Weigh-In Recap + Slideshow: Kovalev Ready to Reboot the Krusher as Potential Competition Heats Up

Photos: Ed Mulholland

By: Kieran Mulvaney

After defeating Sergey Kovalev in June, Andre Ward pondered his options — even going so far, in the adrenalin-fueled immediate aftermath of his stoppage win, as to kinda sorta almost call out heavyweight behemoth Anthony Joshua — before ultimately deciding that the best option was to walk away from the ring entirely. Among his considerations was the fact that, as he surveyed the landscape of the light-heavyweight in which he resided, he saw no possible matchup that enticed or challenged him, nothing that would make it worthwhile for him to stick around.

On one level, the fact that both the main event and principal supporting feature on Saturday night’s HBO World Championship Boxing broadcast (10 PM ET/PT) feature men whom Ward has dispatched — Kovalev and Sullivan Barrera — reinforces that notion. On the other hand, the irony is that the division as a whole is starting to heat up, with a growing armory of young guns who are blasting their way toward the top. Dmitry Bivol recently flattened Trent Broadhurst inside a round. Shortly afterward, Artur Beterbiev, highly touted early but of late sidelined by injury, made it 12 KOs in 12 career starts at the expense of Enrico Koelling. Oleksandr Gvozdyk may be the pick of the up-and-coming crop, although the likes of undefeated Eleider Alvarez and Marcus Browne and once-defeated Badou Jack are thoroughly in the mix. Waiting for them are Kovalev and Barrera (and, perhaps, Canada’s Adonis Stevenson, who is actually the lineal champion but who, unfortunately, seems to have permanently eschewed the notion of a real challenge). The Russian and the Cuban may face off against each other in the new year; but first, they will warm up against separate foes.

Barrera faces Felix Valera, a tricky and rangy native of the Dominican Republic who has fought 14 of his 16 pro bouts in his native land, with the other two — including a loss to Bivol — taking place in Russia. Barrera was first seen on HBO in a determined but ultimately one-sided loss to Ward in March 2016; since then, he has scored three emphatic wins, and his star is rising.

Kovalev’s star, however, has dimmed of late. That is largely because it had been situated so high, and had shone so brightly, in the firmament before the Ward stoppage, and also because it has now been 22 months since the Krusher has scored a knockout. For Kovalev, Saturday’s tussle with Vyacheslav Shabranskyy — a Ukrainian whose sole career loss came to Barrera — is a reboot, the start of a process to recover from the indignity of being stopped by Ward and to make himself anew into The Man at light-heavyweight.

In the five months following his defeat, Kovalev, by his own admission and in roughly chronological order, visited Russia, drank a lot, steered a speeding car off the road and into some trees to avoid an onrushing vehicle (while suffering nothing worse than a bloody nose in the process), visited a monastery in Greece, returned to the United States, curtailed (but did not stop) his drinking, altered his diet, and hired a new trainer. Through it all, he also apparently whipped himself into shape. Two months ago, he was only eight pounds above the light-heavyweight limit, and he was one pound under it when he stepped on the scale on Friday.

In the pre-Ward days, when Kovalev was blasting his way through the division, there was so little meaningful opposition that his manager Egis Klimas thought his client would find better opportunities at super-middleweight, seven pounds lighter.

“When I started, light-heavyweight was dead, and Egis was telling me I should make myself smaller,” as Kovalev put it earlier this week. “But now, everyone is coming here.”

If he overcomes Shabranskyy on Saturday, then Kovalev will be hoping that those newcomers will realize that the road to light-heavyweight glory will once again run through him.

Weights from New York City:

Sergey Kovalev: 174 pounds

Vyacheslav Shabranskyy: 174.8 pounds

Sullivan Barrera: 174.8 pounds

Felix Valera: 174.2 lbs.

Yuriorkis Gamboa: 130.6 pounds

Jason Sosa: 131.2 pounds

Watch Live: Kovalev vs. Shabranskyy Weigh-In

Watch the Sergey Kovalev vs. Vyacheslav Shabranskyy official weigh-in live from Madison Square Garden.

