By Cliff Rold
Sergey Kovalev isn’t back. He never went anywhere.
About half the people reading this probably were in the camp that thought he won the first fight with Andre Ward. The stoppage finish of the rematch can obscure how close the fight was through the rounds before it. Losing to a great fighter doesn’t make one less.
Kovalev is still a bad man. He’d have destroyed Vyacheslav Shabranskyy the same way he did Saturday before the Ward fights. What the win did was affirm that Kovalev is still dangerous, talented, and likely the best active light heavyweight in the world with Ward retired.
Given the number of interesting talents in the class, that’s not going to be an easy seat to hold. Bring on the big fights again sooner than later.
Let’s go the report card.
Pre-Fight: Speed – Kovalev B+; Shabranskyy B-/Post: B+; C+
Pre-Fight: Power – Kovalev A; Shabranskyy B+/Post A+; B+
Pre-Fight: Defense – Kovalev B; Shabranskyy C-/Post: B+; F
Pre-Fight: Intangibles – Kovalev A-; Shabranskyy B/Post: A; C
If not for the Ward losses, this might have been dismissed even more than it was. There was at least the curiosity to see if there was a hangover. Shabranskyy can punch, and showed it with a jarring shot in the first round that pushed Kovalev backwards.
It was a lone highlight. Kovalev is one of the most dangerous punchers at light heavyweight in ages. Ward, in the rematch, was the first fighter to stay off the floor in many years. Shabranskyy, who couldn’t take the power of Sullivan Barrera and who has degraded quickly as a fighter due to a lack of defense, was a sitting duck.
Kovalev retains the best jab in the division, his right hand is lethal, and he’s a capable finisher.
It was what Kovalev’s handlers surely were looking for. He has the WBO belt back and is already talking about unifying. We’re probably not going to see the long desired unification with WBC titlist Adonis Stevenson but titlist Artur Beterbiev and contenders like Barrera, Dmitry Bivol, and Oleksandr Gvozdyk are all out there.
None of them are Shabranskyy. They are skilled, talented, and possess the potential to push Kovalev. If there are ghosts from the Ward losses, it’s going to take someone who belongs on the level of Ward and Kovalev to bring it out if age doesn’t catch up to Kovalev suddenly.
That means good fights for Kovalev and for the fans. Even with Ward retired, light heavyweight remain a vibrant division.
And Kovalev remains a dangerous man. We’ll see what happens when the opponents are dangerous again too.
Report Card Picks 2017: 43-17
Cliff Rold is a member of the Ring Magazine Ratings Advisory Panel, the Yahoo Pound for Pound voting panel, and the Boxing Writers Association of America. He can be reached at [email protected]