Former three-belt world light heavyweight champ, Sergey Kovalev, is not done with boxing after deflating back-to-back losses to Andre Ward and, as a matter of fact, plans are in place to re-claim his status as 175 lb. kingpin.
On November 25 at The Theater in Madison Square Garden, Kovalev will be facing the Ukraine’s Vyacheslav Shabranskyy in the first fight of what has to be viewed as a comeback. And, although boxing odds provided by sportsbooks show the Russian former champ as a huge betting favorite, don’t take it for granted that his road to a full return to the top will be easy.
Shabranskyy seems to be tailor made for Kovalev and, although he has a decent resume in his 20 bouts as a pro, there is nothing on his ledger that suggests he will give Sergey more than a minor struggle before being knocked down and out.
But there’s something weird that happens to mighty offensive beasts who get publicly de-fanged in high-profile bouts.
Feared powerhouses lose a great deal of their mystique when they get outboxed and beaten decisively. Opponents no longer enter the ring with the idea that they will probably be hit hard and knocked down (or out).
The powerhouses, themselves, lose the confidence and swagger that comes with the ability to scare the world and stop all opposition with a single blow. They begin to doubt themselves just a bit and, in doing so, leave themselves open for counters and for opponents to maneuver around them.
In Kovalev’s case, specifically, the psychological aspect of his recent loses may play an even greater role than what would normally be the case.
Still very much in denial over the losses, Kovalev still tells the world that he won the first Ward bout (a close, but unanimous decision in Ward’s favor) and that Ward stopped him in eight rounds in the second bout only “with the help of [referee] Tony Weeks.” After the second Ward fight, he even went about having the equivalent of a public temper tantrum by firing trainer John David Jackson and threatening to file a protest with the Nevada State Athletic Commission.
Maybe some of that is just the wounded pride of a stubbornly competitive athlete used to bending wills and crushing resolve with the weight of his fists, alone. But some of that is certainly a sign of a tough fighter becoming unhinged.
The light heavyweight division is considerably weaker now that Ward has announced his retirement, so it’s not crazy to assume that Kovalev, with the exposure he still gets from HBO, can work his way back to the top (or near the top).
But will he be the same fright-inducing monster who dominated the division and walked right through fighters such as Bernard Hopkins, Jean Pascal, and Nathan Cleverly? Boxing logic tells us “no.”