When Andre Ward retired from Boxing, vacating his unified Light heavyweight title belts, the season was obviously ripe for new blood to take over the 175-pound division.
Little did we know Russian, Soviet Bloc blood would climb to the top, exclusively. Earlier this month, Dmitry Bivol became the WBA champion and Artur Beterbiev followed suit, winning the IBF strap two weeks ago. This Saturday, November 25th, the Russian triumvirate will be completed as former champion, Sergey Kovalev, squares off with Vyacheslav Shabranskyy for WBO laurels. The bout will be telecast live on HBO from the Madison Square Garden Theatre, in New York City.
Like hip hop legend Big Pun, Sergey “Krusher” Kovalev (30-2-1, 26 KO’s), crushed a lot; knocking out 26 of the first 29 men he defeated, requiring fewer than 8 full rounds any outing. Kovalev’s single shot power felled world class tacticians like the great Bernard Hopkins to the canvas and removed others from consciousness. The sheer force of Sergey’s fists, over a prolonged period, literally ended an opponent’s life. Kovalev hit so damn hard, touching gloves with him must have hurt. Then came Andre Ward.
SERGEY "KRUSHER" KOVALEV
Kovalev was dangerously close to ending Ward in round 2 of their initial bout, dropping him hard with a right hand. Problem was, the “Krusher” didn’t quite turn the punch over properly, allowing for the knuckle portion of his glove to collide with Ward’s face. Imagine the act of knocking on a door; that’s how Kovalev’s right hand landed. Lacking the full brunt of Sergey’s pop, yet enough to hurt and floor the undefeated Ward, nonetheless. A fully torqued shot would’ve almost certainly resulted in yet another early KO for Kovalev, but fate had other ideas.
After a dreadful start, Ward adjusted masterfully, negating Kovalev’s right hand by staying on the inside, initiating and punching out of clinches. It made for a less than scintillating affair, but at the end of 12 rounds, it appeared Kovalev had done enough early damage to warrant a decision. Regardless, the nod went to Ward, the 2004 Olympic gold medalist, but given the controversial nature, an immediate rematch was his only recourse.
Wary as always of Sergey’s ability to hurt him, Andre focused on the body and surprisingly, it paid dividends. Before long, Kovalev was wincing in pain and insinuating clean shots were below the belt. By round 8, the “Krusher” was solely fixated on protecting his body, got caught, and was hurt by a series of head shots. From there, Ward went into full torso attack mode, trapped Kovalev against the ropes and rained digging body-shots until the referee stopped the contest. It must be said, most of the finishing punches were below the belt, but simultaneously, the formerly feared knockout artist seemed broken. And that makes this Saturday, the 25th, all the more intriguing.
Vyacheslev Shabranskyy (19-1, 16 KO’s), from the Ukraine, is a legitimate threat and live underdog. On paper, Shabranskyy has a 2 or 3-inch height advantage, yet he doesn’t fight “tall”, particularly. He’s fluid and more athletic than Kovalev, has every punch in the book at this disposal and is younger. The man known as “Lion Heart” prefers to engage, has an active jab and some nifty uppercuts (including bolos). Problem is, his defense is beyond poor; it flat out sucks. While some fighters are “available” or “not hard to find”, Shabranskyy absorbs fully leveraged head shots with regularity. He did this against Yuniesky Gonzalez, who can bang, without barely flinching. But in a war with fellow contender, Sullivan Barrera, Shabranskyy’s lack of defense eventually resulted in the only loss of his professional career.
We’ll learn all we need to know, regarding what Kovalev has left, post-Ward. Based on the way Shabranskyy operates, he’ll get knocked smoove out by the 4th/5th, or outhustle a less than confident Kovalev, take his best shots, sap what’s left of his fighting spirit and stop him late.
To Russia with love; you run the light heavyweight division. Any and all championship hopes and dreams at 175 pounds travel thru the former USSR. Fans of WBC titlist, Adonis Stevenson, will argue otherwise, but his absolute reluctance to partake in meaningful fights silences their protestations.