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Kovalev-Mikhalkin averaged 599,000 viewers on HBO

Sergey Kovalev

By Jim Dower: WBO light heavyweight champion Sergey ‘Krusher’ Kovalev (32-2-1, 28 KOs) brought in underwhelming ratings for his first title defense of his WBO belt against #5 WBO Igor Mikhalkin (21-2, 9 KOs) last Saturday night.

The Kovalev-Mikhalkin fight averaged 599,000 viewers with a peak of 674,000 on HBO Boxing at Madison Square Garden in New York. Kovalev, 34, stopped Mikhalkin in the 7th round after the referee Steve Willis had seen enough of the one-sided mismatch. At no time was the Kovalev vs. Mikhalkin fight even remotely competitive.

Against Mikhalkin, Kovalev looked slow and not as impressive as he’d been 2 years ago in his rematch with Jean Pascal in January 2016. Kovalev has lost a few steps since then. Kovalev didn’t look like the best light heavyweight on the card. Dmitry Bivol showed more boxing skills, footwork and speed than Kovalev. Bivol’s punching power isn’t quite as good as Kovalev’s, but it’s close enough for him to likely do the job on him if the two of them ever face each other.

Kovalev could help increase his ratings if he would take on better opposition. This was Kovalev’s second straight lackluster opponent since losing to Andre Ward in their rematch last June. Kovalev bounced back from his embarrassing losses to Ward to defeat Vyacheslaev Shabranskyy by a 2nd round knockout on November 25 to claim the vacant WBO light heavyweight title last year.

The boxing public wanted to see Kovalev defend his title against a good opponent like Oleksandr Gvozdyk, Marcus Browne, Joe Smith Jr. or Anthony Yarde, but instead his management opted to match him against Mikhalkin. The results were less than thrilling.

Kovalev thrashed the 32-year-old Mikhalkin for 7 rounds before the fight was mercifully stopped. Kovalev didn’t show much interest after the fight when it came to talking about who he wants to fight next. The way that Kovalev was speaking, it doesn’t appear that he’ll be looking to step it up against better opposition when he makes his next defense of his WBO title.

The far more interesting co-feature bout between WBA World light heavyweight champion Dmitry Bivol (13-0, 11 KOs) and Sullivan Barrera (21-2, 14 KOs) averaged 512,000 viewers with a peak of 570,000. Bivol, 27, took his time and wore Barrera down with his boxing and hard combinations. In the 12th, Bivol unloaded on Barrera and dropped him with a right to the head. The referee Harvey Dock stopped the fight after taking a hard look at Barrera once he got back to his feet.

After the fight, HBO commentator Max Kellerman told Bivol that he might be the best fighter in the 175 lb. division today. Bivol was modest, and he stated that he still has to prove himself against the best fighters in the light heavyweight division before he can be called the best. Bivol looked like a better fighter than Kovalev last Saturday. Right now, Bivol’s main competition in the division is Adonis Stevenson, Badou Jack, Olekandr Gvozdyk and Artur Beterbiev.

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