PODCAST Ep 239: Kovalev-Mikhalkin, Bivol-Barrera Postfight

HBO Boxing Insiders Eric Raskin and Kieran Mulvaney look back on dominant knockout wins for Sergey Kovalev and Dmitry Bivol on Saturday night at Madison Square Garden and glance ahead to when the two elite light heavyweights might meet in the ring, plus they reflect on last week's Canelo Alvarez-Gennady Golovkin fan event at LA Live.

Kovalev and Bivol Win in New York, to Set Up Possible Clash

Photos: Ed Mulholland

By Kieran Mulvaney

NEW YORK, NY -- Sergey Kovalev scored his second consecutive stoppage victory at the Theater at Madison Square Garden on Saturday night, but whereas his previous opponent, Vyacheslav Shabranskyy, offered little resistance before being battered into submission in the second round, Igor Mikhalkin proved to be a more stubborn proposition.

Not that Kovalev’s compatriot ever threatened to defeat his fellow Russian: he had neither the skill nor, importantly, the power to spring the upset. But his awkward, herky-jerky southpaw style proved something of a conundrum for Kovalev to solve. Kovalev, however, seemed fully resigned from the opening bell to the fact that this was a fight that he just needed to win, but should not expect to win prettily.

Mikhalkin was not exactly elusive, but he kept his guard high and swung his upper body from side to side, lunging in with unorthodox lead left hands and then stepping to his right, making it hard for Kovalev to land cleanly. The tone was set early, as Mikhalkin swarmed Kovalev to the ropes, not so much with punches as with his whole body, only for Kovalev (32-2-1, 27 KOs) to drive him back with short punches on the inside. Knowing that his former fellow national amateur team member was going to prove a tough out, Kovalev was clearly keeping something in reserve, not over-committing to his punches, not attempting to land with power but just looking to land with whatever he could.

Mikhalkin did score with some southpaw lead lefts in the third, which appeared to briefly fill him with the courage to stand and fight, allowing Kovalev to land some clean counter lefts and sharp rights in the fourth. By the sixth, Kovalev was fully dialed in. He walked Mikhalkin (21-2, 9 KOs) into a right hand in the sixth, and then cracked him with a left hook that sent him lurching across the ring.

By the end of the sixth, Mikhalkin’s face was a mess, his right cheek cut and swelling and his eye closing. Sensing the end was near to start the seventh, he did his best to fight his way out of trouble, but a Kovalev right hand hurt him, and now the Krusher knew he had his prey where he wanted him. But before he could finish him off, referee Steve Willis halted the action for Mikhalkin’s battered visage to be examined by the ringside physician, who immediately told Willis to stop the contest, at 2:25 of the round.

A smiling Kovalev, after scoring his second straight win following his defeats by Andre Ward smiled and said, “Yes, I’m back. But not against southpaws. He’s not an easy fighter. He’s a good boxer. He showed stamina and movement, he’s a great boxer.” Asked if he was now ready for a bigger fight, he smiled again. “I’m always ready, but not against southpaw. If it’s big money fight, yes I’m willing.”

That fight could be against non-southpaw Dmitry Bivol, who took a major step up in opposition against Sullivan Barrera in the co-main event and passed the test impressively.

Barrera had the option to fight Kovalev on Saturday night but, arguing that the pay being offered was insufficient, opted instead to take on the young undefeated Bivol. That gamble backfired as Bivol outboxed and outfought him before scoring a knockout victory with a thumping right hand in the twelfth and final round to retain a light-heavyweight title and continue his march to the very top of the division.

Bivol (13-0, 11 KOs) was in control from the outset, firing a stiff jab that backed up Barrera in the opening round. Known to this point primarily for his knockout power, Bivol rapidly established that he was faster of hand and foot than his opponent, bouncing on his toes to move in and out, taking a half step back and out of range whenever Barrera set to punch, and then sliding back in to fire off rapid combinations. By stepping back, Bivol forced Barrera to lean in with his punches, which not only negated any power they might have had by the time they landed, but also left the Cuban-born Miami resident in perfect range for Bivol’s counters.

