Kathy Duva: Welcome everyone to the Sergey Kovalev vs. Igor Mikhalkin and Dmitry Bivol vs. Sullivan Barrera international media conference call. This is Kathy Duva, CEO of Main Events. I just want to, on a personal note, tell everybody it’s great to have you back after these few months. This is a long cold winter. Happy to be able to get back into action.
Thank you to all the media who have dialed in on this call today to discuss two sensational championship fights in the light heavyweight division. Both bouts will air on HBO World Championship Boxing®, live from The Theater at Madison Square Garden, on Saturday, March 3rd at 10:05pm, ET/PT.
The main event between Sergey Kovalev and Igor Mikhalkin is a 12-round match-up for the WBO Light Heavyweight World Title. The co-main event, which features WBA Light Heavyweight World Champion, Dmitry Bivol vs. Sullivan Barrera is a 12-round title fight.
Tickets range from $50 to $300. They are moving very well and are available online at ticketmaster.com, in person at Madison Square Garden box office, and directly through Main Events by dialing our office at 973-200-7050, or sending an email to [email protected] The event is promoted by Main Events, Krusher Promotions and World of Boxing in association with EC Box Promotions and will be televised live on HBO World Championship Boxing®.
We’ll also be featuring, for those who can be there in person, a fantastic undercard. Jolene Mizzone has always outdone herself and we will be featuring 11 bouts of all young prospects, some local, some from Eastern Europe and all over the world, who are going to be in great, competitive fights. It’s a good night to be there in person.
Sullivan Barrera: I feel alright. My training camp, we are going well too. I have been waiting my whole life for the title fight, so that’s the day finally here. Very important fight for me, so I’m very happy for that.
Question: Sullivan, can you tell us what went into your decision to take the Bivol fight over fighting Kovalev in the main event that night?
Barrera: I was offered the Sergey Kovalev fight initially for a substantial amount more money than the second time but at that time there was no title fight on the line. I felt that after the Wardfight, I was worthy of finally fighting for a title. The second time around when they offered me the Kovalev fight, it was for considerably less money, and they wanted to extend my contract. That is the reason why I decided to fight Bivol.
Question: Sullivan, can you tell us what you think of Bivol so far and if you think what people have been saying about him is justified based on what he’s done in the ring thus far.
Barrera: I respect all fighters. Bivol is a young, talented fighter. I respect anyone that gets in the ring. At the end of the day, when he steps into the ring, he’s going to have to prove everything that all the writers are saying about him.
Question: Why would this fight be different than Bivol’s previous fights? Because Sullivan obviously is the most experienced or most accomplished fighter that Bivol will have fought.
Barrera: All of my opponents have been younger than me. The importance here is that it’s a title fight and I am going in there knowing that it’s a title fight. I am preparing like this is the most important fight. I understand that Bivol is a younger guy and I’m used to that.
Question: What does Sullivan expect from fighting Bivol?
Barrera: I think in the past he hasn’t fought anyone with the experience that I have had and it should be a very competitive fight.
Question: Cuban boxers have had some recent defeats. The fighters that are left are [Luis] Ortiz, Erislandy Lara and Sullivan Barrera. Do you think you can be the show face for the Cuban boxing system?
Barrera: Of course, yes. I believe so.
Question: Kathy, why was Sullivan offered less money to fight Bivol than Kovalev?
Duva: Well, actually, while we were discussing the Kovalev fight, a lot of numbers got thrown around, but as far as the offer is concerned, it was the same, the actual offer. That’s my recollection of the negotiation.
Question: Sullivan also made a reference about extending the contract but I’m a little confused by that. Wouldn’t him becoming champion extend the contract?
Duva: Not at that time, no. Sullivan has been with Main Events a long time, that contract was running out and we were working on another one, where that was not featured in the contract. We did absolutely ask for options, it’s a voluntary defense and that’s typically the way things work.
Question: Sullivan, what weaknesses do you see in Dmitry Bivol that you feel you’ll be able to expose on March 3rd?
Barrera: The biggest difference is the experience. I feel that I’ve fought a lot more experienced fighters and I believe, strongly, that that will be the biggest difference come March 3rd.
Question: If Main Events was able to take you from a virtually unknown commodity of the United States, to a world champion who’s fighting on HBO, why wouldn’t you want to extend your contract with them?
Barrera: I never said that I was never going to re-sign with them or to continue to do business with them. Just that the offer that was made to me initially for the Kovalev fight was something that wasn’t up to par with what I wanted, and I am very thankful for everything Main Events has done for me and continues to do for me. What the future holds is after this fight.
Question: In this fight, is Sullivan betting on himself to improve the offers that he receives from Main Events?
Barrera: Yes, once I am a champion, the WBA champion, of course, I’ll be a champion, the offers do get much better.
Duva: Thank you Sullivan. Dmitry Bivol is the WBA Light Heavyweight World Champion. He is a fantastic fighter. We are partners with World of Boxing on this promotion and delighted to be working with him.
