By John J. Raspanti
WBO light heavyweight champion Sergey Kovalev returns to the ring March 3 to face fellow countryman Igor Mikhalkin at The Theater at Madison Square Garden in New York, New York.
Kovalev captured the WBO belt by demolishing Vyacheslav Shabranskyy in five minutes last November. His victory lap was a welcome reprieve to his previous appearance in the squared circle, a stoppage loss to Andre Ward. Kovalev knows he needs more work before he steps up in class.
“I need one more fight to show that I can fight with the best fighters,” Kovalev told boxingscene.com.
Kovalev’s measured approach to his career is interesting. Two years ago he was unbeatable “Krusher,” a fighter nobody wanted to swap hands with. Then came Andre Ward, who moved up from super middleweight to take on Kovalev. Ward, who was knocked down in round two, won a controversial decision in their first fight. I’ve watched the fight three times and came to the same conclusion--Kovalev deserved no worse than a draw, even though Ward showed extreme grit and battled back.
Fight two was similar, except Kovalev didn’t floor Ward. Kovalev used his long jab effectively. Each round was close. Ward had the edge heading into round eight. But there was something else going on. Kovalev looked tired. Ward’s grittiness was sapping his strength. Kovalev had come to the realization that Ward wasn’t going anywhere. A huge right hand by Ward in round eight shook Kovalev badly. His legs went all rubbery. Ward attacked. Did a few punches stray below the belt? Yes, especially the last punch, but make no mistake about it, the fight was essentially over after Ward’s right hand connected.
After initially rejecting the results of his two fights with Ward, Kovalev appeared to have moved on until recently when the subject was brought up again.
“For me, it would have been much better if Ward stopped me himself, if he dropped me on the floor and the referee started the count,” Kovalev told www.boxingscene.com.” a few days ago. “I do not agree with the decision. It was a low blow.
“Ward was much better than he was in the first fight,” admitted Kovalev. “I was in my worst situation. They started a tactic game, a mind game, and I lost the mind game. What happened, it happened for a reason, “he added.
Kovalev took a break from boxing after his losses to Ward. 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."
Kovalev (31-2-1, 27 KOs) looked sharp and powerful in his last fight. He was expected to win, but nobody really knows what will happen to fighters after a loss.
Sometimes they come back stronger. Other times, they don’t. Kovalev likes where his career is going, but remains focused on his fight with Miklalkin.
“I think that after this fight, my fights will be with strong, strong opponents in the light heavyweight division, maybe title unification fights. I don’t wanna look behind the back of Igor Mikhalkin because right now my next fight is March third and I should be focused on this fight.”
Mikhalkin, ranked number five by the WBO, will enter the ring a decided underdog against Kovalev. He’s been victorious in 21 of 22 fights, with nine stoppages.
“The way my career and Sergey’s career were moving, it was inevitable we would have to fight each other,” Mikhalkin told itrboxing.com.”It’s destiny we would see each other in a boxing ring,” he stated.
Destiny or not, Mikhalkin will have his hands full against a fully engaged Kovaelv. Look for Kovalev to send Mikhalkin packing before round six.