Light heavyweight titleholder Sergey Kovalev will make the first defense of his WBO world title against Igor Mikhalkin on March 3 in the main event of an HBO-televised card at the Theater at Madison Square Garden, according to ESPN.
Kovalev (31-2-1, 27 KO's), 34, a Russia native fighting out of Los Angeles, lost his three world title belts by controversial decision to Andre Ward in November 2016, but suffered a TKO in a rematch on June 17. However, when Ward retired in September, Kovalev got another chance when the WBO sanctioned his fight against Vyacheslav Shabranskyy as a world title bout. As expected, Kovalev had no issues as he blasted Shabranskyy by second-round TKO to win the vacant belt on Nov. 25, also at Madison Square Garden.
Mikhalkin (21-1, 9 KO's), 32, a Russia native based in Germany, picked up the biggest win of his career in May when he defeated Thomas Oosthuizen by unanimous decision to win the vacant IBO light heavyweight world title. Oosthuizen, a once promising boxer, has seen his career derail due to drugs and alcohol. Mikhalkin was also in talks with 2012 Olympian Marcus Browne for a world title elimination fight that would have given the winner a shot against Artur Beterbiev but opted to fight Kovalev, which was the more lucrative option.
Mikhalkin has won 10 fights in a row but has yet to face top opposition. He is a coming off a unanimous decision win over Doudou Ngumbu in the first defense of his IBO world title. The bout was a rematch of their 2009 fight, which Mikhalkin won by majority decision.
Sullivan Barrera (21-1, 14 KO's), 35, a Cuban defector fighting out of Miami, who rallied from a first-round knockdown to defeat Felix Valera in a 10-round unanimous decision on the undercard of Kovalev-Shabranskyy, was offered the fight with Kovalev. However, he elected to fight WBA "Regular" titleholder Dmitry Bivol (12-0, 10 KO's), 27, of Russia, as he was named the mandatory challenger.