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Kovalev Wins in Familiar Fashion But His Future Plans Are Uncertain

Was it only a year and a half or two ago that the fight many fans most wanted to see was a light heavyweight unification matchup of 175-pound knockout artists Sergey Kovalev

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Unification

Was it only a year and a half or two ago that the fight many fans most wanted to see was a light heavyweight unification matchup of 175-pound knockout artists Sergey Kovalev and Adonis Stevenson?

Kovalev and Stevenson presumably are still available to swap shots for pride and profit, but circumstances have rendered the once-hot pairing to something more akin to lukewarm, and that’s even if the two would-be combatants can bring themselves to do something more than make snide remarks about one another. For one thing, the 40-year-old Stevenson (29-1, 24 KOs), who defends his WBC title against Badou Jack (22-1-2, 13 KOs) on May 18 in Montreal, has always seemed about as anxious to test himself against Kovalev as he might be to contract the Ebola virus. For another, Kovalev, the “Krusher” from Russia, also seems to have lost some of the shine from his once-shiny reputation. Oh, Kovalev still might belong on a lot of knowledgeable observers’ top 10 pound-for-pound lists, but he’s 34, has those two losses to Andre Ward on his resume and was targeted for some scathing comments from his former trainer, John David Jackson. Even his latest victory, in which he defended his WBO championship on a seventh-round stoppage of fellow Russian Igor Mikhalkin Saturday night at The Theater at Madison Square Garden, seemed almost drab in comparison to the heavyweight barnburner held just 5.4 miles away in Brooklyn’s Barclays Center, where WBC champion Deontay Wilder survived some scary moments before putting away his most formidable opponent to date, Luis “King Kong” Ortiz, in the 10th round.

“She (Main Events matchmaker Jolene Mizzone) had been telling everybody all along that Mikhalkin was going to present a real test,” said Main Events CEO Kathy Duva, whose company promotes Kovalev. “He’s got that southpaw style, he’s relentless, he’s Russian. She knew that this was not going to be a walk in the park (for Kovalev). The guy did belong in there. He earned his shot.”

Maybe so, but the test presented by Mikhalkin (21-2, 9 KOs) for the most part seemed less final exam than pop quiz with an open book. Although the challenger’s southpaw stance might have given Kovalev (32-2-1, 28 KOs) momentary pause, for the most part the clearly superior titlist demonstrated why he went off as a 19-to-1 favorite, which is pretty much of a sure thing.

Kovalev opened a cut to Mikhalkin’s right eye with a left hook in the sixth round, and the wound worsened until referee Steve Willis felt obligated to step in 2 minutes and 25 seconds into round seven and wave off the rest of a bout whose outcome had always seemed preordained.

But while Kovalev is accustomed to ending things with spectacular flourishes, this TKO seemed almost routine. In fact, Kovalev’s postfight comments bordered on apologetic.

“Little bit disappointed,” Kovalev said of his performance as he held his giggling, attention-seeking and impossibly cute toddler of a son, Aleksandr. “I did not show everything that I wanted because Igor is southpaw. It is not a comfortable style (for me).”

“He is not easy opponent, believe me. He looks like maybe a no one guy, you know, but he is good. And I was, like, a little lazy. Sluggish. I don’t know, something was wrong.”

Despite Kovalev’s professed inertia and obligatory kudos tossed the outclassed Mikhalkin’s way (Kovalev won 17 of the 18 completed rounds on the three judges’ official scorecards and would have made it 20 of 21 were it not for Willis’ intercession), he and his support crew – Duva, manager Egis Klimas and trainer Abror Tursunpulatov – no doubt realize that there is lost ground that needs to be made up, and quickly, if some of the big bopper’s luster is to be restored to its former level.

“There’s a lot of light heavyweight fights happening in the next few weeks,” said Duva, who hopes to get Kovalev back in the ring in June, preferably at the Garden, which he now calls his favorite venue. “I really think those fights have to happen. Once we figure out who wins, we’ll make some decisions.”

Kovalev said he’d prefer not to fight another southpaw next, which would appear to rule out Stevenson, not that that evaporating dream fight is apt to ever advance beyond the theoretical. There’s the standard HBO/Showtime snag that somehow would have to be resolved, with Kovalev contractually bound to the  former and Stevenson to the latter, as well as the likelihood that the Haitian-born, Quebec-based WBC ruler would decline to exit his Canadian comfort zone, where he has staged his last 14 fights and is determined to remain unless extradited. But Kovalav expressed interest in a possible rumble with Jack (22-1-2, 13 KOs), should he get past Stevenson, an iffy proposition.

