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Kovalev in top shape for Mikhalkin

By Jim Dower: Sergey ‘Krusher’ Kovalev says he’s in top shape to defend his WBO light heavyweight title against #5 WBO Igor Mikhalkin (21-1, 9 KOs) for their fight on March 3 at Madison Square Garden in New York.

Kovalev, 34, has a new trainer Abror Tursunpulatov, who has replaced American John David Jackson. Kovalev feels more comfortable working with Tursunpulatov, because he’s Russian and he understands him better. They both speak the same language and that makes it easier for Kovalev than what he had in the past.

HBO agreed to let Mikhalkin be Kovalev’s opponent for the main event of their March 3 telecast on HBO Boxing. It’s not a great fight. If this fight lasts 4 rounds, it’ll be a miracle. It’s more of an undercard level fight posing as a main event.

Kovalev’s stamina looked bad in his 2 losses to Andre Ward. In his last fight against Igor Shabranskyy, Kovalev finished him off quickly in the 2nd round before his stamina problems start to resurface. It’s likely that we would have seen Kovalev gas out like he did in the Ward fights if Shabranskyy had been able to take him to the 6th round and land some body shots. Kovalev has shown to be incapable of taking punches to the body. It’ll be interesting to see if Mikhalkin is smart enough to try and go to the bod as well.

Kovalev snapped his 2-fight losing streak last November in stopping Vyacheslav Shabranskyy in the 2nd round to win the vacant WBO light heavyweight title sat Madison Square Garden. It would a good fight for Kovalev, as he knocked Shabranskyy down twice in round 1 and once in the 2nd round to get the knockout. Still, it wasn’t a great opponent.

Shabranskyy was originally supposed to be a confidence builder fight for Kovalev, but after Andre Ward retired and vacated his World Boxing Organization 175lb. title, the Kovalev-Shabranskyy fight became a world title fight. Kovalev’s promoters at Main Events petitioned the WBO to let the Kovalev vs. Shabranskyy fight be for the vacant WBO light heavyweight title, and they’re petition was approved by the sanctioning body.

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”It was the lesson of my life,” Kovalev said. “The last two years before this fight, my sport mode was broken. Day by day, spar by spar, I feel much better and more comfortable against a southpaw. I should be ready for everything, because I am very motivated right now,” Kovalev said.

This is not seen as a good first defense for Kovalev. Mikhalkin, 32, is ranked at #5 by the WBO, but he hasn’t beaten or faced any of the better contenders in the 175 lb. weight class during his 11-year pro career. Mikhalkin’s best fights have come against Doudou Ngumbu, Aleksy Kuziemski, Thomas Oosthuizen and Hakim Chioui. Mikhalkin has fought Ngumbu 3 times in his career. It’s unclear what the problem has been with Mikhalkin’s management getting stuck on matching him against the same fighter repeatedly. Mikhalkin beat Doudou all 3 times. When you see a fighter matched against the same fighter like that, it suggests that their promoters aren’t moving him forward against different fighters the way they should.

Kovalev will likely make easy work of Mikhalkin. This is an opponent that is in the same league as Kovalev’s last opponent Shabranskyy. Mikhalkin’s one-sided 10 round unanimous decision loss to Kuziemski in May 2010 shows what kind of opponent Kovalev is dealing with on March 3.

The co-feature bout between WBA light heavyweight champion Dmitry Bivol and Sullivan Barrera is the one that a lot of boxing fans are interested in seeing. It’s a competitive fight on paper against 2 very good fighters. Barrera’ only loss of his career was a 12 round decision defeat to Ward in March 2016. Barrera did a better job against Ward than Kovalev did. Instead of Kovalev fighting Mikhalkin, he should be facing Barrera, since that would be a more interesting contest.

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