In 2016, the biggest fight in boxing took place when Sergey Kovalev faced Andre Ward in November. Both light heavyweights were undefeated and had dominated anybody placed in the ring with them.
As expected, it was the toughest contest either man had ever been in. Ward climbed off the canvas early and took control of the second half of the fight to eke out a very close decision–114-113 on all three cards. The outcome was hotly debated for months afterward. I personally had the bout scored 114-113 for Kovalev.
In the rematch earlier this year, Ward picked up where he had left off in the second half of the first fight, slowing the Russian Krusher down with a body attack. And this time Ward won decisively, by TKO.
Since that night, Ward has retired and Kovalev has separated from his long-time trainer, John David Jackson. A year ago, Kovalev was viewed by many fans as unstoppable. Saturday night, he returns to action riding a two-fight losing streak.
On paper, Kovalev still looks like the top fighter in the division, in the wake of Ward’s retirement. But fighters who wear a cloak of invincibility often do not respond well once that cloak is torn away.
His opponent, Ukraine’s Vyacheslav Shabranskyy, is no soft touch. He could be argued for in the division’s top 10. His record is 19-1 with 16 KOs. His only loss came to Sullivan Barrera, one of the division’s top five talents. He has a decisive win over the highly skilled Yunieski Gonzalez. He stopped bruising cruiserweight journeyman Garret Wilson, who gave heavyweight contender Vyacheslav Glazkov 10 very tough rounds.
For Shabranskyy, this is a golden opportunity to put his loss to Barrera behind him and prove he really is a true contender. For Kovalev, it’s nothing more than a chance to show that he remains one of the sport’s truly dangerous men.