Question: Dmitry, earlier Sullivan said that the reason that he took the fight against you as opposed to Kovalev was about money. Why do you think that he took the fight?
Dmitry Bivol: I do not have any reason not to believe that Sullivan took the fight was because of the money, but at this point, it doesn’t matter why he decided to do it because now the only thing that’s left is the fight itself.
Question: Do you think that Sullivan views him as an easier opponent than Kovalev?
Bivol: At first, those were the thoughts that I might have had that maybe he thought I was a weaker opponent, but now that Sullivan has stated that it’s because of the money, I understand that maybe Sullivan is correct, he just did it because of the money. I don’t necessarily have a reason to not believe Sullivan.
Question: Dmitry, what is your opinion of Sullivan Barrera who obviously has a lot of international experience and has fought some top light heavyweights?
Bivol: Of course, I know that Sullivan has lots of experience and lots of fights behind him, but I know that I also have a lot of experience, might not as much as Barrera, but still lots of experience, good quality fights. I believe that I’ve got good qualities that I can trust. I can trust in myself to win this fight.
Question: How much do you feel that you have to prove yourself in this fight because Sullivan obviously is the best opponent that you have faced?
Bivol: I am definitely aware that Barrera is probably one of the best fighters that I’ve ever faced, probably the best fighter. But to me, every fight is important, and every fight, everything’s on the line, so I need to go out and do my best and make sure that I show my best qualities and do my best fighting.
Question: Dmitry, do you believe that perhaps because of the fact that you’ve only had 12 fights and you were a champion at an early age, you’re considered a rookie, so to speak, and that Barrera accepted you because of the fact that you were the lesser opponent in terms of a championship fight as opposed to Sergey Kovalev, or Superman Stevenson who’s fighting Badou Jack?
Bivol: I said before, at first, I might have thought that maybe Barrera decided to fight me because I’m a weaker opponent between the two. But, as Barrera stated, he accepted the fight over Kovalev specifically because of the money. So now, I know that that is why that fight was arranged. At the end, though, I am very happy that Barrera decided to fight me and I have no reason not to trust Barrera that he picked me specifically because of the money. So that is why I’m happy that we get to fight.
Question: Knowing that this is your title fight, you’re defending your title fight against, as expected, the veteran, which is Barrera, who’s fought Andre Ward and fought Joe Smith and guys with more fights than you. Without giving out any trade secrets, what are you doing extra to make sure that your hand is raised in victory March 3rd in terms of training?
Bivol: I believe that a person must do what he knows how to do. I know my good qualities and I make sure that every time I’m in practice, I’m perfecting the art of boxing. I’m perfecting my skills. I know that I’m not perfect but I want to make sure that I keep on working towards perfection. Nothing specific new is happening in camp; camp is always tough and camp is always good. It’s pretty much the same, the only thing that’s different maybe is tougher sparring partners, but other than that, I know my skills and I know that I want to continue doing what I do best, which is boxing.
Question: Dmitry, this is your New York City debut. How do you feel about fighting at the Theater at Madison Square Garden?
Bivol: I’m very excited about my debut in New York and, of course, to be fighting at Madison Square Garden. My trainer’s dream is to have his main fighter fight in the main event, in Madison Square Garden. This is a small step towards that dream for him.
Question: What are Barrera’s strengths and weaknesses that you’ve seen in his fight?
Bivol: Every fighter has his own weaknesses. I don’t necessarily want to discuss what Barrera’s weaknesses are. I think the best way to see it is just to see the fight and see where he was stronger and where he was weaker.
Question: We saw Andre Ward handle Sullivan Barrera rather easily. Will Dmitry look to deploy some of the same tactics?
Bivol: Ward showed a lot of good speed in a fight. He showed a lot of good movement, a lot of body movement in the fight, and possibly this is some of the things I would like to use in the fight as well.
Question: We’ve seen Sullivan go down in the first round of each of his last two fights. Will you look to jump on him? Do you see yourself getting off to a fast start knowing that in the last two fights whether he came out cold or for whatever the reason he’s been down early?
Bivol: I’m not lining up to necessarily knock him down or send him down in the first round. I’m going to assess the situation to see how the fight is going. And, of course, if there’ll be opportunities where I’m able to capitalize on them, for sure I will do it, but I will have to decide on my feet. I am training for all 12 rounds. I’m not sure if it’s going to go that long, but I’m training my stamina to make sure that I’ve got enough energy for all 12 rounds.
Question: It’s The Garden in New York, do you want this to be an all-out war, a dog fight, or would you prefer it to be a high IQ boxing match basically?
Bivol: When I come out to fight, I always try to fight with a high IQ. I want to make sure that I’m responsible for the movement that I make and I understand what’s going on. I’m always thinking on my feet. But, of course, after the fight, I want to make sure that the fight was also entertaining for the fans and the fans would like to see me fight again and are excited about me fighting.
