The retirement of Andre Ward in September left three of the four major light heavyweight world titles vacant. One of them will be contested by his greatest rival, Sergey Kovalev.
Kovalev is scheduled to face Vyacheslav Shabranskyy on Nov. 25 in the main event of an HBO-televised tripleheader (10 p.m. ET/PT) at The Theater at Madison Square Garden in New York.
Main Events, Kovalev’s promoter, petitioned the WBO to sanction the bout for the organization’s 175-pound title left vacant by Ward’s retirement. On Thursday, the WBO, during its annual convention aboard a cruise ship in the Caribbean, voted to sanction Kovalev-Shabranskyy for its vacant world title.
“We are very happy that Sergey will get the opportunity to begin winning his titles back in November,” Main Events CEO Kathy Duva told ESPN. “Sergey was a great champion, taking on absolutely everyone who wanted to fight him during the over three years that he held the light heavyweight title. I have no doubt that he is anxious to get right back into it and continue to take on the toughest challenges he can find.
“The division is really interesting right now, and there are some terrific fights that can be made for Sergey with the line of young contenders that is forming. No matter how you look at it, Sergey is positioned to get right back into his position as ‘the man’ in the division. But first he must be successful on Nov. 25. This adds another dimension to what promises to be an exciting, crowd-pleasing night at Madison Square Garden.”
Kovalev (30-2-1, 26 KOs), 34, a Russia native living in Los Angeles, is coming off back-to-back losses to Ward. Last November, Kovalev lost his three light heavyweight title belts and undefeated record by controversial decision to Ward. In the rematch in June, Ward knocked him out in the eighth round, though Kovalev and his team have complained bitterly that Ward repeatedly hit him low, including during the fight-ending sequence.
Shabranskyy (19-1, 16 KOs), 30, a native of Ukraine fighting out of Los Angeles, is a powerful puncher like Kovalev. He has won two fights in a row since suffering a seventh-round knockout loss to contender Sullivan Barrera in December and will be fighting for a world title for the first time.
“Great opportunity for both fighters,” said Eric Gomez, president of Shabranskyy promoter Golden Boy Promotions.
The card will also include light heavyweight contender Barrera (20-1, 14 KOs) taking on former interim world titleholder Felix Valera (15-1, 13 KOs) in a scheduled 10-round fight — with the winner positioned to possibly challenge the main-event winner.
There also is a 10-round junior lightweight fight between former titleholder Jason Sosa (20-2-4, 15 KOs) and former title challenger Robinson Castellanos (24-13, 14 KOs), with the winner promised another shot at a world title.
There was other news out of the WBO convention on Thursday:
• Terence Crawford (32-0, 23 KOs) vacated his junior welterweight world title and was installed as the mandatory challenger for the sanctioning body’s welterweight title currently held by Jeff Horn.
• England’s Terry Flanagan (33-0, 13 KOs), who has been in talks for a lightweight title unification fight with Jorge Linares, instead vacated his 135-pound belt after five defenses and was installed as the mandatory challenger for the junior welterweight belt vacated by Crawford.
Flanagan likely will be ordered to face Dallas fighter Maurice Hooker (23-0-3, 16 KOs) for the vacant junior welterweight title. The WBO plans to order Mexico’s Raymundo Beltran (34-7-1, 21 KOs) to face former lightweight titlist Paulus Moses (40-3, 25 KOs) of Namibia for the lightweight belt vacated by Flanagan.
• With junior featherweight titlist Jessie Magdaleno (25-0, 18 KOs) sidelined with a wrist injury that forced him to withdraw from a mandatory defense against Cesar Juarez (20-5, 15 KOs), which was scheduled to be on the ESPN Top Rank card on Nov. 11 in Fresno, California, the WBO ordered an interim title bout between Mexico’s Juarez and Ghana’s Isaac Dogboe (17-0, 11 KOs).
Magdaleno will be obligated to face the Juarez-Dogboe winner upon his return, although there is no deal in place or date for the interim title bout.