By Marc Livitz: On Saturday, March 3, former undisputed light heavyweight champion Sergey “Krusher” Kovalev will return to the ring to defend his WBO title against Igor Mikhalkin (21-1, 9 KO’s) at Madison Square Garden in New York City. After he lost his rematch with now-retired Andre Ward last summer, Kovalev (31-2-1, 27 KO’s) fought this past November and scored a resounding, second round knockout win over Vyascheslav Shabranskyy. Sharing the HBO televised card from “The World’s Most Famous Arena” will be current WBA titlist Dmitry Bivol (12-0, 10 KO’s), who will face slick and crafty Cuban native Sullivan Barrera (21-1, 14 KO’s).
Perhaps more than anything he’s yet to accomplish in his career, Sergey Kovalev is likely most eager to put the two defeats to Ward behind him. His initial outing with the Oakland, California native in November of 2016 was almost like a perfectly matched game of chess. Each man looked for openings, waited for mistakes, which were few and far between and looked to capitalize.
“Krusher” Kovalev lost a unanimous decision with each scorecard reading 114-113 apiece. There was and had to be a rematch, which took place last June. The outcome was completely different, as Sergey was stopped in the eighth round by body blows which appeared to most eyes to be extremely borderline, if not illegal. Three months later, Ward abruptly retired.
Sergey’s November TKO stoppage victory over the aforementioned Shabranskyy brought him back to winning ways alongside the brutal knockouts which have earned him such a proper nickname.
On Wednesday afternoon, the four fighters took part in an international media conference call to share their respective views on their upcoming night in Manhattan. In order to accommodate all of the participants, each of their outputs were brief and very much to the point.
Selected Highlights Listed Below
Kovalev’s Opening Thoughts: “I’ve known of this guy since he was an amateur. I’m ready to defend my title against him. I should be ready for everything because we’re prepared mentally and physically.”
On Getting a KO: “It’s not always my goal to knock everyone out every single time. I get into the ring and see what I get.”
His Motivation: "Every fight for me is difficult. Right now, I’m ready to fight anybody but I’m only thinking of Igor Mikhalkin. I’ll fight anyone who’s ready to get into the ring against me and Mikhalkin got the call."
On Fighting a Southpaw: "It’s a little difficult to find a sparring partner who fights like him but for the last three weeks, I’ve been sparring with southpaws.”
Igor Mikhalkin on Kovalev: “I’ll judge by the situation whether or not I choose to go to the head or body of Kovalev. It’s a dream of every boxer to fight in the main event in New York . I’m fighting the main fighter in the main fight.”
His Strategy: “I’m conditioned to fight for twelve rounds. I’ve never been much of a puncher, so I’m prepared to win on points if I have to. I’ve been training with sparring partners who are much in the style of Kovalev.
Dmitry Bivol On Fighting Sullivan Barrera: “I have no reason not to fight him but at this point, it doesn’t matter now. He’s fighting me because he’s getting more money than if he fought Sergey Kovalev.”
Bivol’s Thoughts on Barrera: “He has lots of experience and fights behind him, but so do I and with good, quality fights. I can trust myself to win this fight. He’ll be one of the best I’ve faced, but it’s no different than other fights because I leave it all on the line.”
On Training for the fight: “I work on perfecting my skills. I’m not perfect but I’m always working on getting there. This camp has been tough and my sparring has been tough as well.”
On Fighting in New York : “I’m excited about my New York debut and my coach’s dream has always been for one of his fighters to be on the main card at Madison Square Garden . I’ll assess the situation as the fight goes on to see whether or not I’ll go for a knockout. I’m training for all twelve rounds.”
Sullivan Barrera, Opening Statements: “I feel great and my training camp has gone well. This is a very important fight for me and I’m very happy for this.”
Barrera on opting to fight Bivol instead of Sergey Kovalev: “I was initially offered the Kovalev fight for much more money, but it wasn’t for a title. After my bout with Andre Ward, I felt I was ready for a title fight. The second time I was offered a fight with Kovalev, it was for considerably less money, so I chose to instead fight Bivol.”
His Thoughts on Bivol: “I respect all fighters. Bivol is a talented, young fighter. He’s going to have to prove everything that’s been said about him. All of his opponents have been younger than him. I’m sure he’ll be prepared for this title fight. He’s never fought anyone as experienced as me, so I think this will be a great night.”
If he can be the face of Cuban boxing: “Of course I can. It’s something I know I can do.”