Certain nations have always been known for producing boxing talent: Mexico, Great Britain, the Philippines, Japan and, of course, the United States.
And now Russia stands on the brink of joining this elite company. The latest Russian import from Irkutsk in eastern Siberia, light heavyweight Igor Mikhalkin (21-1, 9 KOs), faces the greatest challenge of his career as he makes his United States debut. Two-Time Light Heavyweight World Champion Sergey "Krusher" Kovalev (31-2-1, 27 KOs) will test Mikhalkin's mettle in the 12-round main event at The Theater at Madison Square Garden Saturday, March 3 televised live on HBO World Championship Boxing® beginning at 10:05 p.m. ET/PT.
"It has to do with the Russian way of life, our discipline. Russian fighters in general always have a big heart and a big will to win. We strive for the best. This willingness to win is why so many Russians are fighting on March 3," said Mikhalkin.
Mikhalkin says fighting Kovalev was inevitable. "I didn't think until recent it was possible, but the way my career and Sergey's career were moving, it was inevitable we would have to fight each other. It's destiny we would see each other in a boxing ring," said Mikhalkin.
Mikhalkin and Kovalev aren't strangers; far from it, in fact. The two fought side-by-side as teammates in their amateur days two decades ago. Mikhalkin says, "What I remember of Sergey from those day, he was always working and training really hard, and doing his job as a boxer. Since then, I've seen every one of his fights and I respect him for what he has done."
Mikhalkin said Kovalev's style hasn't changed much since he acquired solid fundamentals during his amateur days and he's taken this training forward.
A win against Kovalev would change everything for him, said Mikhalkin. "I'm not as well known, but I get to fight a very popular opponent, a very dangerous opponent with lots of fans. It would change everything in my life."
"For me, this is a once in a lifetime thing," he continued. "Even though I am not well known, I don't think Sergey will take this as an easy fight. He's not underestimating who Igor is as a not-so-well-known name."
Mikhalkin also said that it is a "big deal" for Russian boxing fans, who will be watching in his hometown and throughout the nation. The fight airs in Irkutsk at about 12 noon on Sunday. "It's a comfortable time, Sunday at noon. It's definitely going to be something everyone will be watching. There couldn't be a better time to watch boxing," said Mikhalkin.
Also watching will be Mikhalkin's family. Both his father and brother were professional boxers. "They are proud of me. I have a great opportunity. They are a bit worried for me and are giving me all their support," said Mikhalkin. Have they given him any advice? With a laugh, Mikhalkin said, "What they said was 'Train well, train hard, do things the right way."
Mikhalkin said his three-year-old son, Makar, will also be on his mind. "Things changed in my life when my son was born. It's great motivation. I started to value things differently. I will do anything for my son to provide for him, and give him a great life," said proud father Mikhalkin.
For fans who've never seen Mikhalkin, he says seeing is believing. "When it comes to my boxing style, it doesn't matter what I say now. It's better to see me fight. On March 3rd, people in New York and America will see what I'm made of as a boxer. All you need to know about me is that I'm a good person," said Mikhalkin.