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Kovalev-Mikhalkin & Bivol-Barrera on March 3 on HBO

By Stanley White: Sergey Kovalev makes his first defense of his WBO light heavyweight belt in on March 3 against Igor Mikhalkin (21-1, 9 KOs) at Madison Square Garden in New York. Kovalev vs. Igor Mikhalkin will be televised on HBO World Championship Boxing. The co-feature is a very good fight between WBA light heavyweight champion Dmitry Bivol and Sullivan Barrera. That fight promises to produce nonstop 2-way action in a true 50-50 fight. The real story of this card isn’t Kovalev. It’s Bivol. He’s the one that is being groomed as the next star for the light heavyweight division.

Kovalev’s promoters at Main Events wanted to match him against Sullivan Barrera, as it would have been an easy fight to make due them promoting the Cuban fighter as well. Barrera, 35, preferred to fight the 27-year-old Bivol though. It was a calculated decision on Barrera’s part. He possibly sees himself as having a better chance against the less rangy Bivol, who doesn’t fight as well on the outside as Kovalev. Barrera well better fighting at medium distance to his opponents. Kovalev would have presented huge problems to him. Barrera could have made more money fighting Kovalev than Bivol, but it would have been a more difficult task.

Kovalev (31-2-1, 27 KOs) has lost a lot of boxing fans with his 2 losses to Andre Ward. Those were crushing defeats for the 34-year-old Kovalev. The excuses afterwards by Kovalev were especially bad. He didn’t own his defeats. Kovalev won his last fight though against Vyacheslav Shabrankyy to win the vacant WBO light heavyweight title on November 25. Kovalev stopped Shabrankyy in the 2nd round.

The troubling thing about the Kovalev-Shabranskyy fight was it was supposed to be a tune-up/confidence builder fight for Kovalev. It wasn’t going to be for any titles. But after Ward vacated the WBO title, then Kovalev’s management asked the World Boxing Organization if the WBO title could be on the line, and they granted them their wish. It wasn’t a good opponent for Kovalev to be fighting for the vacant WBO belt. It should have been the higher ranked Oleksandr Gvozdyk that Kovalev was fighting for the vacant WBO title, not the #10 ranked Shabranskyy.

The win over Shabranskyy took place at Madison Square Garden, and that’s where he’ll be fighting the little known Igor Mikhalkin on March 3. If Kovalev is going back to MSG because he had good luck there in beating Shabranskyy, he needed bother. Kovalev would have destroyed Shabrankyy if they had fought on the moon. Kovalev was always going to win that fight, because Shabrankyy was just a tune-up level fighter. He’d been recently knocked out by Sullivan Barrera. The only think Kovalev proved in fighting Shabranskyy was that he KO him quicker than Barrera, who stopped him in the 7th round last year in December.

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

I don’t know if everyone will have a “great time” watching the Kovalev-Mikhalkin fight. It seems to me that if the fight is a mismatch like it shapes up to be on paper, everyone WON’T have a great time watching the Kovalev vs. Mikhalkin. The fans want to see good fights, not watching some poor over-matched sap get blasted out without him having the talent to compete. It would have been better if Kovalev’s management matched him against Gvozdyk, Joe Smith Jr., Andrzej Fonfara, Marcus Browne, Anthony Yarde, or Badou Jack.

READ  Eddie Hearn signs Dmitry Bivol

In the co-feature bout, WBA Dmitry Bivol (12-0, 10 KO) will be fighting his mandatory challenger Sullivan Barrera (21-1, 14 KO). This could be a very good fight. Unlike the main event between Kovalev and Mikhalkin, the Bivol-Barrera fight could be a very good one that could go either way. Barrera, 35, is a very good fighter, who has shown the boxing world that he’s a lot better fighter than the guy that was soundly beaten by Andre Ward last year in March 2016 in Oakland, California. That was a case of Barrera fighting someone better than himself.