“I’ve read on the internet that Badou Jack would be a big-money fight,” Kovalev said. He also opined that a unification bout with WBA champ Dmitry Bivol (13-0, 11 KOs), who almost toyed with Cuban expatriate Sullivan Barrera (21-2, 14 KOs) before stopping him in the 12th round in Saturday night’s co-featured bout on HBO, is on the table and deserving of consideration.

By any measure, including earning potential, Kovalev is not where he was heading into his first showdown with Ward on Nov. 19, 2016, in Las Vegas’ T-Mobile Arena. There are more than a few people who believe that Kovalev had done enough to get the nod in that one, although Ward, by consensus one of the two or three best fighters in the world, came away a 114-113 winner on all three official scorecards. With a chance to settle the score in the rematch on June 17, 2017, at the Mandalay Bay in Vegas, Kovalev was stopped in eight rounds in another tight scrap, leading 68-65 on one card and down by just 67-66 on the other two. Kovalev claimed the stoppage was the result of illegal, below-the-belt punches that drew no warnings or penalties from referee Tony Weeks, an argument that was not without some merit.

The Ward setbacks seemed to send Kovalev into a funk, and when he decided to jettison Jackson, the sacked trainer claimed he was being unfairly portrayed as a scapegoat by a selfish fighter who took too many shortcuts in the gym.

“Sergey likes to talk trash,” a bitter Jackson said after the Ward rematch. “He’s blaming me for the loss but let me tell you this, you can’t blame me for the loss when he quit. He quit! Once Andre started hitting him to the body he was done.

“He makes Russian people look bad. All the Russians that I’ve trained, they are wonderful people, man. This guy (Kovalev) is a complete (expletive), just a really selfish person.”

Although Klimas floated the names of better-known replacement trainers, most notably Freddie Roach, the gig went to Tursunpulatov, who came to Kovalev’s attention because he trained Russian middleweight Bakhram Murtazalien. They now have been together for two fights, Kovalev’s two-round blowout of Ukraine’s Vyacheslav Shabranskyy on Nov. 25 of last year for the vacant WBO title and now Mikhalkin.

“He reminds Sergey of his old trainer from the beginning in Russia, especially because Sergey wants to hear the Russian language in his corner,” Klimas said when Tursunpulatov came aboard. “That is important to him.”

The restoration of Sergey Kovalev remains a work in progress. Jackson’s depiction of him as a quitter is about the worst thing that can be said of a fighter, and his sacking of a well-thought-of black trainer and some insensitive comments have raised, perhaps unfairly, the ugly specter of racism. Those are labels that aren’t always easy to scrape off, and Kovalev must try to do so to mollify the doubters while at the same time demonstrating that he is still the potentially great fighter he appeared on the verge of becoming not so very long ago.

The fastest and most obvious way to reestablish himself as a card-carrying member of the boxing elite would be to get a third shot at the now-retired Ward and to win. Ward recently mused that a third clash with Kovalev has crossed his mind, so there is that to consider. Certainly, all evidence suggests that such a fight would come with shorter odds than Kovalev getting a first go at Stevenson.

If not Bivol or Jack, the grab bag of possible Kovalev foes include Joe Smith Jr. (23-2, 19 KOs), Marcus Browne (21-0, 16 KOs), Artur Beterbiev (12-0, 12 KOs), Okeksandr Gvozdyk (14-0, 12 KOs), Eleider Alvarez (23-0, 11 KOs) and Anthony Yarde (15-0, 14 KOs). Even Mike Lee (20-0, 11 KOs), the Notre Dame grad better known for his role as a pitchman for Subway sandwiches, would appear to be in play; he is, after all, ranked No. 3 by the WBO.

But whomever Klimas and Duva select as the next partner on their guy’s dance card, you have to wonder how big a splash that bout can make in a landscape where a preponderance of fight fans are fantasizing about the May 5 rematch of middleweight superstars Gennady Golovkin (37-0-1, 33 KOs) and Canelo Alvarez (49-1-2, 34 KOs), or the prospect of similar superfights pitting heavyweight champions Anthony Joshua (20-0, 20 KOs) and Deontay Wilder (40-0, 39 KOs) and welterweights Errol Spence Jr. (23-0, 20 KOs) and Terence Crawford (32-0, 23 KOs).

 

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Fast Results From London: Joshua Takes Out Povetkin in the 7th

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UK sporting

It was a very wet night at Wembley Stadium, but the dampness didn’t diminish the enthusiasm of the crowd which welcomed UK sporting hero Anthony Joshua into the ring with a thunderous ovation. And Joshua didn’t disappoint. After six relatively even rounds, he found his range in the seventh and became the first man to stop Alexander Povetkin. A three punch combo that began with an overhand right sent Povetkin sprawling into the ropes. The Russian beat the count, but Joshua smelled blood and as soon as the ref allowed the proceedings to continue he moved in for the kill. The official time was 1:59.

