Sergey “The Krusher” Kovalev has been named The Sweet Science Comeback Fighter of the Year for 2017. The former unified light heavyweight titlist made a successful return to “champion status” in November after a pair of controversial losses to Andre Ward in November 2016 and again in June of 2017. Doubled over in pain and frustration from a debilitating “S.O.G.” body attack that might’ve strayed low, it looked and sounded like Kovalev’s time on top was done.
Kovalev 31-2-1 (27) lost his WBO, WBA, and IBF titles to Ward via hotly disputed decision before being defeated in the rematch by what Kovalev still indignantly refers to as an “illegal decision” by American referee Tony Weeks to stop the fight. The “Krusher” may have a point.
His Main Events promoter Kathy Duva is glad to make it for him and help drive it home. “The first fight, I will say for the rest of my life, he didn’t lose. The second one,” Duva stipulates, “Sergey was fighting the referee and Andre, but he lost to the number one fighter in the world. You don’t fall too far when you’re that close with a guy who is that good.” Good point Kathy.
Many ringside observers felt defending champion Kovalev did enough to defeat challenger Ward when the pair first met for Kovalev’s titles. Kovalev scored an early knockdown and seemed to outwork the American over the twelve rounds only to see the three American judges, Burt Clements, Glenn Trowbridge and John McKaie, render identical 114-113 scores in favor of Ward. In the rematch, Ward did what a younger version of Bernard Hopkins might have been able to do which was frustrate Kovalev; drilling him all along the beltline for a TKO in 8.
Ironically, it was Ward who retired after the rematch.
Kovalev went home to Russia with the demons of his defeat. When he came back to America, it was with a new attitude and a new trainer. Gone was John David Jackson, replaced by Russian speaking Abror Tursunpulatov. More than mechanics, the change was about chemistry. It was widely reported during the Ward bouts that Jackson and Kovalev were no longer compatible.
Egis Klimas approves of the move from Jackson to Tursunpulatov. “I’m just happy that Sergey found someone who can train him,” says Kovalev’s long-time manager. “I’m happy that Sergey is listening to somebody, which means a lot because I believe the trainer needs to have the respect from the fighter and it can’t be the other way. If a fighter goes to the trainer and tells him what to do, he’s not the trainer. The trainer needs to tell the fighter what should be done.”
Kovalev is coming back strong to an exciting light heavyweight division still packed with talent and potential big-name matchups. This past November in his Madison Square Garden debut, Kovalev got back in the win column; regaining the vacant WBO 175 pound title with a dominating destruction of fellow Russian tough-guy Vyacheslav Shabranskyy in two rounds with three knockdowns. The lean and mean Sergey looked like the Krusher of old and not just an old Krusher. Kovalev, still only 34 and a former pound-for-pound star, is not going anywhere just yet.
During the buildup to the Shabranskyy bout on HBO, revelations emerged that Kovalev had been smoking cigarettes, drinking alcohol, and not taking his boxing career seriously. To hear Kovalev tell it, something was broken within his brain and that negatively affected his body.
“All bad things are gone from my mind,” he says.
“I will be back stronger than before,” promises Kovalev. “It is my goal now to prove to everybody and for myself that I am still a strong unbroken fighter and that I can be world champion again.”
Aging lineal champion Adonis “Superman” Stevenson still holds the WBC title. A long overdue unification bout with Kovalev could earn both boxers big payouts. Artur Beterbiev recently picked up the IBF title vacated by Ward while Dmitry Bivol grabbed the vacant WBA title.
First up for TSS 2017 Comeback of the Year winner Kovalev is a mandatory defense of the WBO title against 21-1 (9) Igor Mikhalkin in March at Madison Square Garden. Kovalev is right back where he started his championship run, preparing to defend the WBO title, his first world title in boxing. 2018 looks like a great year for Kovalev to regain his ass-kicking reputation.
“I am happy my belts now have different owners,” said Kovalev. “It makes boxing interesting, we can make good fights for fans. I want to find out who is best in the light heavyweight division.”
Mikey Garcia came back from a long spell of promotional paralysis to reassert himself as one of the best young undefeated fighters in boxing. Garcia stopped Dejan Zlaticanin to win the WBC lightweight title then tuned up Adrien Broner in Brooklyn. Sadam Ali came back from a 2016 stoppage loss at the hands of Jessie Vargas to upset Miguel Cotto for the WBO junior middleweight title.
And Leo Santa Cruz looked like he might have hit a wall in his 2016 decision loss to Fighter of that Year Carl Frampton. Santa Cruz won the 2017 rematch; regaining his status as one of the best pound-for-pound fighters in the lower weight classes.
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