canada has avoided Kovalev like the plague for the better part of four years.
Light heavyweights Sullivan Barrera and Felix Valera went for broke in the co-feature. Both fighters traded knockdowns in the first round. For whatever reason, it’s common practice for the Cuban defector. Barrera, who won a 10 round unanimous decision by scores of 98-88, 97-90, and 97-89 always touches the canvas early in fights. Barrera sustained a cut on the side of his right eye in the second frame. Valera, a native of the Dominican Republic, lost points for low blows in the third, sixth, and eighth round. In the 9th round Barrera was docked a point for the same thing.
Barrera, the number one contender in the WBA, risked a potential fight with Bivol by facing the less heralded Valera, now 15-3, (13). Momentarily the gamble looked as if he had made a costly mistake.
"It was a tough, awkward fight," Barrera said, who has now improved to 21-1, (14). "I have beaten two of the three light heavyweights. [Joe Smith Jr. and Shabranskyy]. I’m just waiting to finally get the opportunity I deserve."
In the opening bout of the evening super feathwerweight Yuriorkis Gamboa, 28-2, (17) of Guantanamo, Cuba was awarded a gift, in the form of a 10 round majority decision against the Puerto Rican Jason Sosa of Camden, New Jersey. Two of the three scorecards read in favor of Gamboa, who put on a perfunctory performance at best. The judges had it 96-92, 95-93, and 94-94.
Gamboa’s glove touched the mat in the 7th round, and then he was a deducted a point for holding in the last round. But some way, somehow Gamboa overcame a three point deficit in a 10 round fight to get the nod.
Sosa, who returned to the ring for the first time since being stopped by Vasyl Lomanchenko in April, appeared to have deserved the decision.
"I was a fun fight. I took some breaks, but I thought I did enough to win," Sosa said. "I know I did enough to win the fight. I didn’t get hurt at all during the fight. I spar with middleweights so that was nothing."
Obviously Gamboa thought that the decision was fair.
"Of course, the decision was good," Gamboa said. "I think I won every round except for the knockdown and the point deduction."
In the latter half of the fight, Gamboa sported visible swelling on the left side of his face. The facial damage was the direct result of Sosa’s fistic onslaught.
Gamboa was a late replacement for Robinson Castellanos, the same fighter that knocked him out back in May. However, Castellanos suffered a back injury, and in came Gamboa to fill in as a substitute against Sosa.
"It was a good fight. I didn’t have enough time to train. I only had three weeks," Gamboa said. "I didn’t have time to get ready. I needed two or three more weeks to lose the weight correctly."
The contest between Gamboa and Sosa was fought at a contractual weight of 131 pounds. Sosa failed to make weight, and was over by two ounces. As a result, Sosa was required to pay an undisclosed financial penalty to Gamboa. With the loss Sosa dropped to 20-3-4, (15).