Kovalev vs. Shabranskyy happens tomorrow, Saturday, November 25 and will be televised on HBO at 10 p.m. ET/PT.

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Sergey Kovalev Is Ready to Move On

Photo: Ed Mulholland

Photo: Ed Mulholland

By Kieran Mulvaney

When the hype had passed, the post-mortems had been written, and the sound of pained protests had dissipated in the ether, the boxing world moved on – to the next fight, the next big event, the next inevitable controversy.

Sergey Kovalev was left behind, the once-formidable Krusher suddenly yesterday’s man, humbled and seemingly exposed. His trainer belittled him, the crowd of supporters and sycophants that surround a champion boxer shuffled awkwardly away, and Kovalev was left to find solace and support in that most time-honored of ways.

“I drank,” he admits, when asked how he coped with his knockout loss to Andre Ward in June. “A lot.”

He chuckles, insists he has moved on. “What happened, happened,” he says more than once. But, while he gives every impression of having settled into a state of acceptance, it is clear that he has not completely expunged the other four stages of grief from his system, either.

“I thought the boxing world had turned its back on me,” he says of his feelings in the aftermath of that loss – his second in a row to Ward, and the second to end in controversy. When they first met, in November 2016, Ward was awarded a close but unanimous points decision despite a broad ringside consensus that Kovalev deserved the victory. In the aftermath of that verdict, Kovalev muttered darkly about the disadvantages of being a Russian boxer in the United States, particularly when facing an American, and he returns to that theme when he revisits his loss in the June rematch. That result, an eighth-round stoppage, would appear on the face of it to have been too definitive to leave much room for excuses or explanations, but Kovalev’s supporters pointed to the fact that some of the body blows with which Ward sapped Kovalev’s resistance landed low – including the final one, which thudded beneath the belt just as referee Tony Weeks stepped in with Kovalev slumped on the ropes.

Photo: Ed Mulholland

Photo: Ed Mulholland

“I always said that every boxing fight is like a street fight, but with boxing rules,” he explains. “And I never throw a low blow because I understand that here in America against Andre Ward, everything is against me. If I throw a low blow, I could get disqualified.”

Even so, whereas manager Egis Klimas and promoter Kathy Duva protested vociferously about the low blows immediately after the fight and in subsequent weeks, Kovalev’s main gripe about the stoppage was and remains what he perceives at its premature nature, the fact that he was not, in his mind, granted the opportunity to go out on his shield, or flat on his back.

“Listen, the referee helped him,” he insists. “It was unfairly stopped. Better he stop me himself, knock me to the floor. I don’t feel beaten. When I am on the floor, yes. Then somebody beat me. But not like that. Nobody beat me.”

And yet … As much as he is able to find qualifiers, he acknowledges that all was not well on the night of the fight. The beginning of the end was a booming right hand that jolted Kovalev to the core; but, he insists, far from sending him to sleep, that punch snapped him back to life after he apparently spent much of the fight in a fugue-like state.

“After the right hand in the eighth round, I woke up,” he says. “Since the middle of the second round, I don’t remember the fight. I don’t know what was wrong with my body during the fight, but I woke up to a right hand from Andre Ward and for the first two or three seconds, I got dizzy, and after that I got focused again and was able to defend his punches. Before the fight I was in very good shape, best shape. But something happened to me when I stepped into the ring.”

It is not, it should be noted, the first time that Kovalev has expressed similar sentiments. He did so after his initial bout with Ward, asserting that he had entered the ring in great shape but that, “after the fifth round. I lost my power, my natural ability, my speed … I tired.” And following the fight before that, when – by his standards – he labored to a win over Isaac Chilemba in a homecoming bout in Yekaterinburg, Russia, he declared himself dissatisfied with his performance and his preparation.

A thread runs through all three underwhelming outings. From the time he arrived in the United States, and particularly after hooking up with trainer John David Jackson, Kovalev had been a wrecking ball, blasting his way through opponent after opponent. It seemed a perfect partnership; until the Chilemba bout, when Kovalev spent much of his training camp in the mountains of Armenia while Jackson remained in the United States, the trainer joining him only when he relocated to Yekaterinburg for the final few weeks before the fight. In the build-up to the first battle with Ward, the American’s cornerman Virgil Hunter mischievously and passive-aggressively asserted that he didn’t want to talk about the problems that he had heard Jackson and Kovalev were having; before the rematch, he cast aside the façade of reluctance and claimed that Jackson had actually offered to jump ship.