Still, Barrera (21-2, 14 KOs) is a cagey and skilled veteran, and was keeping a tight enough defense and throwing enough offense to prevent Bivol from landing a truly clear shot until the fourth, when a flurry was followed by a hook that had Barrera in some trouble. He survived the Russian’s follow-up assault, but then a three-punch combination was followed by a straight right to Barrera’s head that sent the spray flying. Another three-punch Bivol combination in the sixth was punctuated with a clean left hook.

Barrera was by now wearing the expression of a man who was beginning to regret his life choices – and certainly this particular one – but he refused to go away quietly, offering enough offense to keep Bivol honest. But whereas the Russian’s punches were sharp, snapping and frequently throw in combination as part of a planned assault, Barrera’s were largely one at a time, reactive and thrown as if to merely to keep Bivol at bay.

Bivol almost broke through again in the eighth, hurting Barrera and forcing him to hang on to ride out the storm of a follow-up assault. By the tenth – the one round that all three judges scored for Barrera – and the eleventh, Bivol was in cruise control, bouncing on his toes, moving in and out and throwing his stiff jab and, whenever he sensed an opening, right hand. But he began the twelfth in seek-and-destroy mode, to concussive and conclusive effect. Bivol fired a jab, thought about a follow-up right, paused when he didn’t have a clean shot, fired another jab, and another, and then saw an opening for a right hand, which exploded on Barrera’s temple and sent him crashing to his back along the ropes.

Somehow, the Cuban hauled himself to his feet, but slowly and unsteadily, and referee Harvey Dock, seeing he was in no condition to continue, called a halt at 1:41 of the round.

CompuBox statistics underlined Bivol’s dominance. He landed 243 of 778 total punches, compared to 75 of 606 for Barrera; his power punch stats were even more lopsided in his favor, landing 146 to just 65.

Even so, his face showed he had not had things entirely his own way: he was cut over the right eye by a head butt, and another clash of heads raised a nasty welt on his forehead. And the fighter appeared to give himself a passing grade but not much more.

“It was a really great opponent,” he said. “Sullivan Barrera showed me a lot of things tonight that I have to work on. Thank you, Sullivan. In the first few rounds, I was a little bit reserved. I was thinking about how much I needed to go the rest of the fight. In the 12th round, I knew I could stop him, and I stepped on the gas and got the knockout.”

Weigh-In Slideshow + Recap: Revived Kovalev Ready for New Challengers

Photos: Ed Mulholland

By Kieran Mulvaney

NEW YORK, N.Y -- It all feels different now. Two fights ago, Sergey Kovalev was tense. Relations with his trainer had been deteriorating for over a year. Trust had evaporated, on both sides. The Russian was heading into a rematch with a man who officially had defeated him in a contest in which Kovalev was sure he was the deserved victor. He felt that everything and everyone was against him, and when the tide of the rematch joined the rest of the world in beating him back, he effectively acquiesced, crumpling on the ropes as Andre Ward once again emerged triumphant – this time more definitively.

By the time of his most recent bout, Kovalev’s world had changed. He had drunk too much, survived a car accident, visited a monastery. Of perhaps greater moment for his boxing career, he had changed trainers, selecting a cornerman of whom few in the United States had heard but with whom he felt comfortable. Entering his contest with Vyacheslav Shabranskyy last November, he was to all outward appearances relaxed and back on track; even so, there was a degree of anxiety as he entered the ring. Not only had he suffered two losses in a row, but almost two years had passed since he had last scored a knockout. For a fighter nicknamed “Krusher”, that was a confidence-sapping drought; his nervousness before facing Shabranskyy was less over whether he might lose – although no boxer could ever discount such a possibility – than whether he could win in a manner befitting his reputation, whether he still had the ability to lay out his opponents in devastating style.

