NEW YORK — They call Sergey Kovalev “Krusher.” His opponent Saturday night, Vyacheslav Shabranskyy, also is a big-time puncher.

So not many people expect the 12-round WBO light heavyweight title fight to go the distance at Madison Square Garden.

Those observers can’t be sure, though, what they will get from Kovalev. He lost his last two fights to the now-retired Andre Ward, one my unanimous decision, the other being stopped in the eighth round. They were the first defeats of the 34-year-old Russian’s career. Ward was the “krusher” then.

“All life is like a lesson for me,” Kovalev said. “After my last three fights, some felt that I should get more physically into my work life with my boxing again. But right now, I feel all bad things are gone from my mind. Right now I concentrate, and I focus for the future of my boxing career. I’m ready to be again a world champion and collect my belts, if somebody will be ready to unify the title.”

One step at a time, which means handling Ukraine’s Shabranskyy (19-1) whose resume doesn’t approach Kovalev’s. Had Ward not stepped away, this HBO bout wouldn’t have been for any world belts.

Kovalev calls Ward’s departure “extra motivation” for Saturday night.

“My next fight without the belt was going to be discouraging, because I must come back,” Kovalev said. “I’m really excited and ready to get my belts back. It would be really interesting and really exciting, and I would fight anybody. I’m really happy that this fight will be for the title and for the WBO, because this was the first title that I had already.

“But now this is like a new chapter in my boxing career. I am recharged. I am much stronger than last three fights and you will see (that).”

Shabranskyy, 30, won his last two outings after his lone defeat, to Sullivan Barrera in December. Barrera is on the undercard against Felix Valera.

“Everything will be in the ring, so we will see our situation in the ring,” Shabranskyy said of facing Kovalev. “Both guys are coming into this ring bringing everything that they have on the line and, just because I have two consecutive wins after an unfortunate loss doesn’t mean anything.”

Kovalev held the WBO belt for eight defenses before losing to Ward. He also has owned the WBA and IBF crowns.

But those defeats to Ward have created an aura of weakness that Kovalev must erase. Plus, if he is to have any opportunity to unite the championships, he needs to earn one of them first.

He believes training in the United States and ignoring “stuff” outside of the ring will serve him well in his quests.

“The most important thing in my boxing career that I should do during all my time here in America till I finish my boxing career,” he said, “is when I’m doing boxing, I should do boxing. Not another business or a lot of flights to come back and forth to Russia to spend free time. Because when I’m in Russia, I don’t have the time like for … doing the boxing. Just a lot of meetings, a lot of businesses, a lot of wrong things. I mean, not sport at all.

“But right now, I’m here in America, and started a new chapter in my boxing career.”

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BARRY WILNER
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