By Keith Idec
NEW YORK – If Vyacheslav Shabranskyy loses to Sergey Kovalev on Saturday night, it won’t be because he wasn’t as prepared as possible.
Shabranskyy said before a press conference Wednesday at Madison Square Garden that his two primary sparring partners for his fight against Kovalev were world champions Dmitry Bivol (12-0, 10 KOs) and David Benavidez (19-0, 17 KOs).
Bivol, the highly regarded WBA light heavyweight champion, was Shabranskyy’s main sparring partner for the first half of his 10-week training camp, before Bivol left to knock out Australia’s Trent Broadhurst in the first round November 4 in Monte Carlo, Monaco. Benavidez, the newly crowned WBC super middleweight champion, was Shabranskyy’s primary sparring partner for the second half of his camp at trainer Manny Robles’ gym in Norwalk, California.
“When I spar with guys like that, on the elite level, I felt comfortable,” Shabranskyy said. “So I feel like I’m ready for this chance here.”
If Ukraine’s Shabranskyy (19-1, 16 KOs) upsets Russia’s Kovalev (30-2-1, 26 KOs), who’s a 14-1 favorite, he could battle Bivol in his following fight. That didn’t deter them from working together recently.
“We got monsters [for sparring] because he’s going up against a monster,” Robles said. “It helped him tremendously because you had to bring your ‘A’ game every time you came into the gym. You have to against these guys. You can’t have an off day. These guys are monsters. They were great. … Even if it’s a sparring session, these guys go to work.”
The 26-year-old Bivol, a rising star who wants title unification fights in his immediate future, will attend the card headlined by Kovalev and Shabranskyy on Saturday night in The Theater at Madison Square Garden (HBO). The Kyrgyzstan native also could face the winner of the bout that’ll air before Kovalev-Shabranskyy, a 10-round light heavyweight battle between Cuba’s Sullivan Barrera (20-1, 14 KOs), the mandatory challenger for Bivol’s title, and the Dominican Republic’s Felix Valera (15-1, 13 KOs).
Keith Idec is a senior writer/columnist for BoxingScene.com. He can be reached on Twitter @Idecboxing.