In the event, he dispensed with Shabranskyy with an even more violently ruthless efficiency than he likely dared dream; and now, with his next fight a day away, Sergey Kovalev appears to be a man at peace with his lot. His commitment to living the athletic life is recharged, and he has placed his professional fate singularly in the hands of his trainer, Abror Tursunpulatov, a retort to some of the cynicism that met news of his appointment. There was some assumption that Kovalev, whose dedication to his training had been waning, had selected somebody who would not push or boss him but would allow him to set his own parameters; instead, at least by Kovalev’s telling, the exact opposite has happened. The fighter professes to have yielded compete control to the trainer, feeling able to do so in part for the simplest of reasons: the two men literally speak the same language.

As improved as Kovalev’s English has become in the years that he has been living in the United States, his thoughts are still in Russian. His words flow more easily in Russian. In those vital seconds between rounds, when a trainer’s advice may need to be offered, distilled, and digested, it is to his advantage if those words are delivered in Russian. And, Kovalev offers, an easier and deeper comprehension allows for greater trust and a readiness on his part to place himself “one hundred percent” at the direction of Tursunpulatov. As a result, he says, he believes he will enjoy his new spell atop the light-heavyweight division – a position he assumed by default following Ward’s retirement – more than the previous one.

He certainly looked trim and fighting fit at Friday’s weigh-in for his bout on Saturday night with compatriot Igor Mikhalkin, who will be aiming to ensure that Kovalev’s second reign is an abbreviated one. The two men know each other a little as a result of having competed on the national team together as young amateurs, but they are very different fighters as professionals. Whereas Kovalev is seek-and-destroy, Mikhalkin is more confuse-and-obfuscate, a tricky southpaw with awkward boxing skills – but, as he is the first to confess, not much in the way of a power punch. He has the ability to make life difficult for his fellow countryman, but realistically, if the New Kovalev is to prove on a par with or even better than the Old Kovalev, Mikhalkin is the sort of opponent with whom he should dispense.

Stiffer challenges await, most likely in the form of one of the two men who are squaring up to each other in the co-main event. Sullivan Barrera – who has battled Ward and beaten Shabranskyy and the likes of Joe Smith Jr. and Felix Valera – had the option of facing Kovalev on Saturday but instead elected to battle undefeated Dmitry Bivol, a challenge that seems on paper no less risky and for less apparent reward. Barrera is battle-hardened, savvy and skilled; but Bivol, last seen flattening Trent Broadhurst inside a round, might be special. If he is, then Barrera is the level of opponent who should bring the very best out of him and allow us to see how good he really is; Barrera’s calculus will be that Bivol is not yet ready for the depth of water into which he will be aiming to drag him. It promises to be a fascinating battle out of which the One True Challenger to the crown will emerge. The ultimate battle lies ahead; Saturday night will reveal its combatants.

 

Weights from New York City:

 

Sergey Kovalev: 174.6 pounds.

Igor Mikhalkin: 172.6 pounds.

Dmitry Bivol: 174.4 pounds.

Sullivan Barrera: 173.6 pounds.

 

PODCAST: Kovalev-Mikhalkin and Bivol-Barrera Preview

HBO Boxing Insiders Eric Raskin and Kieran Mulvaney preview the March 3 light heavyweight doubleheader at Madison Square Garden, breaking down the all-Russian showdown between Sergey Kovalev and Igor Mikhalkin and Dmitry Bivol's gigantic step up against Sullivan Barrera.

CompuBox Preview + Prediction: Kovalev-Mikhalkin

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By CompuBox

Following his second consecutive loss to Andre Ward — a eighth-round TKO loss — it would have been easy to believe that Father Time was eroding the 34-year-old "Krusher." But after his sensational second-round TKO of Vyacheslav Shabranskyy to reclaim the WBO title — the first of the three belts he won the first time around — one can say that Kovalev, in a way, is reliving his fistic youth.

In his second fight apart from longtime trainer John David Jackson, Kovalev will face Igor Mikhalkin, a fighter who shares Kovalev's nationality (Russian) but who definitely does not share his style — a stick-and-move southpaw who holds the lightly-regarded IBO light heavyweight title and who has scored only one first-round knockout in his career, which took place in his second pro fight more than 10 years ago. Who will emerge victorious in this Russian turf war that will be staged thousands of miles away from Moscow?