“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,” said Kathy Duva of Main Events. And ”Sergey is taking on Igor Mikhalkin, who is a young, but experienced southpaw, and that’s given him some trouble in the past.”

Mikhalkin is 32. I wouldn’t say he’s all that young, and I don’t agree that he’s experienced. Mikhalkin has fought 2 contenders during his 10-year pro career, and he was beaten by one of them in Aleksy Kuzuiemski. That was a decent light heavyweight, who lost whenever he’d step it up against better opposition. Kuziemski easily beat Mikhalkin in 2010 in defeating him by a one-sided 10 round unanimous decision. There’s nobody on Mikhalkin’s resume that I can call a good fighter. Mikhalkin’s best opponents he’s faced are these guys: Hakim Chioui, Doudou Ngumbu and Thomas Oothuizen. Ngumbu is a journeyman noted for losing to guys like Imar Salamov, Pawel Glazewski, Isaac Chilemba and Nadjib Mohammedi.

Kovalev fought better in his first fight with Ward last year in November. Some boxing fans felt that Kovalev deserved the win, but the judges seemed to base their opinion on how badly he faded in the second half of the contest. Kovalev was really exhausted from the body punching from Ward, and his inside mauling work. Kovalev was not accustomed to fighting on the inside or from fighting long duration bouts. Most of Kovalev’s fights before his first contest with Ward were short blowout mismatches similar to the one we saw last November against Shabranskyy.

Kovalev is well-suited for fights that last 4 rounds or less, but not so much for fights that go beyond the 5th round.

Mikhalkin comes into the Kovalev fight with a 10-fight winning streak since his loss to Kuziemski in 2010. Mikhalkin previously held the European heavyweight title from 2014 to 2016. Mikhalkin was going to face Marcus Browne in a world title eliminator until the chance to face Kovalev was given to him. Mikhalkin no longer needs to bother with the title eliminator.

“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,” said Mikhalkin.

Bivol is viewed as the future of the 175 lb. division. HBO has already televised one of his fights. If Bivol turns out to be the real deal, he could be an eventual star to the division. Kovalev and Adonis Stevenson are both aging stars, and they likely don’t have too much time left at the top. The 26-year-old Bivol will be around for a long time. He just needs to prove that he has the talent to rule the division. Barrera presents a big test for Bivol. If he can pass that test and look it impressive, he’s going to be hard to beat. The 40-year-old Stevenson probably will never fight Bivol, but Kovalev might choose to take the fight if there’s enough interest on HBO’s part.

READ  Eddie Hearn signs Dmitry Bivol

Bivol recently was elevated to WBA light heavyweight champion following Andre Ward’s retirement. Bivol defended the WBA belt successfully on November 4 in stopping Trent Broadhurst in the 1st round in Monte Carlo. Badou Jack vacated his WBA title. He would have had to face Bivol had he kept the belt. That would have been a good fight to see between Bivol and Badou Jack. It’s too bad Jack chose to give up the WBA title rather than take the fight with Bivol. Jack is expected to face Adonis Stevenson for his WBC 175 lb. belt in the first half of 2018. On paper, the 35-year-old Cuban Barrera shoud be a much tougher opponent for Bivol than what we saw with Broadhurst, who crumbled after the first right hand that he was hit with.

Bivol didn’t even load up on the shot. He effortlessly nailed Broadhurst with a right hand that connected perfectly, sending the Australian down on the canvas. Broadhurst was bleeding from the shot. He was clearly hurt. Bivol came into the fight with a reputation for being a tremendous puncher, and sure showed it with his highlight reel knockout. Some in boxing compare Bivol to Gennady Golovkin in terms of his heavy hands. The only difference is Bivol is bigger, stronger and fighting at 175. Bivol has the same kind of heavy hands that Golovkin possesses. Bivol is a lot younger at 27 than the 35-year-old Golovkin, who has a made a name for himself rather late in his career in the United States.

