By Keith Idec
NEW YORK – Sergey Kovalev knows seeing is believing.
The former light heavyweight champion must beat Vyacheslav Shabranskyy convincingly to prove to his harshest critics that he has overcome his technical knockout defeat to Andre Ward in their rematch five months ago. The 34-year-old Kovalev is confident, however, that he is prepared mentally and physically to do just that Saturday night when he battles Shabranskyy for the vacant WBO light heavyweight title in The Theater at Madison Square Garden.
“I reloaded and recharged my body, my brain, mentally,” Kovalev said before a press conference Wednesday at Madison Square Garden. “I didn’t break from the fight I lost mentally. I just got more experience. I feel good.”
Russia’s Kovalev (30-2-1, 26 KOs) is listed as a 14-1 favorite over Ukraine’s Shabranskyy (19-1, 16 KOs), who’ll fight for a world title for the first time.
“I respect him because he’s a real fighter,” Kovalev said. “He’s very motivated right now and he’s dangerous because he never fought for the title.”
Kovalev also has a newfound respect for training.
He acknowledged Wednesday that he wasn’t as focused on training for each of his last three fights as he once was. Preparing improperly impacted his performances in a unanimous-decision victory over South Africa’s Isaac Chilemba (24-5-2, 10 KOs), a controversial unanimous-decision defeat to Ward (32-0, 16 KOs) and an eighth-round technical knockout loss to Ward.
“I lost my concentration before the fight against Chilemba, concentration [on] my boxing career, I mean,” Kovalev said. “I started to spend a lot of time traveling and missed a lot of workouts – changing time zones, a lot of flights. And everybody saw what type of life this brought to me, a bad fight with Chilemba and two losses with Andre Ward. Life teach me and kicked my ass. God sent Ward to show me how I should continue my boxing career. I reloaded. I cleaned up my body, I cleaned up my mind … I’m very happy right now.”
HBO will air the Kovalev-Shabranskyy bout as the main event of a “World Championship Boxing” tripleheader set to start at 10 p.m. ET. The telecast also will include 10-round bouts between light heavyweight contenders Sullivan Barrera (20-1, 14 KOs) and Felix Valera (15-1, 13 KOs) and super featherweight contenders Jason Sosa (20-2-4, 15 KOs) and Yuriorkis Gamboa (27-2, 17 KOs).
Keith Idec is a senior writer/columnist for BoxingScene.com. He can be reached on Twitter @Idecboxing.