While the facts about that specific assertion remain disputed, any pretense that all was well between boxer and trainer was napalmed in the wake of Ward’s rematch victory. Jackson stated variously that Kovalev had quit in the fight, that he was soft in the body as a result of drinking too much vodka, and that he was “an asshole.”

“He’s a nice guy,” counters Kovalev, briefly taking the high road when asked about Jackson’s comments, “but he’s not a coach for me. All the time I work with John David Jackson, he gave me nothing. I got nothing from him except mitts work. I didn’t feel him in the ring like a team, because everything, my preparation, was constructed by myself. The trainer should be able to help you between rounds when you have a one minute rest, to explain tactics. I understand myself if good round or not good round. John said, ‘Good round,’ or ‘Not good round.’ That’s not a help. I’ve thought for a long time that maybe I should split from John.”

Photo: Will Hart

Photo: Will Hart

Perhaps. But there is another school of thought, based on whispers from some of those in Kovalev’s orbit: that after showing intensity, determination and drive to reach the top, he looked out at a rising sea of sycophants and started believing all that they told him and all that he told himself; that he started taking shortcuts; that, in the words of another trainer, “he only wants to train himself.”

Such suspicions were not exactly allayed when Kovalev eventually announced that his new trainer would be Abror Tursunpulatov, who has little track record in the professional game. He does, however, have plenty of experience in developing successful amateurs; Klimas described him as a “real trainer” – a trainer with whom, moreover, Kovalev is comfortable, who reminds him of his former amateur coach and who, perhaps just as importantly, speaks his native tongue.

Kovalev is keen to underline the seriousness with which he is treating his comeback by pointing out that, ten weeks before his next fight – against Vyacheslav Shabranskyy on Saturday night – he is already close to his fighting weight of 175 pounds.

“If you see, I’m already 183. I keep my shape very good,” he says, and Klimas enthusiastically agrees.

“What I see in him is more desire, more concentration, bigger heart than when I met him first,” the manager insists. “When I met him first, he asked me questions, ‘When am I going to be champion? I want to be champion.’ And I thought, ‘Wow, this guy really wants to do something with his life.’ He didn’t change. He is same person he was. But something is new.”

By way of illustration, Klimas points to the fact that Kovalev had been running at 5 AM that morning, before the two of them flew from Los Angeles to Las Vegas, where they are now sitting in a room at the MGM Grand and where, in a few hours, Kovalev will watch his friend Gennady Golovkin take on Canelo Alvarez.

“I’m on my way to pick him up, it’s about a 45 minute drive to his house, and all of a sudden, my phone buzzes with an Instagram that Sergey posted,” Klimas recounts. “I was thinking, ‘What the hell?’ And there he is: ‘Ready for my morning run.’”

There is no question that the rematch loss to Ward has been a chastening experience. In its shadow, Kovalev has witnessed for himself that truest of boxing aphorisms: that friendship can be fleeting.

“I know who are my real friends and are still friends, before the belts and after the belts,” he says. “I understand when you have belts, it’s like a magnet. Everyone wants to take a picture, everybody wants to help you. When you lose them, the only people still with you are your real friends, the ones I can count on ten fingers.”

But all of that, he insists now, is in the past. He is ready to learn from it, draw a line under it and to move on. “I made a lot of mistakes with this last fight,” he says philosophically. “It’s good experience for me again. Every fight, I get something new for myself and my team.” Yes, some of the blows were low. Maybe the stoppage was early. Perhaps the advice in the corner was not everything he wanted or needed. But not long ago, he was a dominant champion, and at the end of the day, his fall from grace is on him. And it is up to him to do what needs to be done if he is to recapture what he had in the past and to exceed it in the future.