The Krusher Returns

While the Ward fights forced Kovalev to go brain cell for brain cell, his most recent bout against Ukrainian Shabranskyy enabled a rededicated Kovalev to bring out the inner beast that defined his rise. He scored two knockdowns in round one and added a third in round two with a right to the side of the head. While Shabranskyy managed to rise once again, a follow-up flurry persuaded referee Harvey Dock to intervene. While Kovalev didn't generate the extreme volume of years past — his 56.5 per round against Shabranskyy paled to the 91.7 he fired against Nathan Cleverly, the 90 he logged against Gabriel Campillo and 80.2 he generated against Cornelius White — he brought back his excellent accuracy (44% overall, 26% jabs, 62% power) while also producing better defensive numbers (23% overall, 18% jabs, 30% power).

Kovalev’s jab, always an underrated weapon given his power displays, was excellent against Shabranskyy (27.5 thrown/7.0 connects per round). Not that his jab had been horrible before (he averaged 23 attempts and 5.6 connects per round in the Ward rematch), but, for Kovalev, it must be comforting to know that his table-setting punch remains exceptional, at least against less-than-elite competition. Given Mikhalkin's southpaw stance and defensive-minded ways, however, Kovalev's jab may be less of a factor. No matter -- if the jab fails, the power is still available.

Second-Half Man

In his two most recent fights against Thomas Oosthuizen and Doudou Ngumbu, Mikhalkin's fast-twitch punching and excellent mobility helped set the stage for dominant stretches in rounds 7-12 that ultimately resulted in lopsided decision victories. Against the 6-foot-4 Oosthuizen, the 6-foot-1 Mikhalkin increased his work rate from 73.8 punches per round to 99.8 in rounds 7-12 while Oosthuizen's output dropped from to 61.5 to 59.8. During that stretch, Mikhalkin led 166-69 overall, 55-7 jabs and 111-62 power, extending his final leads to 277-113 overall, 94-18 jabs and 183-95 power.

The same scenario unfolded against Ngumbu in the third of their three bouts (all of which Mikhalkin won). There, Mikhalkin's work rate was remarkably consistent (377 punches, or 62.8 per round, in rounds 1-6, and 378, or 63 per round, in rounds 7-12) while Ngumbu's output plummeted from 48.5 in the first six to 28.5 in the last six. Mikhalkin prevailed 75-25 overall, 17-1 jabs and 58-24 power in the second half, resulting in connect leads of 167-58 overall, 55-4 jabs and 112-54 power.

The key to Mikhalkin's ability to tire out opponents is his frequent body jabbing in the first half of fights. Against Oosthuizen, 17 of his 34 body connects were jabs but in rounds 7-12 the body jab accounted for only three of his 26 body connects. Meanwhile, in the first six rounds against Ngumbu, body jabs accounted for 23 of his 42 body connects. When he sufficiently wore out Ngumbu he shelved it as just six of his 27 body connects in rounds 7-12 were jabs. Thus, once Mikhalkin feels that he has sufficiently worn down his opponent, he shelves the body jab to concentrate on driving power shots to the belly. While the body jab proved an effective wearing-down punch against Oosthuizen and Ngumbu, will he be allowed to apply that strategy against Kovalev?

Inside The Numbers

Like all great punchers, Kovalev's (last 8 fights) offense is his defense. His offensive numbers are not overly impressive (although he did land 6.5 jabs per round, slightly higher than the light heavy. avg.), it's his defense. Yes, opponents landed 36.7% of their power punches, but only 4.7 per round, good for a #4 ranking on the CompuBox Categorical Leaders list and half the light heavyweight avg. Kovalev opponents landed just 8.1 total punches per round-#6 on the CompuBox Categorical Leaders list and half the light heavy avg. Mikhalkin is busy (74.9 thrown per round vs. Ngumbu & Oosthuizen) and technically sound (37.3 jabs thrown per round), but will he stay as active once he feels The Krusher's power?

