The Krusher Returns: Sergey Kovalev stops Shabranskyy in the second round to win WBO championship
Published: November 26, 2017
NEW YORK, NEW YORK – Last night at The Theater at Madison Square Garden fans witnessed the return of the Krusher persona as Sergey Kovalev (31-2-1, 27 KOs) scored an emphatic second-round stoppage over Ukranian Vyacheslav Shabranskyy (19-2, 16 KOs). With the victory, Kovalev won the vacant WBO Light Heavyweight (175) championship putting him back at the top of the division.
From the beginning, Kovalev was in proper form and started off fast scoring two knockdowns with his right hand in the first round. The end came in the second round after another set of right hands from Kovalev. The Russian displayed his vaunted punching power but also his intelligence in the ring as he still utilized his jab and went to the body to set up punches.
After the fights with Andre Ward, many fans and pundits were unsure if they were going to see the same Kovalev in the ring. With Ward’s retirement, the Light Heavyweight division is wide open with plenty of contenders awaiting. The division features fighters like Oleksandr Gvozdyk (14-0, 12 KOs), Artur Beterbiev (12-0, 12 KOs) and Dmitry Bivol (12-0, 10 KOs) among others. The long-anticipated bout between Kovalev and WBC light heavyweight champion Adonis Stevenson (29-1, 24 KOs) could still be a possibility. Kovalev with a new trainer and the experience of having fought Ward has a new lease on life. The Light Heavyweight division is as exciting as it has been in years and with Kovalev back to form as a titleholder there could be more exciting nights of action to come.
Before the main event, there was more Light Heavyweight action as top contender Sullivan Barrera (21-1, 14 KOs) took on the Dominican Republic’s Felix Valera (15-2, 13 KOs). The bout started off fast with Valera scoring a knockdown when the two men traded left hooks in the first round. Barrera responded with a knockdown of his own by the end of the round. Throughout the bout, Barrera’s advantage in experience became apparent as he came forward landing the cleaner more effective punches. Valera was deducted points in rounds three, six and eight for low blows and Barrera himself lost a point for a low blow in the ninth round.
Barrera won a wide unanimous decision with scores of 98-88, 97-90 and 97-89. The Cuban fighter fights in a wide-open light heavyweight division and could be next in line for a title shot against Kovalev. Barrera scored a seventh-round knockout over Shabranskyy in late 2016, and with his bout, with the now-retired Andre Ward, it gives him two common opponents with Kovalev.
The telecast began with a fight in the 130-pound division between two former world titleholders in Yuriorkis Gamboa (28-2, 17 KOs) and Jason Sosa (20-3-4, 15 KOs). Sosa was coming off of a stoppage loss to two-time Olympic gold medalist Vasyl Lomachenko (9-1, 7 KOs). Gamboa earlier this year lost to Robinson Castellanos (24-13, 14 KOs) in what was considered a significant upset this past May. In August, Gamboa somewhat rebounded with a razor-thin majority decision over Alexis Reyes (15-4-1, 7 KOs) in a bout where he was deducted three points. Question marks were surrounding both men coming into the fight.
Gamboa came into the bout with three weeks notice but with a massive advantage in experience having fought over 475 amateur bouts including a winning an Olympic gold medal in 2004. The gap in experience ended up being a non-factor in the match as Sosa was able to fight on even-terms with the Cuban. The bout started off with some close rounds that could have gone to either man. However, after the fifth round, Gamboa seemed to tire and resorted to fighting in spurts throwing arm punches followed by some grabbing and holding.
Sosa was able to score a knockdown in the seventh round with a left hook that was likely produced due to Gamboa’s poor balance that has been an issue throughout his professional career. In the 10th round referee, Ron Lipton took a point away from Gamboa for holding after several warnings. When the final bell rang, it seemed that this was the proverbial nail in the coffin for the Cuban. HBO’s Harold Lederman scored the bout 97-91 in favor of Sosa having given him rounds six through ten including two 10-8 rounds due to the knockdown and point deduction.
The judges disagreed and handed Gamboa a close majority decision victory with scores of 95-93, 94-94 and 96-92. The decision was controversial with a vast majority of observers scoring the bout for Sosa. Gamboa is apparently not the same fighter he was when he was running through the featherweight division. His lack of technique and fundamentals have overshadowed his physical talents specifically his hand speed. The final punch stats indicated that this was a close fight with Gamboa landing 129 out of 450 total punches at a 29 percent connect rate and Sosa landing 132 out of 399 total punches at a 33 percent connect rate. The bout was close enough to warrant a rematch in the near future.
(Featured Photo: Ed Mulholland @muls96/HBO)