Golovkin spent the first part of his pro career fighting out of Germany and being mostly obscure. Bivol has the advantage of starting his career in having his fights now televised in the U.S on HBO. If Bivol can take care of business against Barrera in an impressive fashion, he could become a star overnight. A quick knockout of Barrera would make a big name for Bivol right away. Right now, Bivol is fighting on the undercard of Kovalev vs. Mikhalkin, but that soon could change if he obliterates Barrera and stops a few other well-known light heavyweights in a similar fashion. Normally top fighters like Bivol would be avoided after they gain a reputation for being a knockout artist, but he’s now a world champion. The top fighters have to come to him.

In the near future, Bivol could face Kovalev in a unification fight. That would be a big match-up for HBO if Kovalev is game for taking that fight. Newly crowned IBF light heavyweight champion Artur Beterbiev is also interested in unification fights. Beterbiev twice beat Kovalev in the amateur ranks in Russia. Beterviev vs. Bivol or Kovalev would be excellent fights for the U.S boxing fans. Beterbiev needs to get active with his career, as he’s missed a lot of time due to injuries and problems with fights being delayed.

READ  Eddie Hearn signs Dmitry Bivol

“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,” Bivol said via “Sullivan Barrera is what we wanted, and I am glad that we will meet in the ring soon.”

Bivol hasn’t faced anyone near as talented as Barrera during his career. So far, the best fighters that

Bivol has faced during his 3-year pro career are these guys:

• Robert Berridge

• Felix Valera

• Samuel Clarkson

• Cedric Agnew

• Trent Broadhurst

Valera, 29, is a good fighter, who recently fought Barrera and gave him problems in losing a 10 round unanimous decision on November 25. The fight was scored as a lopsided win for Barrera, owing to the referee deducting points from Valera on 3 separate occasions for low blows. The referee was seemingly deducting points from Valera each time he threw a low blow. Barrera had problems beating Valera. Bivol was far better in defeating Valera by a 12 round unanimous decision last year on May 21. Bivol knocked Valera down in the 6th and 8th rounds. Bivol’s power was the difference. Valera couldn’t stand up to Bivol’s hard shots when he was landing cleanly. It was still a fun fight to watch. Valera has an entertaining style for a contender. He might not ever win a world title at 175, but he makes it interesting when he loads up on his punches. The problem that Valera had was Bivol’s power was constant. Bivol didn’t need to load up on his shots for him to hurt Valera.

Bivol is coming into the Barrera fight with a great deal of hype. He’s going to need to prove that he’s the real deal, as Barrera is going to be looking to make a name for himself in front of the U.S boxing fans.

Barrera has the one loss on his record to Andre Ward last year. Aside from that, Barrera has dominated his opposition and looked impressive. Valera knocked Barrera down in the 1st round in their fight last November. Barrera returned the favor in dropping Valera.

Barrera’s biggest wins of his career have come against these fighters:

• Felix Valera

• Vyacheslav Shabranskyy

• Joe Smith Jr.

• Paul Parker

• Karo Murat

• Rowland Bryant

• Hakim Zoulikha

Barrera has been moved quickly by Main Events, who have made sure they’ve matched him tough due his excellent amateur background in Cuba. Barrera didn’t need the long, slow progression that most fighters get when they first turn pro. Barrera had the experience needed right away to mix it up with the best in the light heavyweight division. Still, Barrera has been toiling away for the past 8 years as a pro to get to where he is now on the verge of fighting for a world title for the first time in his career.

Barrera’s wins over Joe Smith Jr., Felix Valera and Shabranskyy were big ones for him. Shabranskyy knocked Barrera down in the 2nd round of their fight last year in December. Barrera knocked Shabranskyy down in rounds 1, 5 and 7 in the process of stopping him in the 7th round. Barrera beat Joe Smith Jr. by a 10 round unanimous decision last summer on July 15. Smith was said to have been dealing with an injury in the fight. It was still a good win for Barrera.

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