Povetkin started fast and in the eyes of many observers won the first three rounds. A sharp right hand in the waning seconds of round one reddened Joshua’s nose which leaked blood in the next round. The tide began to turn in round four when Povetkin suffered a cut above his left eye.

Povetkin (now 34-2), was the lighter man by 23 pounds. Joshua had a four inch height advantage and a seven inch reach advantage. And it mattered greatly that AJ was the younger man by 10-plus years. Povetkin wasn’t intimidated by Joshua and had several good moments but, at age 39, his reflexes betrayed him once the fight had crossed the midpoint.

Joshua, who owns three of the four meaningful heavyweight title belts, improved to 22-0 with his 21st stoppage. His next fight is penciled in for April 13 of next year against an opponent to be determined. His promoter Eddie Hearn has reserved that date at Wembley Stadium.

Other Bouts

In a 12-round lightweight bout, Joshua’s Olympic Games teammate and fellow gold medalist Luke Campbell (19-2) avenged the first loss of his career with a unanimous decision (119-109, 118-111,116-112) over France’s Yvan Mendy (40-5-1). This was Campbell’s second start since coming up short in a bid for Jorge Linares’s lightweight title and his first fight under his new trainer Shane McGuigan.

In their first meeting in December of 2015 at London’s O2 Arena, Mendy won a split decision that should have been unanimous. Campbell insisted that he had improved greatly in the interim and tonight’s fight bore witness. However, he needs to develop a harder punch to rank among the top lightweights in the world, a list headed by Mikey Garcia. As this fight was framed as a WBC title eliminator, Campbell is next in line to meet Garcia, but Mikey has indicated that he will pursue bigger game.

Lawrence Okolie, a 2016 Olympian who trains with Anthony Joshua, won a Lonsdale belt in only his 10th pro start with a 12-round decision over defending BBBofC cruiserweight champion Matty Askin in a messy fight. The undefeated Okolie had a point deducted in round five for leading with his head and had two more points deducted for holding, but banked enough rounds to get the nod on all three cards: 116-110, 114-112, and 114-113. Askin, who declined to 23-4-1, had won five straight heading in.

A 10-round heavyweight match between Sergey Kuzmin (13-0, 1 NC) and David Price (22-6) ended suddenly when Price retired on his stool after four relatively even rounds. The six-foot-eight, china-chinned Price claimed to have aggravated a biceps tear.

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Michael Dutchover Remains Undefeated in Ontario, Calif.

Transplanted Texan Michael Dutchover needed a little time to figure out Costa Rican Bergman Aguilar but when he did it was over quickly on Friday.

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Michael Dutchover

ONTARIO-Calif.-Transplanted Texan Michael Dutchover needed a little time to figure out Costa Rican Bergman Aguilar but when he did it was over quickly on Friday.

Lightweight prospect Dutchover (11-0, 8 KOs) knocked out southpaw Aguilera (14-4-1, 4 KOs) in the fifth round with a barrage of body blows that left the Costa Rican limp at the Doubletree Hotel.

For two rounds Aguilar used an awkward counter-punching style that had Dutchover a little tentative. But once he figured out that combination punching was the key, he opened up with barrages and floored Aguilar with body shots at the end of round four.

That signaled doom for Aguilar.

The fifth round saw Dutchover target the body with impunity as Aguilar tried holding, running and covering up with no success. Referee Wayne Hedgepeth signaled the fight over at 2:31 of the fifth round giving Dutchover the win by knockout.

In a bantamweight clash Santa Ana’s Mario Hernandez (7-0-1, 3 KOs) and Mexico City’s Ivan Gonzalez (4-1-2, 1 KO) fought to a majority draw after six back and forth rounds.

Hernandez targeted the body against the taller Gonzalez who relied on long range counters. Both found success but neither could prove superiority after six turbulent rounds.

After six rounds one judge saw it 58-56 for Gonzalez but the two other judges saw it 57-57 for a majority draw.

Other bouts

South Central L.A.’s Ruben Torres (7-0, 6 KOs) extended his undefeated streak with a knockout over Mexico’s Eder “El Koreano” Amaro (6-6, 2 KOs) in a lightweight fight. But it wasn’t easy.

Amaro switched from southpaw to orthodox and was matching Torres for two rounds until the taller local fighter began blasting away to the body and head with precision. Many in the crowd cheered “Koreano” in unison but it couldn’t help once Torres zeroed in.

