Even as the WBO champion, questions were aplenty regarding Sergey Kovalev’s status as the best light heavyweight boxer in the world, but an impressive first title defense answered some of those questions.
In his first title defense as the WBO light heavyweight champion, Kovalev brutalized an overmatched Igor Mikhalkin, retaining the title with a seventh-round stoppage. The stoppage came when Kovalev’s punches caused a cut near Mikhalkin’s eye and the referee put an end to the bout when the cut became too severe. The fight headlined an HBO boxing telecast at Madison Square Garden on March 3, Kovalev’s second straight world title fight at the venue.
It was another relatively easy fight for Kovalev, who last fought in November easily knocking out Vyacheslav Shabranskyy to win the then-vacant WBO title. Kovalev is now on his first win streak since losing his first two pro boxing matches to Andre Ward on pay-per-view in 2016 and 2017.
Mikhalkin barely landed any meaningful punches. In fact, according to CompuBox, Mikhalkin only landed 43 punches in the whole fight while Kovalev landed 186. The loss sends Mikhalkin’s record to 21-2.
With two wins in the last five months under his belt, Kovalev will now try to look for the big money fights, a likely unification bout against WBA champion Dmitry Bivol, who also retained his title on the co-main event fight of the card, knocking out Sullivan Barrera in the 12th round. Kovalev once held the WBA title before losing that title, along with the IBF and WBO titles, to Ward in 2016.