SERGEY KOVALEV returns to New York on Saturday March 3 to defend his WBO light-heavyweight title against southpaw Igor Mikhalkin, originally of Russia, but now fighting out of Hamburg. A skilled boxer, Mikhalkin puts his 10-bout winning streak on the line as he challenges one of the most fearsome punchers in boxing at the Theater at Madison Square Garden.
In the co-main event, WBA light-heavyweight champ Dmitry Bivol of Russia makes the second defence of his title against Cuba’s Sullivan Barrera – his mandatory challenger. Bivol-Barrera matches a young, explosive champion against an experienced campaigner hungry for his first world title.
Last month, the Big Apple welcomed Kovalev with open arms as he made his New York debut with a stoppage of Vyacheslav Shabranskyy in the second round to reclaim the (vacant) WBO title at the Theater at Madison Square Garden. “Krusher” thrilled his large following of Russian fans last month, and he expects an even bigger contingent to greet him in March.
Kovalev said: “I really enjoyed fighting at Madison Square Garden in November. It feels like my home. I’m very excited to go back to MSG and to fight on HBO. Everyone should have a great time watching my fight!”
Kovalev’s manager, Egis Klimas, added: “It’s still very difficult to find light-heavyweights who want to fight Sergey. I’m surprised! Many thanks to Mikhalkin, who is confident enough to take on the ‘Krusher’ and get a big opportunity. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that Shabranskyy is Ukrainian and Igor is Russian. They’re tough! Not afraid!”
Mikhalkin made his professional debut in 2007 with a second-round stoppage of Stefan Stanko, and went on to win his first 11 bouts, with seven of those wins coming inside the distance. The lone blemish on Mikhalkin’s record is a unanimous decision loss to Aleksy Kuziemski in 2010. Ex-EBU titlist Mikhalkin will be making his US debut against Kovalev.
When asked about his upcoming title shot against Kovalev, Mikhalkin replied: “It is a great honour for me to fight in the United States. This will undoubtedly be the biggest and hardest fight of my career. Kovalev is, for me, the strongest man in this weight class. But I feel ready. The fight against Kovalev comes at the perfect time. I feel stronger than ever and I want to show the American boxing audience a great fight.”
Mikhalkin’s promoter, Erol Ceylan, added: “We are happy to organise this fight, together with Main Events. Kovalev is a big name in the light-heavyweight division. Igor has absolutely earned this fight and he has the class to defeat Kovalev. Igor has already won many great foreign victories in his career and I’m sure that he will be successful again.”
In the co-main event, Bivol makes his New York debut against Barrera, who has become a fixture on HBO. Both men have been very focused on making this fight and facing each other.
“This is not the first time that I am training for the most important fight of my career, and this motivates me and makes me happy. Barrera is what we wanted and I am glad that we will meet in the ring soon,” explained Bivol.
Andrei Ryabinskiy, Bivol’s promoter, explained: “We have planned a very active schedule for Bivol, and we are happy to start the year with an event at Madison Square Garden.”
Bivol’s manager, Vadim Kornilov, added: “We are glad that our first appearance in 2018 will be against one of the best in the division in the legendary Madison Square Garden. Barrera is a serious test for Bivol and we have a lot of respect for him taking this fight. We want to prove to the world that it was not by accident that this young kid became a world champion in only his 12th ring appearance. Bivol has already been mentioned as a possible pound-for-pounder by many, and we will continue fighting the best out there to prove this.”
Barrera said: “I came from Cuba with one dream and that was to win a world title. I know it won’t be easy and I know I chose the toughest road than anyone to get here. But I know all of the hard work will pay off. On March 3, I will become the most deserving light-heavyweight champion in boxing.”
Main Events CEO Kathy Duva remarked: “We’re ready to showcase the light-heavyweight division again at Madison Square Garden. We have Kovalev and Barrera both returning to The Theater after big wins in November, and we’re adding another light-heavyweight champion to the card. Bivol is a young champion with a bright future ahead of him if he can get past Sullivan, which is no easy task. And Sergey is taking on Mikhalkin, who is a young but experienced southpaw, and that [stance] has given him some trouble in the past. We’ll round out the show with another line-up of prospects and local guys in great fights to make sure the fans see a really entertaining and satisfying night of boxing.”