Prediction

He will try, but he won't succeed. Mikhalkin is an athletic lefty who moves well, punches quickly and has ring intelligence. His fatal weakness, at least against Kovalev, will be his profound lack of shot-for-shot power. Even while dominating Oosthuizen and Ngumbu, his power shots landed with pillow-like impact, and that simply won't do against Kovalev. Mikhalkin's best hope is that Kovalev will get frustrated by his movement and pesky punching but the guess here is that Kovalev's overwhelming power will negate all of Mikhalkin's best-laid strategies. Kovalev by KO, probably within six rounds.

 

Light Heavyweights Clash at the Mecca of Mayhem

Photo: Ed Mulholland

Photo: Ed Mulholland

By Gordon Marino

On Saturday evening, Madison Square Garden will host a light heavyweight championship sweepstakes (aired on HBO World Championship Boxing at 10:05 PM). In the main event, Sergey “Krusher” Kovalev (31-2-1, 27 KOs) will defend his belt against fellow Russian, Igor Mikhalkin (21-1, 9 KOs) and undefeated Dmitry Bivol (12-0, 10 KOs) will face the formidable and exciting Sullivan Barrera (21-1, 14 KOs).

In November 2016 the Krusher lost his titles in a hotly disputed decision to Andre Ward. Eight months later in a rematch, Ward worked Kovalev’s body to score a shocking eighth round TKO. But even the second tussle was not without its share of question marks about low blows and the ref possibly calling an early halt to the contest.

Make no mistake about it, Kovalev is a boxer with heavyweight ambitions of fistic greatness. Much to his chagrin, there will be no redemption from the embarrassing loss to Ward, since the S.O.G. announced his retirement a few months after their second fight. Far from being crushed, the Krusher, who is still ranked fifth on Ring’s pound-for pound list, seems to have learned something from that defeat.

This past November, Kovalev rebounded to reclaim his WBO belt with a spectacular second round stoppage of the Ukrainian power puncher, Vyacheslav Shabranskyy. On that night, Kovalev looked better than ever; his footwork was fluid and he mixed his punches up and jabbed to the body to set up his thermonuclear straight right.

Kovalev can crush ribs, to say nothing of a fighter’s confidence and alas, marketability. Egis Klimas, Kovalev’s manager noted, "It's still very difficult to find light heavyweights who want to fight Sergey.” He added, “Many thanks to Igor Mikhalkin, who is confident enough to take on The Krusher and get a big opportunity.”

A native of Russia now fighting out of Germany, Mikhalkin is ranked fifth by the WBO and is surfing a ten-fight win streak against less than stellar opposition. The most significant victory on his résumé is over Doudou Ngumbu, whom he has beaten not once but thrice. Mikhalkin is a southpaw. He has a snapping jab, good balance, and solid technique. He does not, however, pack a lot of pop. Worse yet, Mikhalken’s lack of head movement and his something less than flash-dance footwork does not make it difficult to find his inbox. The challenger has durable neural circuitry but it has never been tested by jolts from the likes of Kovalev, one of the hardest punching 175-pounders since Bob Foster.   

Stranger things have happened in the world of the ring, but without elusiveness or the blows that could mire Kovalev’s relentless attack, Mikhalkin has an Everest to climb on Saturday night and he seems to know it: “This is most likely the most important fight in my career. This is the greatest opponent I've ever fought...I'm happy to make my debut in Madison Square Garden, and I'm making sure that I'm training really hard to keep this fight in my favor.”

***

In a bygone era, a boxer would not have dreamed of becoming a world champion in his twelfth bout, but that is precisely what Dmitry Bivol accomplished in November when he became the WBA light heavyweight champion with a first-round knockout of the unheralded Trent Broadhurst. The WBA has mandated that Bivol defend his title against number one contender Cuban-born Sullivan Barrera .

Both Bivol and Barrera boast long and celebrated amateur careers. Born in Kyrgyzstan but now residing in Saint Petersburg, Russia, Bivol began boxing at six and is a veteran of almost 300 amateur fights. Barrera, who defected to the US in 2009 and lives in Miami, was a world class amateur with a ledger of 285-27. He made his professional debut the same year he arrived in the U.S.

