Sergey Kovalev blasts out Vyacheslav Shabranskyy in two, regains 175-pound title
NEW YORK — After two consecutive losses to Andre Ward – a dubious one followed by a disheartening one – Sergey Kovalev needed something explosive to close out 2017.
And that’s exactly what he got as he bulldozed Vyacheslav Shabranskyy with two knockdowns in the first round and a third in the second frame to claim the vacant WBO light heavyweight title Saturday at The Theater at Madison Square Garden in the HBO main event.
“It’s my goal to be best in the division,” said Kovalev, 34, who was working with new trainer Abror Tursunpulatov after parting with John David Jackson. “Last time I was stopped was a decision by the referee. Here tonight was great boxing for me and I love boxing and I want to make great fights.”
Shabranskyy was on the verge of hitting the canvas for a fourth time when his trainer, Manny Robles, walked up the ring steps with the towel at 2:36 of the second round to save his fighter as he teetered precariously.
Kovalev (31-2-1, 27 knockouts) was aggressive from the first bell. He threw a hard straight right to the body early on, making him watch downstairs before coming upstairs with heavy leather, particularly with the second knockdown, which had Shabranskyy (19-2, 16 KOs) turned around and looking lost before falling.
Shabranskyy, who had looked suspect following his seventh-round technical knockout loss to Sullivan Barrera a year ago, held on until the end of the round and was saved by the bell. Ringside doctors checked on Shabranskyy before the beginning of the second round but with his head remaining in the middle throughout the fight, it was just a matter of time before Kovalev caught him again.
That happened midway through the round when a right hand high on the temple sent him back down for a third time, with only the main event’s brevity keeping the fight going.
The win positions Kovalev right in the middle of the post-Andre Ward 175-pound division, with WBA titleholder Dmitry Bivol, who was in attendance for the fight, an attractive unification possibility, while Adonis Stevenson, the WBC titleholder, remains a fun if elusive option.
Promoter Kathy Duva of Main Events says both Barrera and Marcus Browne turned down offers to fight Kovalev, and adds that Kovalev is “tentatively” set to fight at the same venue on March 3, and that both The Garden and HBO are on board to have him back.
“I’m happy that the belts have different owners and it makes everything interesting and we can make better fights,” said Kovalev. “We have a bunch of beltholders and we can now find out who is the best.”
Kovalev made sure Saturday he’s still in the running for that distinction.