Sergey Kovalev is great but an undercard fighter may be the world’s best light heavyweight


Sergey Kovalev speaks to reporters prior to his bout with Igor Mihalkin, which is Saturday at Madison Square Garden. (Photo courtesy David Spagnolo/Main Events)

Sergey Kovalev has long been one of the world’s elite light heavyweights, and since routing the great Bernard Hopkins in Atlantic City in 2014 has been widely regarded among the finest pound-for-pound boxers in the world.

Even given back-to-back losses to Andre Ward, Kovalev has remained among the sport’s elite.

He’ll fight the unheralded Igor Mihalkin on Saturday in the main event of an HBO-televised card from Madison Square Garden in New York. Kovalev is a massive 20-1 favorite in Las Vegas.

Kovalev, who holds the WBO 175-pound title, has known Mihalkin since they were teen-agers in Russia. Promoter Kathy Duva has raved about the condition Kovalev was in. His conditioning has been a question since the first fight with Andre Ward, when he felt he ran out of gas.

It doesn’t figure to be a long fight Saturday, but in the event that Mihalkin is more sturdy than expected, Kovalev insists he’s prepared.

“Sergey is the most focused and probably in the best shape I’ve ever seen him,” Duva said. “People who had seen Sergey in recent months keep telling us the same thing, how fresh and fit he looks and how happy. The truth is, Sergey has not just changed his attitude. He’s changed his life.”

As good as Kovalev is, though, there’s a very real possibility he’s not even the best light heavyweight on Saturday’s card.


WBA light heavyweight champion Dmitry Bivol faces Sullivan Barrera on HBO on Saturday at Madison Square Garden. (Photo courtesy David Spagnola/Main Events)

The undercard will feature WBA light heavyweight champion Dmitry Bivol, another hard-hitting Russian who is not only powerful, but quick and athletic. Bivol faces Sullivan Barrera on the HBO undercard in a bout that should steal the show.

Bivol, who is 12-0 with 10 knockouts, has superstar written all over him. He carries himself with the poise and calm of a 10-year veteran, and his athletic genes are obvious.

HBO Sports executive vice president Peter Nelson heaped praise on Bivol, understanding this is a huge showcase for a young fighter unfamiliar to the public at large in the U.S.

“Sergey Kovalev and Dmitry Bivol are two of the brightest lights in the light heavyweight division,” Nelson said. “Bivol is one of the most exciting new entrants at HBO. His career has been nothing short of meteoric in recent days. We’re excited to see what he does on Saturday night against a great opponent.”

Bivol was given the tougher opponent on Saturday, and that’s no shock. While Kovalev remains at or near the top, he’d be no sure thing to defeat Bivol, who is also a massively powerful puncher while being a superior athlete.

There are so many great young fighters in boxing that, if the promoters don’t screw it up, the next generation looks bright.

Bivol is at or near the top of the list. There is plenty of competition on television on Saturday, and the WBC heavyweight title fight between champion Deontay Wilder and challenger Luis Ortiz deserves all the attention it gets. The HBO show is also going head-to-head with UFC 222.

Bivol, though, is a guy worth watching. So whether you catch it live at The Garden or on HBO, or watch it on DVR, make it a point to see Bivol. You may be seeing the best light heavyweight in the world right now.


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