By Michael Rosenthal
Sergey Kovalev: The questions surrounding Kovalev after his back-to-back losses to Andre Ward were understandable, particularly the second setback. Many believe the Russian quit in that fight, raising doubts about his desire.
I couldn’t understand those who wrote him off, though.
Consider: The only losses of Kovalev’s career came against a gifted fighter who retired in September as the No. 1 fighter in the world pound-for-pound. And most people thought Kovalev won the first fight, in which he came closer to beating Ward than anyone before him.
That was only a year ago. How much could he have slipped?
Well, he didn’t look like a tentative fighter in decline against fellow slugger Vyacheslav Shabranskyy on Saturday night in New York. Kovalev took some time off to clear his head, changed trainers (from John David Jackson to Abror Tursunpulatov) and returned as the power-punching monster of old.
He put an overmatched Shabranskyy down twice in the first round and once in the second, prompting referee Harvey Dock to save the Ukrainian from taking undue punishment and give Kovalev (31-2-1, 27 knockouts) the vacant WBO light heavyweight title (vacated by Ward).
The fight didn’t last long – only 5 minutes, 36 seconds – but it was enough time for Kovalev to demonstrate that other top 175-pounders should take him seriously.
Those who still doubt Kovalev will point out that Shabranskyy is a far cry from the best light heavyweights, including rising young stars Dmitry Bivol (WBA titleholder), Oleksandr Gvozdyk and Artur Beterbiev and veterans Adonis Stevenson and Badou Jack.
That’s true. Shabranskyy (19-2, 16 KOs) is a solid boxer with impressive punching power but he’s nothing special. Plus, his aggressive style was made to order for a fighter with Kovalev’s ability to rearrange brain cells with one punch.
That said, I think Shabranskyy was a good enough gauge to determine where Kovalev is physically and emotionally after his knockout loss to Ward. He seems to be in a good place, which might not be good news for the rest.
McGregor talk: Manny Pacquiao is smart. So is Oscar De La Hoya. Put it out there and you never know what might happen.
I hated the Floyd Mayweather Jr.-Conor McGregor “fight” because it was a ridiculous mismatch, which is how it played out in the ring. (No, it wasn’t competitive just because McGregor survived into the late rounds.)
That said, I always thought it was a no-brainer from a business standpoint. There was too much money on the table NOT to do it. The same can be said of McGregor vs. Pacquiao or De La Hoya, assuming the latter is truly interested in coming out of retirement.
McGregor vs. either Pacquiao or De La Hoya wouldn’t approach the numbers McGregor-Mayweather did but – in part because McGregor was perceived by many to have done better than expected against Mayweather – they would draw large audiences.
Pacquiao would take out McGregor much more quickly than Mayweather did because he’s more aggressive. Utter wipeout.
And while De La Hoya would be a more interesting opponent from a competitive standpoint because he’s 44, hasn’t fought in nine years and looked like a corpse in his last fight (against Pacquiao), he too would stop McGregor for one reason: McGregor isn’t a boxer.
That’s why the matchup is attractive for Pacquiao and De La Hoya: Little to no risk, big, big payday.
Will McGregor bite? I told anyone who would listen that Mayweather-McGregor would actually happen because of the money involved. I don’t feel as strongly about a second McGregor fight but I’ll say this: Guaranteed seven- or eight-figure paydays are extremely hard to resist.
If it happens, I have the same request I had before Mayweather-McGregor: Don’t lose your heads. If you want to see McGregor vs. whomever because you like big events, great. Have fun. If you want to see it because you think McGregor could win, think again.
Hundreds, maybe thousands of boxers – active or retired – near McGregor’s weight could beat him. Pacquiao and De La Hoya certainly are among that group.
Barrera turned down a chance to fight Kovalev on Saturday because of the money he was offered. He didn’t know at the time that the fight would be for the vacant WBO belt, meaning he missed out on a title shot. I wouldn’t feel too badly for him, though. Barrera had to endure dirty tactics by Felix Valera, whose best shots were below the belt, but the Cuban defector easily outpointed his Dominican opponent in a 10-round bout on the Kovalev-Shabranskyy card. Now Barrera reportedly will have his choice of title bouts in March: vs. Kovalev or Bivol (12-0, 10 KOs). Who is the better choice for Barrera? Tough one. Kovalev is a good boxer with tremendous punching power and experience. Bivol is a gifted all-around fighter who has yet to face a top-tier opponent. I’d take my chances with the unproven Bivol. … I really thought Yuriorkis Gamboa’s knockout loss to Robinson Castellanos in May was the red flag he needed to retire from boxing. He’s 2-0 since then, including a majority decision over Jason Sosa (20-3-4, 15 KOs) on the Kovalev-Shabranskyy card. That doesn’t mean his decision to continue fighting was the right one, though. Gamboa, who took the fight on short notice, looked competent against Sosa but nothing more than that as many observers thought Sosa deserved the nod. And the winner’s dirty tactics seemed to be a product of desperation. I don’t see Gamboa (28-2, 17 KOs) ever regaining his previous status. … The loss of a boxer is always heartbreaking. It’s especially difficult when we lose two young fighters within a few days of one another. Twenty-year-old junior featherweight prospect Cesar Diaz (7-0, 6 KOs) was killed in a single-car crash on Friday in Palmdale, California, his hometown. And Francisco Ruiz (3-1) of El Salvador died from his injuries five days after he was stopped by Ricardo Cortez on November 18 in San Salvador. Ruiz reportedly was 24. Rest in peace.