THREE PUNCH COMBO — Sergey Kovalev (31-2-1, 27 KO’s) returns this coming Saturday on HBO to defend his WBO light heavyweight crown against Igor Mikhalkin (21-1, 9 KO’s). While boxing fans are very familiar with the power punching Kovalev, the same cannot be said of his opponent. So just who is Mikhalkin and can he realistically be expected to test Kovalev?
The 32-year-old Mikhalkin (pictured on the right against Thomas Oosthuizen) turned pro in 2007 and though he was born in Russia, he made his pro debut in Germany where he has been based for his professional career. After winning his first eleven fights, Mikhalkin took a step in in class and lost a decision to a more experienced opponent in Aleksy Kuziemski in 2010. Since that loss — the only blemish to date on his record — Mikhalkin has won 10 straight with his most notable win coming last May when he decisioned the aforementioned Oosthuizen to hand the veteran South African the first loss of his career. The only other name on his resume that is somewhat familiar is that of Doudou Ngumbo. Mikhalkin holds three decision victories over the veteran Ngumbo including a 12-round decision this past December.
Fighting as a southpaw, Mikhalkin can best be described as a bit of a cutie. He likes to keep range and distance from the outside and will shift his feet around the ring looking to create angles to sharp-shoot his opponents. He does not have an effective jab. When he does throw the jab, it is often to the body of his opponents looking to get them to move their hands down so he can shoot the straight left upstairs. The straight left is Mikhalkin’s best punch but not one that has a lot of power behind it. Instead, it is thrown sharp and quick to score points. Mikhalkin does like to counter and will look to bait his opponent into leading so he can counter with that aforementioned quick straight left hand.
Mikhalkin is a very good defensive fighter and can be a tricky puzzle to solve. His hands are often held in a high guard that is difficult to penetrate. He moves his head well and is not an easy target to land flush. He is shifty too, making him quite an elusive target.
After watching a lot of YouTube video of Mikhalkin, I have come to the conclusion that this could be a difficult test for Kovalev. The big unknown is the chin of Mikhalkin. If Mikhalkin has any sort of beard, he could be just tricky enough to make things very interesting. He is a sharp puncher who will fight in spots and can make opponents fight in a slower, more methodical pace than they prefer. Mikhalkin can also make opponents miss often and get them rattled when they consistently are swinging at air. He is going to try to make this fight a chess match. Kovalev, of course, does possess fight-altering power and is never out of a fight. He may just need that power to rescue him late if Mikhalkin can fight the type of fight that he is capable.
The boxing calendar is jam-packed in the month of March. With so many fights on the docket, there are bound to be some surprises. Here is a look at a few fighters that could spring upsets in March.
On March 9th, the fast rising Regis Prograis (20-0, 17 KO’s) battles former 140-pound champion Julius Indongo (22-1, 11 KO’s) for an interim title belt in that division. An awkward southpaw, the skilled Indongo presents a tricky test for the flashy Prograis. He is not a come forward opponent who is there to be hit like many of Prograis’ recent opponents. Indongo will work behind the jab and utilize the nice reach advantage he possesses to keep the fight at a distance. Prograis will need to find a way to get inside and that will not be an easy task against a slick moving target. This is stylistically a tough matchup for Prograis and one for which he may not yet be ready.
The following day, Oscar Valdez (23-0, 19 KO’s) defends his WBO featherweight belt against former 122-pound champion Scott Quigg (34-1-2, 25 KO’s). Entering 2017, many in the sport thought Valdez was on a fast track to superstardom. But two subpar efforts in title defenses against Miguel Marriaga and Genesis Servania have been cause for a bit of concern. In those fights, Valdez’s lack of head movement and other defensive flaws such as pulling straight back with his hands down led to him eating a lot of leather. Now he faces a seasoned pro in Quigg who is just entering the prime of his career and is a much better fighter than those last two foes for Valdez. Quigg is a sharp accurate puncher with heavy hands and if Valdez has not tightened up those defensive flaws, he could be in for a long night. My hunch is that Valdez needed lots of work in the gym and maybe a tune-up fight or two to work on the defensive susceptibilities before facing a fighter the quality of Quigg.
On March 17th, Jose Carlos Ramirez (21-0, 16 KO’s) battles Amir Imam (21-1, 18 KO’s) for a vacant title belt in the 140-pound weight class. A lot of people wrote off Imam following a 2015 knockout loss to Adrian Granados, but I think that was a bit of an aberration. Imam is a solid fighter with excellent skills and does hold a dominant win against the now surging Yordenis Ugas. Imam possesses a piston-like left jab and some real one-punch power in the straight right that he will shoot behind that jab. Ramirez has been dropped and hurt by a right hand in the past and the fighter that delivered that punch, Johnny Garcia, does not have near the power of Imam. This is a dangerous opponent for the undefeated Ramirez.
HBO has a hit series on its hands. Superfly was a big success last September and the sequel, Superfly2, was just as good this past Saturday. With those two hits, it can be reasonably assumed that HBO will be bringing the popular series back later this year. With that in mind, here are some potential matchups for the third episode.
Donnie Nietes (41-1-4, 23 KO’s) vs. Artem Dalakian (16-0, 11 KO’s)
Flyweights appeared on this latest installment of SuperFly so why not a return to that division? There is going to be a push for Nietes to face the Japanese power punching star Daigo Higa, but that match may prove to be a little outside of HBO’s budget and is really more of a main event type fight. Instead, look for Nietes to return to face Dalakian in a unification bout at flyweight. Dalakian put on an impressive performance in defeating the popular Brian Viloria to capture a flyweight belt on HBO’s non-televised portion of Superfly2. And Nietes made his HBO debut with an impressive knockout of Juan Carlos Reveco. It is a fascinating match of a younger up and coming fighter in Dalakian who fights in an unorthodox manner against a veteran technician in Nietes.
Roman Gonzalez (46-2, 38 KO’s) vs. Carlos Cuadras (36-3-1, 27 KO’s)
I am going to assume SuperFly3 won’t happen until the fall or winter of 2018. As such, I expect Gonzalez to get in one tune-up bout and then be ready for the next rendition of the SuperFly series. (There’s talk that he will appear on the undercard of the Canelo-GGG rematch.) Putting Chocolatito back in the ring with Cuadras makes a ton of sense. They gave us a great fight in 2016 and each is at the point in his career where he needs a high stakes crossroads type fight. The winner is right back in contention for a much bigger fight.
Srisaket Sor Rungvisai (45-4-1, 40 KO’s) vs. Naoya Inoue (15-0, 13 KO’s) or Juan Francisco Estrada (36-3, 25 KO’s)
Sor Rungvisai vs. Inoue would make Superfly3 must see television. These are two explosive punchers with aggressive styles in the prime of their respective careers, not to mention that Inoue is on most of the top-10 pound-for-pound lists. There is no way the fight disappoints and given the style of the two combatants, is a sure fire candidate for fight of the year. If this dream matchup cannot be made, then a rematch between Sor Rungvisai and Juan Francisco Estrada is a great alternative.
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