By Keith Idec
Sergey Kovalev was hopeful following his knockout of Vyacheslav Shabranskyy that Sullivan Barrera would opt to fight him next.
Barrera turned down an opportunity to face Kovalev on November 25 because it wasn’t a title fight at the time it was offered. Kovalev’s victory over Shabranskyy changed that because the Russian knockout artist won the WBO light heavyweight title Andre Ward vacated when he retired two months earlier.
That’s among the reasons Kovalev was surprised when Barrera turned him down again last month, this time for a comparably difficult fight that’ll pay Barrera less money. Barrera instead chose to challenge WBA light heavyweight champ Dmitry Bivol on Kovalev’s undercard March 3 in The Theater at Madison Square Garden in New York.
Kathy Duva, whose company promotes Kovalev and Barrera, sensed Kovalev was displeased because Barrera went in a different direction again.
“Sergey really wanted to fight Barrera,” Duva, Main Events’ CEO, told BoxingScene.com. “He was very anxious to fight him. I think he was disappointed.”
Barrera and his handlers are confident that by beating Bivol, a fight against Kovalev will become worth more money for the Cuban contender.
Kovalev, meanwhile, is left to defend his WBO 175-pound title against IBO champion Igor Mikhalkin in the main event March 3. The Russian southpaw is unknown, but is a credible contender who was willing to challenge Kovalev for the purse that was available.
“He’s a boxer and a southpaw who can present problems,” Duva said. “Sergey is willing to fight anybody who will fight him. It’s been tough to find people to take the fight. [Main Events matchmaker] Jolene [Mizzone] pretty much went through everybody. We went back to all of the same guys we went to last time and they all turned it down.
“A lot of them said, ‘Maybe next time.’ They all have an excuse. And to be fair, a lot of light heavyweights are busy right now. They have fights lined up. It seems like they’re all fighting at the same time again. It makes it more challenging, of course, because there are fewer people you can approach.”
HBO will televise the bouts between Kovalev (31-2-1, 27 KOs) and Mikhalkin (21-1, 9 KOs) and Bivol (12-0, 10 KOs) and Barrera (21-1, 14 KOs).
Keith Idec is a senior writer/columnist for BoxingScene.com. He can be reached on Twitter @Idecboxing.