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The Russians are coming: Kovalev vs. Mikhalkin, Bivol vs. Barrera, HBO Boxing Saturday

Written By | Mar 3, 2018

L to R: Dmitry Bivol, Sergey Kovalev, Igor Mikhalkin, and Sullivan Barrera headline the Saturday fight card at Madison Square Garden. Photo: David Spagnolo, Main Events

NEW YORK, March 2, 2018: Despite his tremendous success at the highest levels of boxing, two-time light heavyweight champion Sergey “Krusher” Kovalev (31-2-1, 27 KOs) of Russia says only now is he reaching his full potential as an athlete. This is not happy news for the rest of the competitive light heavyweight division.

Kovalev puts his WBO title on the line against fellow Russian light heavyweight Igor Mikhalkin (21-1, 9 KOs) in the 12-round main event at The Theater at Madison Square Garden on March 3, televised live on HBO World Championship Boxing® beginning at 10:05 p.m. ET/PT.

Under the guidance of new trainer Abror Tursunpulatov at The Boxing Laboratory in Oxnard, Kovalev says he had to turn over the reins and trust in his trainer to bring him to his full potential, something he admits he needed to do. “I’m under his control, 100 percent, under his plan for workouts, what time I wake up and what time I should go to sleep. We’re speaking about what I’m eating, and everything, we discuss it.

“It’s interesting right now. It’s working. It’s getting me in top shape for my next fight,” said Kovalev.

Kovalev says his two losses are in the past, but not the valuable lessons he learned from them. “It was the lesson of my life. The last two years before this (upcoming) fight, my sport mode was broken” due to his travel schedule back and forth between Russia and the U.S., missing workouts and changing time zones. Kovalev said it wasn’t a matter of not putting in the work, but not maximizing his training and doing damage with poor diet and overtraining.

Light heavyweight fighters Sergey Kovalev (left) and Igor Mikhalkin aren't strangers. They have known each other since their amateur days as Russian teenagers. Photo: David Spagnolo/Main Events

Sergey Kovalev (left) and Igor Mikhalkin aren’t strangers. They have known each other since their amateur days as Russian teenagers. Photo: David Spagnolo/Main Events

Kovalev and Mikhalkin aren’t strangers; far from it, in fact. The two fought side-by-side as teammates in their amateur days two decades ago. Mikhalkin says, “What I remember of Sergey from those day, he was always working and training really hard, and doing his job as a boxer. Since then, I’ve seen every one of his fights and I respect him for what he has done,” said Milkhalkinb.

Both say it seems inevitable their paths would eventually cross as professionals. “I didn’t think until recent it was possible, but the way my career and Sergey’s career were moving, it was inevitable we would have to fight each other. It’s destiny we would see each other in a boxing ring,” said Mikhalkin.  Mikhalkin said Kovalev’s style hasn’t changed much since he acquired solid fundamentals during his amateur days and he’s taken this training forward.

In preparation for the southpaw Mikhalkin, Kovalev has engaged in sparring sessions with southpaws. “Day by day, spar by spar, I feel much better and more comfortable against a southpaw,” said Kovalev. “I should be ready for everything, because I am very motivated right now.” Kovalev said it’s the way of Russian fighters to give their all in the ring, “We are trained mentally, Russians, and never step back, just fighting till the end. We’re ready to fight for the world title.”

As an accomplished world champion among a large group of younger Eastern European and Russian boxers training alongside him in Oxnard, Kovalev understands he is seen as their role model. He accepts it, and takes the responsibility seriously.

“Yes, the guys take my personal example for something, for motivation for their upcoming fights, and something more. I feel very responsible, you know, working with Abror, and in this training camp, because around me are a lot of young fighters who watch my workouts,” said Kovalev.

Their attention produced a surprising benefit for Kovalev as well. “It’s good motivation for me, too. I show them how I must, and how all fighters must spend energy in the gym. It takes 100 percent effort to get any title in the world,” said Kovalev.

Dmitry Bivol trained for his fight with Sullivan Barrera at the Legendz Boxing Gym in Norwalk, California. Photo: Craig Bennett/Main Events

The co-main event joining the HBO broadcast could end up stealing the show. WBA Light Heavyweight world champion Dmitry Bivol (12-0, 10 KOs) of Russia puts his unbeaten record and title on the line in a mandatory title defense against number one ranked challenger Sullivan Barrera (21-1-0, 14 KOs) of Miami via Cuba. Bivol, 27, and Barrera, 36, can advance toward a unification fight with Kovalev with a victory. Bivol has generated a great deal of interest among knowledgeable fight fans, one of a number of accomplished Eastern European amateur fighter quickly making a mark in the professional ranks.

Bivol is making his debut at Madison Square Garden. “Of course I’m glad I will be fighting in America and Madison Square Garden is a famous place. I’m glad; it’s great. I’m more excited (than nervous), I think. Every fight, I feel excited.” He ended up with Barrera as an opponent when the Cuban turned down a matchup with Kovalev. Says Bivol, “I want to fight with the best guys. Barrera accepted our challenge. I’m glad he did.”

Dmitry Bivol and Sullivan Barrera could steal the show from the main event on Saturday. Photo: David Spagnolo, Main Events

Bivol says he understands it’s not always easy to find the right opponent, something he is starting to experience. “Any good fighter probably has difficulties with getting guys in the ring, fighting the right guys. But my job is to train and I believe, I really believe, that my team is going to be able to come together and make things happen. I know they can.”

As his immediate foe, Barrera knows the stakes are high for him. “This would be a very important victory obviously because I want to look to the future after this. It would be a dream come true to win the title. And we would see what happens after that. There are a lot of big names out there.”

Barrera expressed his respect for the young champion. “Bivol is a good fighter and it is known that he has speed but we have a plan to adjust to the speed and take it away. We are going to impose ourselves and use our abilities.” But he’s far from intimidated. “Bivol is the champ and he has to be respected as such but I have fought big names before and that’s going to give me an edge. I have been there before, fighting in big fights.”

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With three Russian champions in the two televised fights and several more Russian and Kazakh boxers on the undercard, the large Russian fan base in New York should be out in force. “Of course it’s a pleasure to fight on a card where there’s going to be two world champions from Russia, fighting on the same night, one fight after another. I think the fans should be very glad, the Russian fans and all the fans who like both of us, will come and see both of us fight. I hope everybody comes out,” said Bivol.

“Every fight for me is a lot of responsibility. I have to be responsible for my fans, for my family, and to my team,” explained Bivol. “That’s my main responsibility. Mostly, I’m happy to be fighting at such a legendary place as Madison Square Garden and fighting with one of the best fighters out of Russia, Sergey Kovalev. He’s considered one of the best right now. That adds a lot and I’m grateful for the opportunity.”

Gayle Lynn Falkenthal, APR, is President/Owner of the Falcon Valley Group in San Diego, California. She is a veteran boxing observer covering the Sweet Science for Communities. Read more Ringside Seat in Communities Digital News. Follow Gayle on Facebook and on Twitter @PRProSanDiego.

Please credit “Gayle Falkenthal for Communities Digital News” when quoting from or linking to this story.  

Copyright © 2018 by Falcon Valley Group


Gayle Falkenthal

Gayle Lynn Falkenthal, MS, APR, is President of the Falcon Valley Group, a San Diego based communications consulting firm. Falkenthal is a veteran award-winning broadcast and print journalist, editor, producer, talk host and commentator. She is an instructor at National University in San Diego, and previously taught in the School of Journalism & Media Studies at San Diego State University.