Sergey Kovalev faces Vyacheslav Shabranskyy on Nov.25 in critical fight

By Allan Fox, first uploaded on Boxing News 24.

With his career on teetering on the brink of implosion, former IBF/WBA/WBO light heavyweight champion Sergey “Krusher” Kovalev (30-2-1, 26 KOs) is in a must win situation in his fight against Vyacheslav “Lion-Heart Chingonskyy” Shabranskyy (19-1, 16 KOs) (19-1, 16 KOs) in a scheduled 12 round fight in 2 months from now on November 25 at Madison Square Garden in New York.

The Kovaelv vs. Shabranskyy fight will be televised on HBO Boxing After Dark. The start time for the Kovalev-Shabranskyy fight is at 10 p.m. ET/PT. It’ll be interesting to see what kind of ratings the fight will bring in. It sure looks like a lot of Kovalev’s fans have jumped ship after his recent second defeat at the hands of Andre Ward last June.

This is a fight that Kovalev SHOULD win, being that the 30-year-old Shabranskyy is a fringe contender in the 175 lb. division with a recent 7th round knockout loss to Sullivan Barrera on December 16, 2016. Shabranskyy was dominated pretty badly by Barrera, who in turn was easily beaten by Ward by a 12 round unanimous decision on March 26 last year. Kovalev did a far better job battling Ward compared to Barrera. However, Kovalev’s confidence has to be shattered to pieces at this time due to his 2 questionable defeats to Ward.

Kovalev might not be the mentally ready for a war against the Ukrainian Shabranskyy, and it’s likely going to be a war. That’s how Shabranskyy fights, and he’s a pretty fair body puncher. You can assume that Shabranskyy will be attacking Kovalev’s body from start to finish looking to try and hurt him and wear him down in the same way that Ward did. The blueprint in how to beat Kovalev has now been created by Ward.

It’s going to be up to Kovalev to show that he can keep his opponents from hitting him to the body, since it’s unlikely that he’s ever going to be able to take body shots as well as other fighters. It’s not really possible to get better at taking body shots. If you can’t handle body shots, then the best thing to do is to keep from getting hit there in the first place. Kovalev can do that by staying on the outside, using his jab and hard power shots to keep from getting hit by Shabranskyy’s likely hard body shots.

If Kovalev loses to Shabranskyy, then he needs to think about retiring from boxing, because there’s no coming back from a defeat against a guy at this level. It’s not that Shabranskyy is a bad fighter, because he’s a pretty one, but the problem is there are far better fighters than him in the division.

If Kovalev can’t even beat Shabranskyy, it probably means that he’s done as a major world class fighter. Kovalev has a pretty good run as a world champion at 175 in holding down titles from 2013 to 2016. That’s a good 3 years. It’s doubtful that Ward will be able to hold onto his light heavyweight titles for 3 years unless he can dodge Artur Beterbiev and Dmitry Bivol for that long.

This is a dangerous fight potentially for Kovalev, considering that Shabranskyy appears to be a harder puncher than Ward with either hand. Ward is a good body puncher, but he’s not a big puncher like the harder hitters at 175 like Artur Beterbiev, Adonis Stevenson, Oleksandr Gvozdyk, Eleider Alvarez, Badou Jack, Marcus Browne, Sullivan Barrera, and Joe Smith Jr. Before his loss to Barrera, Shabranskyy was seen as a contender worthy of a future world title shot. Unfortunately for Shabranskyy, he got put in with someone a little too talented in Barrera, and he wasn’t ready for that kind of step up.

Shabranskyy’s promoters put him in a sink or swim type of fight by having him fight Barrera at this early stage in his career. In hind sight, they probably should have continued developing him against weaker opposition before eventually putting him in with a guy in Barrera’s class. Barrera recently defeated Joe Smith Jr. in an impressive win. Shabranskyy’s loss to Barrera suddenly doesn’t look nearly as bad when you look at how good a job the Cuban fighter did in defeat Joe Smith Jr.

Kovalev will soon be 35-years-old, and he needs to show the boxing fans that he’s not over-the-hill, and that he can come back from the 2 losses to Ward and continue to be the fighter that he was before he lost those 2 fights. You can argue strongly that Kovalev should have known better than to fight a grappler like Ward. As the famous saying goes from Edmund Burke: “For those who don’t know history are doomed to repeat it.” Kovalev and his promoters should have looked at Ward’s past fights in the Super Six tournament against Carl Froch and Allan Green to know what kind of fighter he is when facing guys with power.

If Kovalev and his promoters at Main Events had seen those fights from Ward, they likely would have known that he’s someone to steer clear of, because he can sometimes turn his fights into MMA type affairs with lots of wrestling that goes on for round after round. It seemed obvious to me before the first Kovalev-Ward that it was going to be 12 rounds of wrestling, and I turned out to be correct. Kovalev and his promoters need to study the guys that they fight from now if they want the aging Russian fighter to be successful with what’s left of his career.

