For most of the past five years, Sergey Kovalev has held the aura of a wrecking machine. He mowed down one opponent after the next. Then, in November 2016 and again in June of this year, he faced off with Andre Ward and looked suddenly human–especially in the second encounter, when Ward stopped him in Round 8.
But Ward is one of the great boxing talents of the past 20 years. And Kovalev gave him hell in their first encounter–arguably deserving to win. So even as he came into Saturday night’s fight with Vyacheslav Shabranskyy riding a two-fight losing streak, there was no reason to assume he was anything but the monster we have thought he was all along.
And it took just three minutes and 24 seconds for Kovalev to prove that he is still one of the sport’s most dangerous offensive fighters. That’s how long the Ukrainian lasted, getting dropped twice in Round 1 and then saved by the referee less than 30 seconds into the second frame.
If you don’t know who Shabranskyy is, please do not assume he’s a tomato can. He’s a good fighter. But against Kovalev, he was helpless.
With Ward now retired, Kovalev is well positioned to claim the top spot in the division. The following three fights would be terrific for him:
Adonis Stevenson: In truth, this one should have happened in 2014. Stevenson was reluctant then and I wouldn’t assume that he will be more anxious now, three years closer to 40. But this is the biggest available fight in the division right now.
Sullivan Barrera: The Cuban contender is a highly skilled boxer with knockout power. His only loss came against Ward. It was one-sided, but Barrera did not embarrass himself and has the boxing IQ to have learned from it. He also has a KO win over Shabranskyy. This would be an intriguing fight.
Oleksandr Gvozdyk: The Ukrainian Olympic bronze medalist just might be the best fighter in the division–including Kovalev. His April 2016 KO of contender Nadjib Mohammedi was as close you will ever see to a perfect punch. With just 14 fights (12 won by stoppage) he might not be quite ready for Kovalev. Then again, nothing really prepares you for a challenge like that.