It was funny to see Tracy Morgan on the other side of ringside as a fan laughing it up. As if a reminder of who he is and who he was, he provided a glimmer of hope for who he will be.
But the comedian was unaware of laughter from the other side pertaining to who he came to see, a man whose intent was to show that he isn't what he was… and all that we remembered.
Long before new 2-time WBO light heavyweight champion Sergey Kovalev (31-2-1, 27KOs) went retro “Krusher” on a manhandled Vyacheslav Shabranskyy via destructive 2nd round KO at The Theater inside of Madison Square Garden on HBO, Kovalev couldn't have concocted a more laughable antidote for amnesiacs.
A few years ago, before facing ageless wunderkind Bernard Hopkins, rumor has it Kovalev engaged in uncontrollable laughter upon learning Shabranskyy was the chief sparring partner for B-Hop in preparation for his November 2014 encounter with the mighty Russian. And so it is at the sound of the bell, Kovalev proceeded to treat Shabranskyy like a punchline delivered with dark humor.
This would make for some interesting Sunday reading while recalling a conversation with Main Events CEO Kathy Duva just hours before the fight.
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Sergey Kovalev looked pale grey to me prior to the June 17 rematch with Andre Ward. Like a “Walking Dead” zombie headed for baptism under fire. It inspired the reading of “Fifty Sheds of Grey”, a wickedly clever compilation of shed erotica for the not-so-modern man. “Hurt me!” she begged, raising her skirt as she bent over the workbench. “Very well,” I replied, “You've got fat ankles and no dress sense.”
Questionable t-shirts with banana eating apes in boxing gloves aside, Kovalev and Main Events took a public pounding, exacerbated by a calculated Ward and RocNation, which put Kovalev behind on points heading into the 13th round. Throw in John David Jackson all but working Ward's corner during the promotion (they did, in fact have talks as Ward told the media), and Kovalev essentially had no protective cup on before the bell.
A mentally bombed Sergey even approached his promoter about replacing Jackson on more than one occasion to no avail.
“Wow. You know what? He (Kovalev) did look grey! That's the perfect word to describe him. The fighter you saw and what you'll see tonight is night and day,” said a joyfully rejuvenated Duva, focused totally on the now. “As a team, we've overcome so many challenges– and he wants his belts back. All of them.”
Duva, graciously unapologetic while revealing that we are all prone to mistakes, candidly shouldered blame for Jackson's continued presence, who for Kovalev, proved to be a cloudy grey sky full of acid rain.
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Before we get back to the light heavyweights, a couple of things about this undercard and the subject of judging… Kudos to Sullivan Barrera and ‘Notorious' Frank Galarza for rocking NY Knicks gear into the ring at MSG, and the event coordinators for showcasing Galarza (not his best night) and the talented LeShawn Rodriguez (he came up aces). It was a very good crowd on hand with a good buzz flowing through the arena.
But then Don Trella happened. Again.
Yuriokis Gamboa looked like a superstar in spurts, but my notes read that he looked good [in defeat]. The Golden Boy product looked as if he'd been nuanced a little by CEO Oscar De La Hoya himself (Ya think Oscar might wanna match him with Jorge Linares?), because some of his glaring signs of being “shot” had band-aids on them. But he was predictably floored and pressed enough to lose to former WBA super featherweight champion Jason Sosa (who still appears totally Vasyl Lomachenko'd).
Trella might watch film with Adalaide Byrd worth investigating, as both vie for worst judge of 2017 honors. We won't even go there with Byrd, but Trella is the same fella who apparently judged the 7th round of Triple G V Canelo from underwater without a pair of goggles. It's bad enough the fight was a terrible draw, but no way Gamboa gets a 96-92 decision from him, not with a knockdown and multiple point deductions.
Trella needs a standing eight count. Now.
So Kovalev happened to Shabranskyy, as we saw. But before that, Barrera went to war with the wildly eccentric and entertaining Felix Valera, getting a wide (but brutal) UD. Because Barrera had fought Shabranskyy prior and continues to show focus problems– particularly early (he's now been floored by Shabranskyy, Joe Smith, Andre Ward and was clipped by Valera), it's easy to envision a Kovalev massacre should they soon meet.
I thought HBO and Main Events did an outstanding job with this event, designed as a spotlight for light heavyweight. Top Rank's legendary Bob Arum was very critical of this card – and HBO VP of Sports, Peter Nelson, in particular – even though it proved otherwise.
Fans at home and in the arena could obviously see the difference in A and B class between Kovalev and three other 175ers, building more 2018 intrigue in potential situations with WBC champion Adonis “Superman” Stevenson (of whom Kovalev still referred to as “Chickenson”), underground king and IBF champ Artur Beterbiev, as well as rising star and former amateur great, WBA champion Dmitry Bivol.
HBO and Main Events was very smart to make Bivol available to the press in a posh bar setting for questions. Dmitry feels like a star, exuding the calm menace of a magnetic and superior athlete needing no translation. He comes off like a Japanese, smaller Ivan Drago and I'm diggin it.
But this night belonged to a new Kovalev gone green, who once again reasserted himself as the light heavyweight division's Thor.