Mancuso: Now They Wait In Line For Kovalev

Sergey Kovalev is a champion again and that may or may not be good for the light heavyweight division because the 34-year old  Russian regained the WBO title. After a late second round stoppage over Vyacheslav Shabranskyy Saturday night at the Theater at Madison Square Garden the division is his. 

The once former champion who lost the unified titles to Andre Ward in his last fight said this was a new beginning. And perhaps it was that beginning back to zero as Kovalev stated he would do earlier in the week  He looked at two losses to Ward as the old Kovalev and if this was the new version of Sergey Kovalev the division gets more enticing.

What is good about this decisive win may be good for boxing. Kovalev owns the division now and with Ward, out of the picture with his retirement, there are compelling fights that await the champion.

He said “The Crusher is back” and promoter Kathy Duva of Main Events said the younger talent in the division have to come in line and get a chance at the title. Madison Square Garden has extended an invitation for a Kovalev title defense in early March even though only 3,500, far from capacity filed into the Theater. 

There was the power in the first round and that was a statement with a devastating right. He scored knockdowns twice in round one and another in round two. Then there was the finish that also made a statement to the light heavyweight division at 2:36 of the round.

In other words this is the new beginning, though Kovalev has to convince the boxing public he is marketable at his age, and at 34 there is no telling where this this latest title reign will go.

“It’s my goal to be be best in the division,” said Kovalev who felt that the second loss to Ward, when he was dethoned, was stopped abruptly by the referee.

“Here tonight was great boxing and I want to make great fights. We have a bunch of belt holes and we can now find out who is the best”

And exactly who is the best in the light heavyweight division? Right now it is Sergey Kovalev. That is made easier to determine because Andre Ward is gone and he may have been the lone obstacle that kept Kovalev from being the premiere light heavyweight.

He said the titles have have different owners and this does create that major fight again to unify the division. So the plan worked Saturday night to begin the process of unification. And for sure the only question is who will be the principles involved to unify?   

Kovalev said, “I am the driver” and that of course means they will be coming to him for a shot at his title and getting that chance to unify the division once again.

Boxing is always about redemption and the light heavyweight division that was dominated over the years by Ward, Bernard Hopkins. Now a cast of other characters will need Kovalev to once again unify the titles.

Of immediate interest would be Adonis Stevenson the WBC title holder. And emerging in the division is Sullivan Barrera, 21-1, 14 KO’s who won a unanimous 10-round decision over Felix Valera in the co-feature Saturday night.

WBA light heavyweight champion Dmitry Bivol said earlier in the evening, “Of course I want to unify the titles.” Bivol could meet Barrera next and either Kovalev or Stevenson will be waiting in the wings. And Kovalev is not waiting for Stevenson, a fight that has been difficult to make.

Kovalev knows he is now in charge. Stevenson, now has to come to him and that may or may not be good for the sport and the light heavyweight division, and  because the quest for unity  never has an easy road it becomes that more difficult to accomplish.

But for now Sergey Kovalev is in charge and he said it best: “I am ready for any champion-because this is very good for boxing.”  

UNDERCARD: Ismael Villarreal of the Bronx a promising prospect at 154 had a successful pro debut to open the card of boxing in the Garden Theatre. It was a unanimous four-round decision over Race Sawyer of Utah who is winless in five fights as Villarreal used jabs and went to the body. Judges at ringside had it 40-35 and 40-36.

The 20-year old Villarreal is  a two-time New York City Golden Gloves champion and the  son of former super lightweight fighter Otto Villarreal who fought against Hall of Famer Hector Camacho and former champions Zab Judah and Kermit Cintron.

“It totally felt different than the amateurs,” said Villarreal. “There were so many more people looking at me. I was trying to look good. I was focused on the knockout because it was my very first professional fight. I learned I have to work harder and be careful not to get hit.”

Villarreal, a physical education major at Bronx Community College, used a solid jab in the first round and wanted to get the job done early and was focusing on disposing his opponent in the opening round.

“I was worried about the knockout and let it come naturally,” he said about nerves setting in before the debut.”Move my head more, jab more, keep my hands up,” he said about the next fight that awaits him in the next few months…

Frank Galarza the 32-year old Super Welterweight from Brooklyn returned to the ring after a 14-month layoff and won a unanimous decision over Jaime Herrera (15-5-1)  of Chicago. There was some ring rust for Galarza who fought under the Main Events banner for the first time and improved to 18-2-2.  

“I feel good after a 14 month layoff, shaking off some ring rust. I’m so proud for Main Events to put me on their card. Hopefully I will be back in the Garden soon. It felt great. It was where I belong. It felt right. Not many places you can call home but this is one for me.”

Comment Rich Mancuso: [email protected] Twitter@Ring786 Mancuso




About the Author

Rich Mancuso

Rich Mancuso is a regular contributor at NY Sports Day, covering countless New York Mets, Yankees, and MLB teams along with some of the greatest boxing matches over the years. He is an award winning sports journalist and previously worked for The Associated Press, New York Daily News, Gannett, and, in a career that spans almost 40 years.

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