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Sergey Kovalev vs. Marcus Browne agreed for summer

By Jim Dower: WBO light heavyweight champion Sergey ‘Krusher’ Kovalev and his unbeaten #1 WBO contender Marcus Browne have agreed to a fight this summer in June or July on HBO, according to ESPN. The Kovalev vs. Browne fight is expected to take place in Madison Square Garden in New York.

The 27-year-old Browne could be catching Kovalev at the right time in his career to beat him. Kovalev is about to turn 35, and he’s clearly not the fighter he was five years ago. Browne has the size, punching power and youth to win this fight if he can weather the storm in the early going. That’s a big if because Browne doesn’t take a shot very well.

The lack of experience for Browne is also a potential problem. He’s never really been fully tested against quality opposition. You’d have to give Browne a failing grade in his fight against his toughest opponent to date Radivoje Kalajdzic, as he appeared to lose that fight two years ago. Browne was the A-side in that contest and expected to win. The judges gave Browne a decision that he was fortunate to be given. The rest of the opposition that has been fed to Browne have been easy marks and not true tests.

Kovalev (32-2-1, 28 KOs) has turned his career around following back to back defeats to Andre ‘SOG’ Ward. Kovalev, 34, has won his last two fights against Igor Mikhalkin and Vyacheslav Shabranskyy. The victory over Shabranskyy, a 2nd round knockout, gave Kovalev the vacant World Boxing Organization light heavyweight title last November. In Kovalev’s first defense of his WBO belt, he easily beat Mikhalkin by a 7th round knockout on March 3 in New York in a fight televised by HBO Boxing.

Undefeated 2012 U.S Olympian Browne (21-0, 16 KOs) has been looking good lately with stoppage wins over Francy Ntetu (17-1), Sean Monaghan and Thomas Williams Jr. However, before those three wipeout wins, Browne, 27, had problems beating Radivoje Kalajdzic in beating him by a controversial 8 round split decision in April 2016. Browne won the fight, but he was knocked down in round 6, and he took a beating until the end of the fight by Kalajdzic.

Browne’s management chose not to put him back in with Kalajdzic, so it’s impossible to know if he’s improved since that defeat. The three guys Browne rolled over recently aren’t on the same level as Kalajdzic in terms of toughness and punching power. If Browne has not improved since that fight, he’s probably not going to last very long against the hard hitting Kovalev unless he can get to him early. Without a fast knockout, Browne’s chin could betray him once again. The difference between Kovalev and Kalajdzic is that once he gets an opponent in trouble, he generally finishes them off unless their name is Andre Ward.

Browne had the chance to challenge IBF light heavyweight champion Artur Beterbiev for his title, as the International Boxing Federation recently ordered the two fighters to start negotiations. Browne passed up the opportunity to face the 33-year-old Beterbiev, and instead went in the direction of Kovalev. Beating Kovalev would make more of a name for Browne. That could be one major reason why Browne chose to fight Kovalev. But I think the more likely explanation for Browne choosing to face Kovalev is he’s shown a lot more vulnerability than Beterbiev has in his two losses to Ward.

Beterbiev doesn’t have the same stamina problems and issues taking body shots that Kovalev has shown. Browne and his team likely view Kovalev as the more winnable fight than Beterbiev, who hits hard and doesn’t fade down the stretch. Browne couldn’t count on wearing Beterbiev down with body shots the way he can against Kovalev. Browne could turn himself into a mini-star on HBO if he defeats Kovlalev. Beating Beterbiev wouldn’t do the same thing for Browne’s career, as he’s not a big name and he rarely fights nowadays. Beterbiev is harder puncher than Kalajdzic and a lot more skilled. Browne would likely implode quickly against a guy like Beterbiev and not make it the full distance.

The way Kovalev has looked in his last two fights, Browne will have a hard time getting to the second half of the fight to take advantage of his stamina problems. Kovalev will land a lot of shots in the first 6 rounds before he starts to wear down, and it’s questionable whether Browne can take those punches. He didn’t handle Kalajdzic’s power well at all. He was there for the taking in the last three rounds of that fight.

Kovalev has a huge advantage in experience over Browne at the pro level.

Kovalev has fought these guys during his career:

• Andre Ward x 2

• Jean Pascal x 2

• Nathan Cleverly

• Isaac Chilemba

• Igor Mikhalkin

• Vyacheslav Shabranskyy

• Bernard Hopkins

Browne’s best fights have come against these fighters:

• Radivoje Kalajdvic

• Thomas Williams Jr.

• Sean Monaghan

• Gabriel Campillo

With the soft matchmaking that Kovalev’s promoters at Main Events have done for him in his last two fights against Shabranskyy and Mikhalkin, it’s hard to know for sure whether he’s improved since his two defeats against Ward. Those two fights were such mismatches that Kovalev was able to win them without having his questionable stamina and his ability to take body shots tested. Neither of those fighters even bothered to throw to Kovalev’s body, which would seem rather odd. Ward had created the blueprint in how to beat Kovalev by going to his body in their two fights, and yet Mikhalkin and Shabranskyy scarcely threw any punches at his midsection.

Browne has a chance of scoring an upset of Kovalev if he can force him into a fast pace fight, throw to the body and drag the fight into the later rounds. It wouldn’t hurt for Browne to do some mauling on the inside by forcing Kovalev to grapple with him the way Ward did. It’s ugly to watch that kind of fighting, but it seems to work at tiring Kovalev out quickly. He’s not able to punch with the same authority when he’s worn down with grappling.

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