By Keith Idec
Sergey Kovalev respects Sullivan Barrera’s unconventional decision to fight Dmitry Bivol instead of facing him March 3 in New York.
Barrera, the mandatory challenger for Bivol’s WBA light heavyweight title, chose to battle Bivol in the opener of HBO’s doubleheader that night from The Theater at Madison Square Garden. The Cuban contender could’ve challenged Kovalev for the WBO championship in the main event for more money than he’ll make for boxing Bivol, but declined.
Though respectful of Barrera’s choice, Kovalev picked Bivol to win their 12-round, 175-pound championship match.
“I think Bivol will win,” Kovalev told BoxingScene.com. “How I think, he’s younger, he’s more talented, more focused, more disciplined. He’s strong. Bivol is strong. He showed he can box, that he’s a smart fighter. Barrera is just a good step for Bivol for the next big fights.”
Kovalev can’t say for sure why Barrera (21-1, 14 KOs) picked Bivol, but he suspects Barrera considers Kyrgyzstan’s Bivol (12-0, 10 KOs) more beatable than him.
“Every fighter is looking for the most comfortable terms for himself,” Kovalev said. “Barrera found more comfortable terms to fight Bivol. Maybe he thinks that Bivol doesn’t have enough skills, experience or power. I don’t know what he thinks, but it could be. He said that he thinks that he can get a victory over Bivol [more than] over me.
“He got less money, but he thinks he got an easier opponent for him. It’s his choice. I respect his choice and let’s see what will happen March 3rd. We will all do our job the best we can for the boxing fans.”
The 34-year-old Kovalev (31-2-1, 27 KOs) will defend his WBO light heavyweight title against former Russian amateur teammate Igor Mikhalkin in the main event March 3. Mikhalkin (21-1, 9 KOs), a southpaw, owns the IBO light heavyweight title, yet isn’t well-known among American boxing fans.
“I was disappointed that I didn’t get this fight,” Kovalev said, “that this fight didn’t happen with Barrera, because he was my desired opponent for the next fight. But boxing is boxing. He chose Bivol over us. I already forgot about this situation because I’m looking forward to my next fight against Igor Mikhalkin. I need one more fight to show to the people that I can fight with the best fighters.
“I think that after this fight, my fights will be with strong opponents in the light heavyweight division. I don’t wanna see behind the back of Igor Mikhalkin because now my fight is March 3rd and I should be focused on this fight. And I’m doing this.”
His fight against Mikhalkin will be Kovalev’s second appearance since Andre Ward scored a controversial, eighth-round technical knockout against him in their rematch June 17 in Las Vegas. Kovalev knocked out Vyacheslav Shabranskyy (19-2, 16 KOs) in the second round November 25 in The Theater at Madison Square Garden to win the WBO title Ward vacated when he retired two months earlier.
Keith Idec is a senior writer/columnist for BoxingScene.com. He can be reached on Twitter @Idecboxing.