By Ian S Palmer
The vacant WBO Light Heavyweight Title is on the line at the Theater at Madison Square Garden this Saturday, November 25th when former WBO, IBF and WBA Champion Sergey Kovalev of Russia takes on Vyacheslav Sharbranskyy of Ukraine. The 12-round bout can be seen live in North America on HBO while fans in the UK can catch it on Sky Sports. Kovalev last fought in June when he lost by a premature stoppage to Andre Ward in the eighth round in their rematch. Ward had taken Kovalev’s titles in a highly controversial unanimous decision last November by scores of 114-113 across the board. Sharbranskyy last fought in August when he stopped Todd May after seven rounds.
The 34-year-old Kovalev still has an impressive impressive mark of 29-2-1 along with 26 Kos to his name and has fought 134 rounds since turning pro in 2009. As mentioned, both defeats were controversial and at the hands of Andre Ward while the draw came against Grover Young in 2011. That fight was stopped in the second round due to an accidental foul and Young couldn’t continue. Kovalev has a 72.5-inch reach and is 6-feet tall.
Kovalev’s basically a KO artist with a 79 per cent knockout ratio and has enough power in his fists to drop opponents with both body and head shots. He’s an exceptional offensive boxer who also has a pretty good defence and a solid chin. However, he didn’t press the action like he usually does when he fought Ward and showed his opponent too much respect. Kovalev likes to establish his snapping jab and usually punches in flurries rather than depending on one big shot.
The former champ has beaten the likes of Isaac Chilemba, Jean Pascal (twice), Bernard Hopkins, Blake Caparello, Gabriel Campillo, Darnell Boone and Nathan Cleverly. Kovalev’s a good boxer/puncher, but can also get frustrated in the ring by an elite boxer, such as Ward. Kovalev may be a bit hesitant to slug it out with Sharbranskyy due to his opponent’s power. But he can’t be gun shy either and too mellow in the ring. He definitely has to use his advantages and led his hands go.
The 30-year-old Sharbranskyy has a fine record of 19-0 with 16 Kos. He stands just over 6-feet-3-inches tall and has a reach of 75 inches, which means he’s 3.5-inches taller than Kovalev and also has a 2.5-inch reach advantage. He’s fought 83 rounds since turning pro in 2012 and is known as a big power puncher with his knockout ratio currently being 80 per cent. His lone loss was a seventh-round knockout at the hands of Sullivan Barrera last December.
Sharbranskyy fights out of Ca,California and has faced some decent opposition up to now such as Yunieski Gonzalez, Derrick Findley, but other than those two and Barrera, his opponents have mainly been Grade B level. Sharbranskyy had a pretty good amateur career and was a two-time national silver medalist in Ukraine. His best bet against Kovalev is probably a stoppage since he has power, but is unlikely to outbox the Russian. Of course he’ll also need a solid chin.
Kovalev should have shown a killer instinct and gone after Ward when he decked him in their first fight and he was a bit too timid in the rematch. However, he more or less blamed the losses on former trainer John David Jackson. To beat Sharbranskyy he needs to revert to the old Kovalev, meaning he aggressive in the ring, doesn’t hold back on his punches and shows no mercy in the ring. He doesn’t need to get into an all-out slugfest right from the get-go, but has to press the action and force Sharbranskyy onto his back foot as much as possible. Kovalev needs to land something solid early on, but needs to make sure he doesn’t leave himself open. He’s not getting any younger, but Kovalev should have enough left in the tank to earn a win here. In fact, he needs one to become a legitimate force in the light heavyweight division once again.