“I’m ready to get new belts, new fights,” he says. “Believe me, I’m feeling good. I’m looking forward to being the best for myself, not for anybody else. I want to show my best boxing. I want to return my best shape. Next step in my career, I want to come back stronger and be Krusher, how I was before Chilemba. What happened has happened. I already throw it away. I am not broken mentally. I am strong inside. Everything is good.”

Middleweights Antoine Douglas and Gary O'Sullivan Square Off in Saunders-Lemieux Co-Main Event

A pair of middleweights looking to fight their way into title contention will face off on Saturday, Dec. 16 in Montreal as once-defeated Virginian Antoine “Action” Douglas (22-1-1, 16 KOs) and Gary “Spike” O’Sullivan (26-2, 18 KOs) of Cork, Ireland go toe-to-toe for the WBO Intercontinental Middleweight Title in the 10-round co-main event of HBO World Championship Boxing beginning live at 9:40 PM ET/PT.

The fight will be the chief support of the WBO World Middleweight Championship showdown between Champion Billy Joe Saunders and challenger and former IBF World Middleweight Champion David Lemieux.  

At the young age of 25, Douglas has already held numerous regional title belts and has taken the undefeated records of fighters including Thomas “Cornflake” LaManna and Istvan “The Prince” Szili. Douglas is riding a three-fight knockout streak since suffering the only defeat of his career.

“Fighting on such a great middleweight card on HBO will be a great opportunity,” said Douglas. “I’ve seen some fights of Gary’s, and I never underestimate my opponent. I know he’s got a good record and that he always comes to fight. I’ve never been to Canada, so I look forward to expanding my fan base there.”

Known as a true showman with booming knockout power, O’Sullivan is riding a four-fight winning streak culminating with a brutal beating and TKO over Nick Quigley in the main event on Golden Boy Boxing on ESPN in September. At 33-years-old, O’Sullivan has faced some of the top middleweights in the division throughout his career including Saunders and Chris Eubank, Jr. 

“I’m coming off a tremendous knockout win, and that high has carried into my training for this huge co-main event opportunity,” said Gary O’Sullivan. “I’m excited to be making my HBO debut on such a tremendous card, and will not disappoint in giving everyone a show. Antoine Douglas should be prepared to face the very best version of myself in the ring.”

Preview: Kovalev Looks to Krush Once More

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Photo: Ed Mulholland
By Eric Raskin

For seven years, for the first 31 fights of his professional boxing career, all Sergey “Krusher” Kovalev did was Krush. From Gabriel Campillo to Nathan Cleverly to Jean Pascal, one opponent after another got battered and/or bloodied and/or embedded in the canvas. Even Bernard Hopkins, who defied the trend by lasting long enough to hear the scorecards read, came the closest he’d ever come to that point in a 60-plus-fight career to getting stopped. Kovalev never took a backward step. He was the snowball rolling down the hill, rolling over every opponent in its path, and rolling up the pound-for-pound lists.

Two days after Thanksgiving, at the Theater at Madison Square Garden (on HBO World Championship Boxing on Saturday at 10 PM ET/PT), we will be introduced to a different Kovalev. One who failed to dominate in his last two fights (three, if you count his uneven performance in decisioning Isaac Chilemba). One who was dominated last time out. One who has, simply put, lost his aura of invincibility. There are valid reasons and excuses, no doubt. But they don’t change the fact that, for a man who was undefeated and quite possibly the most intimidating boxer on the planet a year ago, rebuilding is now required.

“Right now, I feel all bad things are gone from my mind,” Kovalev (30-2-1 with 26 KOs) said as he prepared for his comeback bout against Vyacheslav Shabranskyy. “Right now I concentrate and I focus for the future of my boxing career.”

While that may be the right approach, the recent past isn’t just going to disappear. Last November 19, the menacing Russian got off to a spectacular start in his light heavyweight title showdown with Andre Ward, flooring the unbeaten Olympic champ with a right hand in the second round. But slowly Ward chipped away at Kovalev’s lead until, at the end of 12 rounds, the three official judges each had Ward ahead by a single point. Plenty of observers, however, thought Kovalev had done enough to win, and certainly The Krusher himself did – other than the aesthetic effect of a zero turning into a one, there was no real damage done.

