Last night, Sergey “The Krusher” Kovalev (31-2-1, 27 KOs) signaled his triumphant return at the Theater at Madison Square Garden via second-round TKO over Vyacheslav Shabranskyy (19-2, 16 KOs).
The win made Kovalev a champion again after he was controversially dethroned by Andre “S.O.G.” Ward in 2016 and definitely in June of this year during the rematch. As one of the most feared punchers in boxing, Kovalev had gone on an unusual losing streak that had boxing fans questioning his skill set and the reputation he had built for himself in the squared circle.
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His opponent, the Golden Boy Promotions prospect Vyacheslav Shbrankskyy, would play the victim and from the outset, Kovalev let it be known that he was not trying to be in the ring for long. The Ukranian was clearly overmatched and was knocked down three times in the first two rounds before referee Harvey Dock stepped in and put a halt to the action at 2:36 of the second round.
In the six minutes Kovalev performed, he finally got back one of the belts he lost to Ward, the WBO light heavyweight strap that was available after Ward retired and vacated the titles. Kovalev landed 50 punches to Shabranskyy’s ineffective 16 strikes.
“I did it. I reloaded my brain, mentally, and conditioned my body,” Kovalev said with a smile to Max Kellerman during the post-fight interview. “I’m back. It’s my goal to be the best in this division. I don’t think in the last fight (against Ward) I was stopped. It was an illegal decision by the referee. But I’m ready to fight for all the titles, unified titles…I love boxing and I’m looking forward to making great fights.”
Kovalev was exposed, not only athletically in his two-part battle with Ward, but also for his racially insensitive beliefs. After chasing WBC light heavyweight champion Adonis Stevenson for years, Kovalev referred to him as a “gorilla” in the past.
More recently, once Kovalev was first defeated by Ward, he went on a series of racist rants directed towards Ward to justify the loss he felt was unwarranted. Many boxing fans who were once in awe of the sheer power and finesse of Kovalev began to question his integrity and sportsmanship, costing him more than the belts en route to his second career loss to Ward.
Kovalev then changed trainers from long-term trainer and former champion John David Jackson, who he claimed he had a cantankerous relationship with. Apparently, the change worked as Kovalev finished his job last night in no time.
Now that he is back as a champion, is Sergey Kovalev the new bad guy?
He wants to unify the titles, which means Adonis Stevenson is still on the radar. WIth new stars like WBA champion Dmitry Bivol and IBF champion Artur Beterbiev, as well as Badou Jack now among the fray of championship level contenders, Kovalev has many options to remain the guy many love to hate on his quest to unify.
The question remains, do you care enough to support him? Has he become polarizing enough now to sell a pay-per-view to see him lose or win, a la the Conor McGregor racial polarization model?
Only time will tell, but Kovalev definitely is thanking the boxing gods that one thing happened this year to ensure his success: Andre Ward decided to leave the game.