Former unified light-heavyweight champion Sergey ‘Krusher’ Kovalev returns this Saturday night at the famous MSG arena in New York to take on dangerous Ukrainian Vyacheslav ‘Lionheart’ Shabranskyy.
Kovalev, who is off a five month layoff since his last loss to Andre Ward, will be looking to bounce back against Shabranskyy and take over the light-heavyweight division once again. With dangerous up and comers such as ‘The Nail’ Gvozdyk and fellow Russian Dmitry Bivol hot on his heels looking at usurping the long dominant, Kovalev/Stevenson stranglehold of the division, this is an extremely defining fight for Kovalev as he looks to keep the young guns at bay.
Sergey Kovalev comes into this fight as the -2000 favorite with the underdog Shabranskyy priced at around +900.
There is no denying Kovalev was one of the premier stars in the light-heavyweight division just a short while ago before back to back losses to Andre Ward derailed his career somewhat. Heading into their first fight just over a year ago, Kovalev was undefeated and had knocked out twenty-six of his previous thirty-one opponents. The moniker ‘Krusher’ had been well-earned.
But then the wheels came off. In what was arguably a dubious decision at best, Kovalev lost his first fight to Ward on points despite knocking him down in the second round and dominating large portions of the fight with his effective jab. That questionable loss seemed to mentally fatigue Kovalev as Ward continually played mind games with the more stoic Russian. Ward helped unsettle Kovalev even further by hinting at retirement leading up to the rematch and by the time a second fight was finally announced, that instability seemed to have crept into Kovalev’s camp also. Tensions with secondary trainer Don Turner and rumors of main trainer John David Jackson switching to and communicating with Ward’s camp abounded and the former champ looked anything but settled.
Ward’s constant mind games seemed to have psychologically broken the former undisputed light-heavyweight champion and despite starting the second fight well, Kovalev wilted around the third round. From that point on it was all Ward as he applied constant pressure on the inside and eventually forced a stoppage midway through the eighth round.
With that latest loss, the ‘Krusher’ finally seems vulnerable at light-heavy and for anyone watching the second fight, Kovalev looked exposed to the mid-section especially, something which Ward himself alluded to after the fight. The question in this fight is, can Shabranskyy take advantage of these perceived Kovalev weaknesses?
Shabranskyy himself has had a somewhat similar career path as the ‘Krusher’ up to this point.
Knocking out fourteen of his previous seventeen opponents, Shabranskyy looked like a veritable demolition man heading into his first showcase fight against tough Cuban veteran Sullivan Barrera. Because of how he had dispatched his previous opponents so ruthlessly up to that point, Shabranskyy was installed as a heavy favorite going into the fight. Many expected Shabranskyy to be too powerful on the inside against the Cuban and predicted an easy KO victory for the Ukrainian. What transpired was anything but ‘easy’ as ‘Lionheart’ Shabranskyy was involved in a multiple knockdown war with Barrera and was eventually stopped in the seventh round due to some concussive punching from the Cuban contender.
Since then Shabranskyy has racked up two unimpressive journeyman wins but is eager to get back on track and grasp this opportunity against Sergey Kovalev, getting him that first huge signature win that he so craves.
Above all, this is a mental match-up rather than a talent one. While Shabranskyy has power and a decent assortment of weapons with which to work with, I have little doubt pre-2016 version of Kovalev would have had a relatively easy time breaking down the strong Ukrainian as he boxed his way in from the outside and eventually likely stopped his taller foe.
But this isn’t pre-2016 Kovalev. This is a mentally fragile 2017 Kovalev and while the talent remains, you would have to be somewhat concerned at laying this kind of price with a fighter who has just come off two of the most demoralizing losses of his career.
In terms of styles, Shabranskyy doesn’t use his superior height to effective advantage and only sporadically targets the body, something which Ward focused on against Kovalev in the rematch. This means its definitely advantage Kovalev in the match-up department.
Shabranskyy will no doubt however look for a shootout up top early, and as long as Kovalev can weather the initial storm he should dispatch Shabranskyy in the mid to late rounds with some pinpoint overhand rights and hooks as the challenger starts to fade. I can see this being an entertaining fight for the first five or six rounds, but expect Kovalev to take over at some point in the mid rounds and slowly dominate.
While Shabranskyy maybe the proverbial banana skin, more than likely he is the perfect defense deficient opponent that Kovalev needs right now and hopefully a good win here should force Stevenson to engage in a unification bout with Kovalev sometime next year. Take Kovalev in this one.
Pick: Sergey Kovalev by stoppage.
*For great betting offers on upcoming fights and more visit My Bookie. Click on the link below quoting promo code ‘KDSPORTS’ and get an automatic 50% sign-up bonus for up to $1000!