That wasn’t the case, however, after Kovalev and Ward’s June 17 rematch. Training camp was ablaze with controversy as Kovalev’s relationship with John David Jackson imploded – Team Ward even claimed Jackson approached them about switching sides – and in the ring, Ward took over a close fight in the middle rounds when Kovalev tired. Numerous low blows played a role, and the stoppage itself was curiously timed, but there was also a perfect right hand to the jaw that set up Kovalev’s demise and plenty of clean bodyshots that sapped his strength. Again, Kovalev lost to Ward with asterisks. But again, he did lose to Ward — this time, by eighth-round TKO.

Both a one-time Kovalev opponent and a partner in the company that promotes Shabranskyy, HBO on-air analyst Bernard Hopkins has unique insight into Saturday’s fight. He’s never tried to come back from a stoppage defeat, but Hopkins has certainly dealt with his share of setbacks and knows what it’s like to run into problems with a trainer. And he sees in Kovalev indicators of a fighter who won’t be diminished by this particular adversity.

“I don’t see any problems with him physically,” Hopkins says. “What I did see was confusion in his corner, how to adjust, what to do. Not taking anything away from Andre Ward, but when you go into a fight with distractions, and with a lack of trust in the man who’s giving you information, that’s a hard hump to get over. Physically, Sergey and Andre were on the same level, but Sergey had some stuff in the attic that hadn’t been cleaned out yet. He lost the mental battle before he even got in the ring. The rumblings of problems with John David Jackson started before the first fight, and it reached its climax in the second fight. Look, if you decide to change trainers just because you lost one fight after you won 30 fights, that’s usually a bad choice, an emotional choice. But for Sergey, based on the circumstances, it’s a good choice to make some adjustments.”

Specifically, the adjustment Kovalev made, after heading back to home Russia and contemplating his options, was to part ways with Jackson and hire as his new trainer Abror Tursunpulatov of Uzbekistan, who also works with Russian middleweight prospect Bakhram Murtazaliev and several Uzbek Olympians. Kovalev also brought in conditioning coach Aleksandr Sedov.

“My training camp is going really good,” Kovalev said on a prefight media call. “I’m happy to work right now with my new coach, Abror Tursunpulatov. He’s doing a great job and we understand each other because we speak and understand one language. We understand each other and I feel comfortable.”

Between finding a new trainer with whom he isn’t actively feuding and fighting an opponent who isn’t Andre Ward, the likelihood of Kovalev getting back on track seems promising. And with Ward now retired, rising to the very top of the light heavyweight division again appears well within The Krusher’s reach. There’s talk of a showdown next year with undefeated mega-prospect Dmitry Bivol or proven contender Sullivan Barrera – provided Kovalev can get past Shabranskyy first.

The 6’3½” Ukrainian has height and reach advantages over Kovalev, plus at 30, he’s younger by four years. With 16 knockouts on his 19-1 record, Shabranskyy is a legit puncher, and he’s busy, throwing an average of 70.2 punches per round, according to CompuBox. It must be noted, though, that those gaudy figures were achieved without anyone as scary as Kovalev punching back at him.

“I have a wife and two kids. I’m scared of nobody,” Shabranskyy quipped recently when asked if he fears the power-punching Kovalev. Shabranskyy believes that with his Ukrainian amateur background and more North American techniques learned in the pros, he has the style to give Kovalev fits. But he’s not kidding himself about what he’s up against. “He’s actually much more dangerous after a loss,” Shabranskyy says of Kovalev, “because he has everything to look forward to in this fight.”

Hopkins agrees completely with that assessment. “Sergey Kovalev right now is even more dangerous that when I fought him,” the future Hall of Famer says. “He’s coming for revenge. He’s coming to erase that ‘L’ that he got, to put everyone on notice. It’s going to take a perfect Shabranskyy to be able to win. He can not make mistakes. He has to be mentally strong, not mentally cocky. You can’t go in there cocky, thinking, ‘He just had a loss, I’m tall, I can punch, I’m going to go in there and beat him.’ You think that way, you’re getting knocked out in three rounds.”