At the end of the fourth round Amaro could not continue and the fight was stopped giving a knockout for Torres.

Richard Brewart Jr. (2-0) mowed through Edward Aceves (0-5) flooring him with body shots in the first round then overwhelming him in the second. After seven unanswered blows referee Eddie Hernandez stopped the fight at 1:32 of round two giving Rancho Cucamonga’s Brewart the win by knockout in the super welterweight bout.

Southpaw David Ortiz (1-0) won his pro debut by unanimous decision after four rounds in a welterweight match against San Diego’s Mario Angeles (2-11-2). Ortiz lives in Bloomington, Calif. and is trained by Henry Ramirez. No knockdowns were scored.

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Charr-Oquendo Scuttled When Charr Tests Positive; the Odious WBA Saves Face

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Manuel Charr

Manuel Charr and Fres Oquendo were scheduled to fight in Cologne, Germany, later this month (Sept. 29). Charr would be defending his WBA world heavyweight title, the “regular” version of it, not the “super” version which rests in the hands of Anthony Joshua.

The bout was quickly cancelled when it was revealed that Charr had tested positive for two banned anabolic steroids. The test was performed by VADA, the anti-doping agency identified with Las Vegas neurologist Dr. Margaret Goodman.

The 33-year-old Charr, born in Lebanon but a resident of Germany since the age of three, won the belt in his last start with a unanimous decision over 281-pound Russian behemoth Alexander Ustinov in Oberhausen, Germany. The title was vacant. Charr won the right to fight for it with a 10-round decision over Albanian slug Sefer Seferi. The victory over Ustinov elevated his record to 31-4. He has been stopped three times, by Vitali Klitschko, Alexander Povetkin, and Mairis Briedis.

If it wasn’t for bad luck, as the old saying goes, Fres Oquendo wouldn’t have any luck at all. For various reasons, his fights keep falling out. Before long he’ll be drawing social security. Well, not exactly, but he turned 45 in April and hasn’t fought in more than four years.

Oquendo has competed for this belt before. In his last ring appearance in July of 2014, he lost a majority decision to Russia’s Ruslan Chagaev in Grozny, Russia. As a concession for taking the fight on short notice, Team Oquendo negotiated a rematch clause in the contract, but a shoulder injury prevented Fres from activating it. When the injury healed, he had to go to court to compel Chagaev to fulfill his obligation. But then the Russian retired, muddling the water.

The WBA was legally bound to find Oquendo a title fight and in desperation turned to ancient Shannon Briggs. But the Oquendo-Briggs fight, scheduled for June 3 of last year in Hollywood, Florida, fell out when Briggs’ urine specimen showed an abnormally high level of testosterone.

Fres Oquendo was dogged by bad luck even before these recent developments. His professional record, 37-8, is somewhat misleading as six of his eight defeats were razor-thin including his 2003 setback to Chris Byrd and his 2006 setback to Evander Holyfield. However, Oquendo, something of a cutie, was never a crowd-pleaser and in none of his narrow defeats was there a public clamor for a rematch.

The cancellation of Charr-Oquendo cuts the World Boxing Association out of a sanctioning fee, but one would think that the WBA honchos are actually rather pleased by this turn of events. The fight, more precisely the WBA’s world title imprimatur, would have brought more unwanted publicity to the Panama-based organization.

ESPN’s Dan Rafael, who has the largest platform of any boxing writer, has been a persistent critic of the organization which once recognized 41 “champions” in 17 weight classes. In 2009, Rafael wrote, “(The WBA) has become such an absolute farce that even somebody like me, who follows boxing closely, sometimes has a hard time keeping track of all the nonsensical so-called world title belts the WBA has been doling out at an alarming rate. It almost reminds me of the ladies at Costco who hand out various samples on a busy Saturday afternoon.”

Rafael took note when WBA president Gilberto Mendoza promised to cull the herd by eliminating “regular” titles, and then became more caustic when Mendoza didn’t follow through. Recently, in one short, punchy diatribe, Rafael blistered the WBA as wretched, vile, and rancid.

Regardless of your opinion, it’s hard not to feel sorry for Fres Oquendo who keeps getting stranded at the altar. No, he’s not fun to watch and a man of his age shouldn’t be taking any more punches, but he has always been an honest workman and by all accounts he’s a very decent man. Born in Puerto Rico but raised in Chicago, Oquendo pitched right in when the island nation of his birth was ravaged by Hurricane Maria. He was personally responsible for relocating Puerto Rican boxing legend Wilfred Benitez and Benitez’s sister, his caregiver, to Chicago where their lives wouldn’t be as hard.

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