The thirty-five-year-old Barrera has faced far stiffer competition than Bivol. He went 12 rounds in a respectable but losing effort with Andre Ward in May 2016 but then went on to notch knockouts over Shabranskyy (17-0) Paul Parker (8-1), and decision wins over Joe Smith Jr.(23-1) and Felix Valera (15-1)

Understandably, many fighters today who are more concerned about cash than world titles, but Barrera craves a crown. He once turned down a big money meeting with Kovalev because there was no title on the line. Now, he says, “I have been waiting my whole life for the title fight, so that day is finally here. Very important fight for me, so I'm very happy for that.”

Like Kovalev, whom he much admires, Bivol packs a double barrel of a straight right, which he sets up nicely with a jab and then follows with a left uppercut or left hook. He has fast hands and is a focused finisher who will let fly gales of straight punches when he has his opponent hurt.

No doubt thanks to their extensive amateur experience, Bivol and Barrera are masters of the jab. Both brawl with science, making frequent use of a hard jab to the body. Bivol has a tendency to bring his left back low after he jabs, but the menace of his right hand might cause his opponent to hesitate to capitalize on that flaw.

The 27-year-old Russian champ is adept at cutting off the ring; however, that won’t be necessary with Barrera. Barrera attacked Ward and he will not be shy about exercising the same aggression against Bivol.

Though he has an orthodox style and is combination puncher who remains in the pocket, Barrera is also a gambler who will take his chances with wide left lead hooks. Sometimes his attempted surprise attack works. Sometimes not. Barrera moves his punches up and down but has been known to step back after a combo and drop his paws.

Ward had him down twice, and Barrera kissed the canvas in the first frames of his last two fights.

Bivol is a cool and collected combat artist who does not get intoxicated by the sleeping powder he possesses in his right hand. For all is talent, Bivol is not kidding himself. He knows that on Saturday in the mecca of mayhem, he will face the midterm exam of his blossoming career. The confident young champion acknowledges, “I am definitely aware that Barrera is probably one of the best fighters that I've ever faced, probably the best fighter. But to me, every fight is important…everything's on the line, so I need to go out and do my best and make sure that I show my best qualities and do my best fighting.”

Kovalev to Take on Mikhalkin, Bivol to Battle Barrera March 3 on HBO

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Sergey Kovalev continues his rise back to the top of the light heavyweight division when he returns to the Mecca of Boxing on Saturday, March 3rd to defend the WBO Light Heavyweight World Title versus southpaw Igor Mikhalkin, originally of Irkutsk, Russia, now fighting out of Hamburg, Germany.  A skilled boxer, Mikhalkin puts his ten-bout winning streak on the line as he steps up to challenge one of the most fearsome punchers in professional boxing at New York City’s Theater at Madison Square Garden. 

In the co-main event, newly minted WBA World Light Heavyweight Champion Dmitry Bivol of Russia makes his second defense of the title against Cuba’s streaking Sullivan Barrera, the mandatory challenger. Viewed as a “toss-up” bout by boxing insiders, Bivol-Barrera matches a young, explosive champion against an experienced veteran hungry for his first world title fight. Presented by Main Events, Krusher Promotions and World of Boxing in association with EC Box Promotions, the doubleheader will be televised live on HBO World Championship Boxing®. Ticket information will be announced shortly.

Last month, the Big Apple welcomed Kovalev (31-2-1, 27 KOs), the two-time light heavyweight world champion, with open arms as he made his New York debut with a stoppage of Vyacheslav Shabranskyy in the second round to reclaim his WBO Light Heavyweight World Title at the Theater at Madison Square Garden. Eager to return to the ring and to his new home, “Krusher” thrilled his large following of Russian fans last month and he expects an even bigger contingent to greet him in March. As he sits comfortably atop the light heavyweight rankings and in the top five pound-for-pound, Sergey’s goal is to put on a great show for the fans in attendance and watching on HBO.

Kovalev said, “I really enjoyed fighting at Madison Square Garden in November. It feels like my home. I’m very excited to go back to MSG and to fight on HBO. Everyone should to have a great time watching my fight!”