“You gotta fight Kovalev with a little bit of fear, a little bit of courage, a little bit of pressure, a little bit of everything,” Hopkins says. “You can’t be too brave, but you can’t be too scared. Shabranskyy can crack. This is a fight that is definitely not going the distance.”

Especially when you consider that Shabranskky was dropped three times in his lone loss, against Barrera, and twice against Paul Parker, but also scored a knockdown of Barrera and rallied to beat Parker by third-round stoppage, this does indeed smell like it’s ending inside 12 rounds. Shabranskyy also has shown a tendency to cut. It’s like Hopkins says: He needs to be perfect.

If he is, we’ll find out whether Andre Ward took more from Sergey Kovalev than just his undefeated record.

***

On the televised undercard, a potential future Kovalev opponent and the only man to hang a loss on Shabranskyy, Sullivan Barrera (20-1, 14 KOs), takes on Dominican tough guy Felix Valera (15-1, 13 KOs), the only fighter to go 12 rounds with Dmitry Bivol. The 10-rounder is Barrera’s follow-up to an impressive July victory on HBO over Joe Smith Jr., and the 35-year-old Cuban is poised for big opportunities if he can run his winning streak to four straight.

“Felix Valera is a tricky and tough fighter,” Barrera said when the fight was announced. “He is just another obstacle in my way towards fighting for a world title.”

“I am warning Barrera that I am not going to New York for a vacation,” Valera, 29, responded. “I am going to score that upset.”

***

Also on the card, former next big thing Yuriorkis Gamboa (27-2, 17 KOs) gets what might be his last big chance when he takes on junior lightweight contender Jason Sosa (20-2-4, 15 KOs) as a late sub in a 10-rounder. The 29-year-old Sosa was scheduled to face Robinson Castellanos, but a back injury forced Castellanos out, and Gamboa – who suffered a shocking upset loss to Castellanos in May – got the call.

“This is probably his last chance,” Golden Boy Promotions President Eric Gomez said of the 35-year-old Gamboa. “This is do or die for him.”

PODCAST: Episode 221 - Kovalev vs. Shabranskyy Preview

HBO Boxing Insiders Eric Raskin and Kieran Mulvaney preview Saturday night's light heavyweight showdown pitting a comebacking Sergey Kovalev against Vyacheslav Shabranskyy, plus they examine undercard bouts Sullivan Barrera vs. Felix Valera and Yuriorkis Gamboa vs. Jason Sosa.

Miguel Cotto: A Retrospective HBO Special Debuts November 25

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HBO Sports, with a 44-year tradition in professional boxing, takes a deep dive into the career of sure-fire Hall of Famer Miguel Cotto, the most accomplished and decorated fighter in Puerto Rican history, as he prepares to make one last ring appearance next month against  former U.S. Olympian Sadam Ali when Miguel Cotto: A Retrospective debuts Saturday, November. 25 at 12:45 PM ET/PT immediately following the live HBO World Championship Boxing tripleheader telecast from New York.

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The special will also be available on HBO NOW, HBO GO and HBO On Demand, and at hbo.com/boxing, as well as other new media platforms.

Four-division and six-time world champion Miguel Cotto (41-5, 33 KOs), returns to the ring for the final time in what will mark the end of an era for the future Hall of Famer. Cotto will look to successfully defend his junior middleweight title in his last outing before a packed crowd of loyal New York supporters as he closes the book on his legendary career.

HBO Sports production cameras will visit Cotto as well as family members in Puerto Rico to tell his backstory — both personal and professional — as he trains for the final time in Hollywood, CA under the guidance of Freddie Roach. The Caguas, Puerto Rico native will also sit with Jim Lampley for a retrospective on his accomplishments.

On Saturday, Dec. 2, Cotto and Ali meet at the World's Most Famous Arena, Madison Square Garden in New York in a 12-round 154-pound world title bout that will be televised live on HBO beginning at 10:00 PM ET/PT. This will mark Cotto’s 24th appearance on the network and his tenth showcase at MSG.

