Friday, 24 November 2017 07:25

Shabranskyy: Why he's the right opponent for Kovalev, not Barrera

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Former light heavyweight champion Sergey Kovalev faces Vyacheslav Shabranskyy Saturday night on HBO.

The vacant WBO light heavyweight title will be at-stake.

Previously, there was talk of Kovalev facing red hot Cuban Sullivan Sullivan Barrera but the latter opted to pass on Sergey after being informed a title wouldn't be at-stake. But soon after Shabranskyy, who was KO'd by Barrera last year, agreed to fight Kovalev, the WBO decided to make Kovalev vs Shabranskyy a title fight, much to the chagrin of Barrera.

"“After I turned the Kovalev fight down,” Barrera told "If they would’ve offered it to me and said, ‘Look, hey, we have it for the title,’ I would have taken it, 100 percent.”"

Advantage: Kovalev.

Return of the Krusher?
Dubbed "Krusher," we haven't seen that side of Kovalev in a while. He dropped back-to-back fights to Andre Ward and was taken the distance by Isaac Chilemba prior to the Ward fights. And let's not forget, Kovalev is working with different trainers so the Shabranskyy fight will serve as the first test for the new Team Kovalev.

Given he's coming off two straight losses, wasn't spectacular in the fight prior to those losses and is working with a brand new team, Sullivan Barrera is not the opponent Kovalev needs right now.

Sure, Sergey would be favored over Sullivan and it would be a great match-up, but Team Kovalev should probably look to get back on the winning track before facing a fighter of Barrera's polish.

Barrera isn't Andre Ward but he's certainly not the type of opponent a fighter would face to get back on track. Hailing from Cuba, the 35-year-old Barrera is a very skilled, very good all-around fighter with amateur victories over future professional world champions Mariano Natalio Carrera, Chad Dawson and Beibut Shumenov.

And keep in mind, prior to facing Andre Ward in March 2016, some insiders feared Barrera could derail Ward's then impending bout with Sergey Kovalev. In fact, Egis Klimas, manager of Kovalev, warned fans and the media his fighter could be facing Barrera instead of Andre Ward.

"Let Ward first beat Barrera [before we start talking about Kovalev-Ward], Klimas told ESNews.

"This is a very difficult fight. It may happen that Kovalev would eventually fight with Barrera, and not with Ward."

Ward, of course, would go on to win a unanimous decision, 117-108, 117-109, and 118-109 but Sullivan was, by no means, embarrassed in that fight. And to date, Ward is the only fighter to defeat him.

If there were a ton of money at-stake for Kovalev vs Barrera it would be worth it, but why should Team Kovalev take the risk at this moment?

Enter Vyacheslav Shabranskyy
Shabranskyy is exactly what the new Team Kovalev needs at the moment. He's a quality, legitimate contender but was KO'd by Barrera last year, lacks Kovalev's professional pedigree and hasn't defeated a name opponent. 

Vyacheslav should serve as a good barometer as it relates to Kovalev and his new team. He's good enough to pose a test for Sergey if taken lightly but seemingly not good enough to win.

Will we see the return of the Krusher tomorrow night? If so, Sergey is back on track and his team can start thinking about bouts with Barrera as well as fights with title holders Artur Beterbiev and Dmitry Bivol...

Three difficult assignments by any standard.

If you're Kovalev's handlers, you want to build momentum and regain a bit of the aura that was lost in the Ward fights so it would have made no sense to have given Sergey another threatening opponent right away, especially with new trainers.

Should Kovalev vs Barrera happen, both men will likely be other's second biggest challenge to date (Andre Ward). Yes, Barrera would be a bigger threat than all of Kovalev's previous opponents, including (then 50 year-old) Bernard Hopkins and former lineal light heavyweight champion Jean Pascal.

Leroy Cleveland

Lee is Managing Editor of, a student of the Sweet Science and longtime boxing fan.