By Cliff Rold
So much can change in boxing with a single point on the scorecards. No one knows that better than former unified light heavyweight titlist Sergey Kovalev (30-2-1, 26 KO).
With a little different luck one year ago, or maybe just better judging, Kovalev could have been in the driver’s seat. The results of his rematch with Andre Ward, a stoppage loss, quieted some of the debate from their first fight, but not all of it. There are still plenty of folks who adamantly believe Kovalev earned a win over Ward that night.
How different things would be if the judges had agreed.
Ward might not be retired now and instead looking for a rematch. Kovalev had a rematch clause in the first fight; Ward did not. Maybe it plays out with a rematch right away even with a Kovalev win and right now we’re talking about a rubber match.
Maybe Kovalev would finally have had his four-belt showdown with Adonis Stevenson.
That’s not how it played out. With the difference in the fight arguably being a head scratching choice by all three judges to award the tenth round to Ward, a round where Kovalev appeared to outwork and outland Ward, Kovalev saw his fortunes turn. In the rematch, he had his chances and got off to another good start. He couldn’t repeat his previous performance.
A fighter who was a point away from likely being hailed by many as the best fighter in the world, regardless of weight class, is now in rebuilding mode.
Saturday night (HBO, 10 PM EST), a 34-year old Kovalev tries to gain back one of his lost belts, the now vacant WBO, against 30-year old Vyacheslav Shabranskyy (19-1, 16 KO). Shabranskyy looked like a comer early on with a nice win over a then-rising Yunieski Gonzalez but a nasty loss to Sullivan Barrera lowered his stock. Barrera had Shabranskyy down early and often, even with the favor returned once.
Kovalev’s power is the one thing we still know he’s capable of delivering. Can he deliver the rest of what was there before the Ward rivalry? Does he have the mental toughness to move past the two hardest nights of his career? Turmoil in his camp was magnified before the Ward rematch and we’ll see a new look this weekend. How will different voices affect his approach?
If Shabranskyy doesn’t get folded early, he’s the sort of tough, hungry fighter that might have an upset in him against a fighter whose confidence might still be shaken.
Given his age, Kovalev probably isn’t a long haul proposition at this point but Saturday he can at least make a statement. A win that reminds folks he remains dangerous, the de facto division leader in Ward’s absence, couldn’t be more important.
And he needs to reassert his place quickly because the division is changing. A loss this weekend could make Kovalev yesterday’s news with a host of young faces on the rise. A less than stellar win will look like blood in the water.
While he wasn’t as impressive as he has been in the past, Artur Beterbiev recently won a title (IBF) in the class. Oleksandr Gvozdyk has been sensational so far and is in line to be the WBO mandatory. Kovalev could find options to restore himself if he can get by some of those younger guns. The Stevenson fight that should have happened years ago could again be a potentially lucrative unification match.
The future won’t get arrive without a win over Shabranskyy this weekend.
In the back of his mind, Sergey Kovalev will surely always wonder about the single point that got away. More than the pain of the loss to Ward earlier this year, the preceding bout changed the course of his career. The journey to reconstruct his path begins in just a couple of days.
Justice League turned out really good. It was fun, well paced, and had heart. It also had the CGI lip that is worth the memes it garnered. Well worth seeing with old school DC fans set to see a “Crisis on Earth X” next week. Geek heaven…Joseph Parker’s side seems ready to come down on their financial expectations for a fight with Anthony Joshua. When we stop hearing negotiations in public, there might be some movement on a fight there or between Joshua and Deontay Wilder…Jason Sosa-Yuriorkis Gamboa is a fight that would have sounded a lot more interesting a year ago…Gary Russell Jr. did an interview on Fox this week. When was the last time he was seen more than once on TV in a calendar year? He’s too good to sit this often…Happy Thanksgiving to all the celebrating readers here at BoxingScene.
Cliff Rold is the Managing Editor of BoxingScene, a founding member of the Transnational Boxing Rankings Board, and a member of the Boxing Writers Association of America. He can be reached at [email protected]