CompuBox Preview and Prediction: Kovalev-Shabranskyy

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A year ago, Sergey Kovalev stood at the doorstep of immortality. He was a three-belt light heavyweight champion, was perceived to be the best in his division thanks to eight largely dominant title defenses, was rated in the top three of most pound-for-pound rankings and was favored by many to inflict the first defeat against Andre Ward since Ward was 12 years old. Now, following a highly controversial decision defeat and a somewhat controversial eighth-round stoppage in the rematch, Kovalev has a chance to regain what he had lost — at least partially. That's because his fight with Vyacheslav Shabranskyy was upgraded to a fight for the vacant WBO belt he lost to Ward. Will "The Krusher" crush it, or will Shabranskyy complete what Ward began?

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Ledger Losses, Statistical Winners

The two Ward fights inflicted irreparable damage to Kovalev's record but in terms of strict statistics, the "Krusher" fared very well. In the first bout he out-landed Ward 126-116 overall and 78-61 power while getting to within 55-48 in landed jabs. Kovalev scored the fight's only knockdown with a sensational left-right combination in the second, only the second knockdown of Ward's career. Despite the narrative to the contrary, Kovalev's best statistical round was the 10th when he landed 21 of 58 punches overall, both highs for the fight. Ward was more accurate in all phases (34%-27% overall, 33%-20% jabs, 36%-34% power) and, because he performed better in the second half in comparison to the first, he won enough close rounds to win 114-113 on all scorecards. Similarly, Kovalev produced better numbers in the rematch as he was more active (50.9 per round to Ward's 29.8) and landed more blows overall (95-80) because he jabbed much better (45-27 in raw numbers; 23 thrown/5.6 connects per round for Kovalev to Ward's 11.8 thrown/3.4 connects). But Ward turned the fight with a vicious body attack that accounted for 10 of his 20 connects in round eight. Kovalev bent over during the assault thanks, in part, to several body shots that strayed below the belt. Referee Tony Weeks, interpreting Kovalev's posture as a sign of surrender, stopped the bout. Many, however, thought that Ward would eventually score a clean TKO. Tainted or not, the twin Ward victories did their damage.

A Peek Into the Past?

Like Kovalev during his rise, Shabranskyy has been a high-energy fighter with a surprisingly effective jab. In his seven CompuBox-tracked fights he has averaged 68.9 punches per round — well above the 52.3 light heavyweight average — and his left hand has been busy (36.1 thrown/9.4 connects per round, 29% accuracy). He limited his foes to 48.3 punches per round as well as nearly seven fewer connects per round (22.2 vs. 15.5). Shabranskyy, however, has had his share of tests thus far. Sullivan Barrera inflicted the only loss of Shabranskyy's career with a brutal seventh-round KO in which he suffered three knockdowns, was out-landed 207-78 overall, 74-34 jabs and 133-44 power and was victimized by huge percentage gaps (46%-18% overall, 34%-13% jabs, 54%-25% power). Also, Paul Parker floored Shabranskyy twice in round one before the Ukrainian scored a third-round TKO. Finally, cuts may be a problem for Shabranskyy, for he was cut over the right eye against Barrera and over the left orb in his most recent fight against Todd Unthank-May. To his credit, Shabranskyy fought four more rounds with the cut against Unthank-May, where he exhibited a sensational jab (45.4 thrown/13.3 connects per round, 29% accuracy), out-landed 166-126 overall and 93-37 jabs and was more accurate in all phases (35%-30% overall, 29%-28% jabs, 45%-31% power). His attack was such that Unthank-May's corner stopped the fight between rounds seven and eight. Will his blend of offensive skills and innate toughness be enough to overcome Kovalev?

Inside The Numbers

Kovalev's last seven opponents landed 36.7% of their power shots- but only 4.7 per round- (Ward landed an average of six power shots per round in their two fights).  Kovalev landed 33.3% of his power shots- light heavy. avg: 37.8%.  Shabranskyy, taking a HUGE step up in class, landed 10.3 jabs per round (last seven fights)- double the light. heavy avg.

Prediction

Shabranskyy will give it a good try, but his somewhat shaky chin, vulnerable tissues around the eyes, Kovalev's desire to regain the winning touch and the effects of a new trainer may be too much for the Ukrainian to handle. Kovalev by exciting later-round TKO.