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?
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.
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.