Kovalev’s manager, Egis Klimas, added, “It’s still very difficult to find light heavyweights who want to fight Sergey. I’m surprised! Many thanks to Igor Mikhalkin, who is confident enough to take on The Krusher and get a big opportunity. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that Shabranskyy is Ukrainian and Igor is Russian. They’re tough! Not afraid!”

Mikhalkin (21-1, 9 KOs), 32, a southpaw originally from Irkutsk, Russia, now resides in Hamburg, Germany. He made his professional debut in 2007 with a second-round stoppage against Stefan Stanko and went on to win his first 11 bouts with seven of those wins coming by way of knockout. The lone blemish on Mikhalin’s record is a unanimous decision loss to former WBO Light Heavyweight Title contender Aleksy Kuziemski in 2010. In the eight years since, Igor amassed several belts: the IBO Light Heavyweight World Title, EBU Light Heavyweight Title and the WBO Intercontinental Light Heavyweight Title. Mikhalkin will be making his US debut against Kovalev on March 3.

When asked about his upcoming title shot against Kovalev, Mikhalkin replied, “It is a great honor for me to fight in the United States. This will undoubtedly be the biggest and hardest fight in my career. Kovalev is for me the strongest man in this weight class. But I feel ready. The fight against Kovalev comes at the perfect time. I feel stronger than ever and I want to show the American boxing audience a great fight.”

Mikhalkin’s promoter, Erol Ceylan, of EC Box Promotions added, “We are happy to organize this fight together with Main Events. Kovalev is a big name in the light heavyweight division. Igor has absolutely earned this fight and he has the class to defeat Kovalev. Igor has already won many great foreign victories in his career and I’m sure that he will be successful again.”

In the co-main event, the young champion, Dmitry Bivol (12-0, 10 KOs), makes his New York debut and fights in the United States and on HBO for the second time. Sullivan Barrera (21-1, 14 KOs), who has become a fixture on HBO, returns to The Garden for his first world title fight. Both men were very focused on making this fight and facing each other. Some boxing commentators believe this matchup could be the fight of the night.

“This is not the first time that I am training for the most important fight of my career, and this motivates me and makes me happy! Sullivan Barrera is what we wanted and I am glad that we will meet in the ring soon,” explained WBA Light Heavyweight World Champion, Dmitry Bivol.

Andrei Ryabinskiy, of World of Boxing, Bivol’s promoter, explained, “We have planned a very active schedule for Dmitry Bivol and World of Boxing in 2018 and are happy to start the year with an event at  Madison Square Garden on March 3rd with Dmitry Bivol vs Sullivan Barrera. I would like to thank Kathy Duva and HBO and hope that our partnership will prosper.”

Bivol’s manager, Vadim Kornilov added, “We are glad that our first appearance in 2018 will be against one of the best in the division in the legendary Madison Square Garden.  Sullivan Barrera is a serious test for Bivol and we have a lot of respect for him taking this fight. We want to prove to the world that it was not by accident that this young kid became a world champion in only his 12th ring appearance, he is already fighting on HBO for his third time, and he is fighting one of the best fighters in the division with only one career loss that came at the hands of Andre Ward. Bivol has already been mentioned as a possible pound for pound prospect by many and we will continue fighting the best out there to prove this!”

Barrera said, “I came from Cuba with one dream and that was to win a world title.  I know it won’t be easy and I know I chose the toughest road than anyone to get here.  But I know all of the tough opponents I have agreed to fight and hard work will pay off.  On March 3rd, I will become the most deserving light heavyweight champion in boxing.”

Main Events CEO Kathy Duva remarked, “We’re ready to showcase the light heavyweight division again at Madison Square Garden! We have Kovalev and Barrera both returning to The Theater after big wins in November and we’re adding another light heavyweight champion to the card! Dmitry is a young champion with a bright future ahead of him if he can get past Sullivan, which is no easy task. And Sergey is taking on Igor Mikhalkin, who is a young, but experienced, southpaw and that’s given him some trouble in the past. We’ll round out the show with another lineup of prospects and local guys in great fights to make sure the fans see a really entertaining and satisfying night of boxing.”