“I learned a lot from my fights with Andre Ward,” said Kovalev. ”When you don’t win and when you suffer adversity, it makes you stronger. It also shows you who your real friends are. I feel like I cleaned out my life and now I’m ready to start fresh. I’m very excited to get back in the ring, and fight at Madison Square Garden for the first time, and I’m focused on the future. I’m not looking back.”

Kovalev, 34, has lost his last 2 fights to the crafty Andre “SOG” Ward by an 8th round knockout on June 17 in their rematch and by a controversial 12 round unanimous decision on November 19 last year. In fairness to Kovalev, he didn’t deserve the first loss to Ward last November. That was a situation where the 3 judges seemed to respond to the loud cheering from the pro-Ward crowd at the T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas, Nevada. The judges gave Ward a close decision win by the scores 114-113, 114-113 and 114-113. Boxing News 24 scored the fight for Kovalev. The rematch was a different story.

Ward hurt Kovalev with a right hand to the head in round 8, and then hit him with 3 consecutive borderline low shots to the midsection that caused the fight to be stopped. The punches looked like they were all low blows, but the fight was stopped anyway. Ward likely didn’t take as much criticism as he normally would for the low blows if not for the fact that Kovalev was badly hurt moments before the low blows from a right hand to the head that Ward had hit him with. Kovalev was going to have problems making it out of the 8th round no matter what Ward hit him with.

It’s bizarre how quickly Kovalev has gone from being the king of the 175-lb. division to that of a fighter that many boxing fans see as damaged goods. It just shows you how much back to back defeats can harm one’s career in the eyes of the boxing fans. It doesn’t matter that Kovalev lost to an undefeated fighter that hasn’t lost a fight since he was 12-years-old in Ward. The only things the fans care about is the fact that Kovalev was beaten twice in a row.

The vulnerabilities that Kovalev showed in the Ward fights are hard to ignore. Kovalev gassed out in both Ward fights by the 6th round, and he showed an inability to take hard body shots. Those are pretty big flaws for a fighter to have. It’s bad enough that Kovalev is gassing out after 6 rounds. That would be a problem that could limit his effectiveness for the remainder of his career if he can’t fix that problem. Not being able to take body shots is also a major flaw for Kovalev, especially now that the other boxers in the sport are aware of that deficiency.

You can count on every fighter from this point on that Kovalev faces will be going to his body looking to duplicate the success that Ward had in hitting him in that area of his body. In addition to Kovalev’s problems with stamina and taking body shots, he also can’t fight on the inside. He’s poor at it. Ward exposed Kovalev’s lack of an inside game. He also showed that he could tire Kovalev out by wrestling with him on the inside. Almost every time Ward would clinch with Kovalev, he would make it a point to wrestle with him. This has a net effect of wearing him down to the point where he was a spent force by the 5th round in their first fight last November. Surprisingly, Ward didn’t clinch as much in the second fight. Perhaps one reason for that was the heavy criticism from the boxing fans about how boring the first fight was due to Ward’s grappling and mauling with Kovalev on the inside. You must admit that the fight was hard to watch due to the prolonged periods of holding and wrestling that took place between the two fighters. The fight didn’t bring in a lot of PPV buys on HBO, and neither did the rematch.

Shabranskyy has won his last 2 fights since his loss to Barrera. He defeated Todd Unthank May by a 7th round stoppage on August 4 last month. Before that, Shabranskyy defeated Larry Pryor by a 2nd round knockout on April 20th. In both fights, Shabranskyy looked very good and showed a lot of punching power.

Kovalev will have a new trainer when he gets back inside the ring, as he’s no longer working with John David Jackson. I don’t know if that’s a significant loss for him, because he didn’t appear to be working well with him. Kovalev was reportedly interested recently in being trained by Ward’s trainer Virgil Hunter. It’s unclear whatever happened with that. If Kovalev had made that move, he would need to train out of Hayward, California, where Hunter has his boxing gym. It would be a weird situation for Kovalev to be training with Ward’s long-time trainer.

“My coach, Manny Robles and I have been working on movement and defense, which together with my natural power will be more than enough to defeat a great fighter such as Kovalev,” said Shabranskyy.

Movement is probably not the best thing for Shabranskyy to use for him to beat Kovalev. Ward just showed how to defeat Kovalev in his last 2 fights by taking the fight to the inside and hitting him with body shots, and wearing him down with grappling. It looks like Shabranskyy has the wrong approach to try and beat Kovalev. I guess you can’t blame Shabranskyy, as he doesn’t have a great inside game either. Even if he did take the fight to the inside against Kovalev, he might not be good enough to defeat him in fighting like that. For Shabranskyy to defeat Kovalev, he should be working on the inside as much as possible. It’s common knowledge that Kovalev is very hard to beat when he’s fighting on the outside and taking advantage of his long reach.

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