By: Kirk Jackson
Sergey “Krusher” Kovalev 31-2-1 (27 KO’s) certainly looked confident after securing victory for the first time since July of 2016, recapturing the WBO light heavyweight championship in the process.
Scoring a 2nd round knock-out over Vyacheslav “Lion heart” Shabranskyy 19-2 (16 KO’s), Kovalev aims to conquer the light heavyweight terrain heading into 2018.
Photo Credit: David Spagnola/Main Events
“I did it and worked very hard to get to champion status. My brain, mentally, my conditioning, my body – I’m back. It’s my goal to be the best in this division. I am here, I love boxing,” said Kovalev in a post-fight interview.
Kovalev is scheduled to return back to the ring in March of 2018, against an opponent yet to be determined and with his biggest obstacle (Andre Ward retirement) no longer in the picture, is the path clear for the Russian “Krusher” to resume reign over the division?
HBO boxing analysts Jim Lampley and Max Kellerman suggest that is the case.
They actually suggested upon conclusion of the fight and during the post-fight interview with Kovalev, that we should forget about the two fights against Ward that previously took place – resulting in defeats for Kovalev.
It’s as though they want to paint a narrative where the viewer is supposed to forget about Kovalev losing and we are to wash that foul taste out of our mouths.
Well for one, reality does not work that way, what’s done is done and history cannot be erased.
However, Kovalev can use these previous experiences and set-backs and learn from those situations.
Redemption can be a wonderful story and adversity plays its part as the antagonist.
Over the course of the past year, Kovalev experienced his share of adversity losing to Ward twice, along with the dysfunction within his training camp including discord between head trainer John David Jackson.
The boxing ring serves as an absolute truth, because it reveals everything about whoever steps in the ring.
It reveals who trained, who properly prepared and poses the question to each combatant who wants it more? During the duration of a fight, the ring also exposes strengths and weaknesses for those who enter.
Defeat brings upon harsh reality as well.
When a fighter experiences defeat, many cases there’s an evaluation of the process; training regimen, coaching, outside distractions/activities, all the aspects of preparation leading up to the fight.
Kovalev’s promoter Kathy Duva, hardcore fans of the “Krusher,” along with Kovalev himself emphasized the notion he was robbed of a decision in the first encounter against Ward and was unfairly stopped against Ward in the rematch – due to poor officiating.
The perspective with each case is subjective, but the results in which is etched in history is a defeat on two occasions for Kovalev.
Something to consider as well, if Kovalev felt so strongly in his mind about the result of each fight with Ward, why undergo vast changes in training camp in preparation for the second fight against Ward and then again for his most recent fight against Shabranskyy?
Obviously he needed to switch things up, improve on his skill-set and changes had to occur. There was a glaring disconnect between trainer and fighter. With Jackson out, Kovalev is now being prepared by Abror Tursunpulatov.
Now that Kovalev is back in the winner’s circle after destroying Shabranskyy and equipped with a world title, questions still remain.
The fight against Shabranskyy was a small sample size and not a true telling tale to see if Kovalev gained improvements to his overall style.
We don’t know how good Shabranskyy is. Regarding high level opposition faced, Shabranskyy fought the likes of light heavyweight contender Sullivan Barrera and was soundly defeated.
For Kovalev, he looked good in there; he was loose, relaxed and displayed a few new wrinkles to his repertoire.
Known for his reliance on his left jab and straight right hand, Kovalev managed to sneak a few left hooks in there and also jabbed effectively to the body.
Kovalev also displayed weapons presented in previous bouts; laser sharp jabs and a blazing counter-right hand which sparked the end for Shabranskyy.
Perhaps the most important element to recovery for Kovalev was the mental aspect and regaining any lost confidence.
Losing to Ward shouldn’t fully damper what Kovalev has accomplished in his career; he was a top pound-for-pound fighter prior to the pair of defeats and can regain that status depending on how he performs moving forward.
Some of the questions regarding Kovalev is can he return to an elite level and for how long? Former foe Bernard Hopkins, believes Kovalev can fight effectively at a high level for a number of years.
“Although he (Kovalev) is certainly not the youngest guy, he is not an old man, he is still dangerous for a lot of opponents.”
“Sergey can box at the highest level for at least four more years and be at the top. Perhaps, it’s possible that he goes to cruiserweight? Who knows?”
Assuming Kovalev is back on an elite level, there’s the question of the fights against Ward and whether they should be viewed as an anomaly, or a true illustration and exposure of Kovalev’s weaknesses.
Can any other fighters in the division capitalize on the perceived weaknesses of Kovalev? The light heavyweight division is certainly loaded with talent.
Adonis Stevenson 29–1 (24 KO’s) is the WBC, Ring Magazine and Lineal champion, Dmitry Bivol 12-0 (10 KO’s) is the WBA champion and Artur Beterbiev 12-0 (12 KO’s) is the WBO champion.
The aforementioned Sullivan Barrera (21-1, 14 KO’s), who has his pick between facing Kovalev or Bivol next for a title, former super middleweight champion Badou Jack 22-1-2 (13 KO’s), Eleider Alvarez 23-0 (11 KO’s), Marcus Browne 20-0 (15 KO’s) and Oleksandr Gvozdyk 14-0 (12 KO’s) occupy the division as well.
The end of 2017 and entering 2018, there is new landscape at light heavyweight and a long list of challenges awaiting Kovalev. Challenges Kovalev aims to embrace.
“I’m a real fighter,” Kovalev said. “I’m not running from the real fighters. In the future, it will be very interesting fights because right now we are just belt-holders. We’ll find out from all of the champions who is the best.”