Kathy: I would like to thank you Dmitry Bivol for joining us. Next on the line we have Igor Mikhalkin joining us from Germany with his promoter Erol Ceylan.
Question: Igor, I wanted to ask you, just looking at Kovalev fights in the past, will you focus on what everybody sees as his biggest weakness and go to the body? Is that something you’re going to stress going into this fight?
Igor Mikhalkin: I am going to judge it by the situation. I’m going to see how it goes, and try to hit in the head as well as go in the body. I’m going to assess the situation as the fight proceeds.
Question: Coming into The Garden, fighting on the big stage on HBO on the main event, if you could write the perfect script, how would he want this fight to play out?
Mikhalkin: [chuckles] Obviously, it’s a dream of every boxer to fight in the main event, Madison Square Garden. It’s obviously a dream fight for me. It’s very important for me. I’m very excited about it. And I’m not only fighting the main fight on the main card, I’m also fighting the main fighter in the light heavyweight division, so I’m going to write the perfect script on March 3rd and, hopefully, I’m victorious.
Question: Would you want it to end in a knockout or do you just want to win?
Mikhalkin: I’m going for points. I’m going for doing a good job boxing. I never was a puncher, so I never necessarily aim for a knockout. I conditioned to fight all 12 rounds, and I enjoy fighting all 12 rounds, so I’m going to go and fight technically and see how it goes.
Question: Igor, you’re making your debut in the Mecca of Boxing Madison Square Garden have you begun to develop perhaps a little bit of butterfly stage fright not only because this is your debut, but you’re fighting, like it was mentioned before, the number one. And what extra are you doing to make sure that your hand, not Sergey’s, is raised in victory on March third?
Mikhalkin: I’m conditioning and training really hard. I’m making sure I’m very well prepared for the fight. This is most likely the most important fight in my career. This is the greatest opponent I’ve ever fought. Before every fight, of course, there’s a little bit of butterflies. Because it’s Madison Square Garden as opposed to another arena, it’s not any more frightening than other places. I’m happy to be there. I’m happy to make my debut in Madison Square Garden, and I’m making sure that I’m training really hard to keep this fight in my favor.
Question: In terms of advantages or disadvantages, is the fact that he is a southpaw and fought very well, he has a very good record of 21 victories, nine knockouts, does a southpaw stance create advantage, you think?
Mikhalkin: Yes. The answer to your question is yes. I think being at southpaw is going to be to my advantage. The short answer is yes, I think so.
Question: Earlier, Igor, you said that you train for the distance and there is evidence of that in your record. Your last several fights, have gone to distance, but you haven’t been in there with somebody like Kovalev. Have you been sparring with bigger punchers than normal in an effort to try to simulate that power?
Mikhalkin: I have been inviting sparring partners that are bigger punchers that are trying to imitate, let’s say, the style of Kovalev. I’m prepared for when it’s time to fight on March 3rd.
Question: Are there any nuances? Is there anything else that you’re doing differently than normal?
Mikhalkin: Nothing specific. At the beginning of the training camp I thought maybe something needs to be changed, but then I realized that training is already good and so I am continuing to train very hard. Continuing to condition myself and make sure that everything goes well on March 3rd. So, not anything specific was changed, just hard training and training all the time.
Duva: I will like to thank Erol Ceylan and Igor Mikhalkin for joining us. Now we have two-time World Champion Sergey Kovalev on the line and Egis Klimas, his manager.
Question: Sergey, welcome back to New York City. This will be your second fight. You’re fighting a southpaw, what do you know about Igor?
Sergey Kovalev: Hi everybody. My pleasure to be back in New York fighting against Igor Mikhalkin. I know this guy from amateurs when I was maybe 17 or 18. And right now, we’re fighting in Madison Square Garden, so it’s interesting for me.
Question: What are his strengths and weaknesses that you know of Igor? If you’ve seen him in amateurs, you’ve seen him fight, maybe you just quarreled with him at amateurs?
Kovalev: I know that he is a nice guy and very good boxer. He’s IBO champion and that he wants to get the champion world titles. I will defend my WBO title March 3. I don’t know any more about him.
Question: Sergey, I was just wondering if you could tell us what Mikhalkin can do to make things difficult for you in the fight that you have to guard against. Being a southpaw, being a boxer, being a guy who moves, how do you guard against that to make sure you get the knockout?
Kovalev: I’m not going to do some something extra to get a victory over Igor Mikhalkin because I’m back already as champion of the world in my last fight. I should be ready for everything because I am very motivated right now. I think Mikhalkin is very excited about the fight with me. It’s going to be a very interesting fight because we are trained mentally, Russians, and never step back, just the fighting till the end. We’re ready to fight for the world title.
Question: Sergey, will you be disappointed if you’re not able to knock him out?
Kovalev: It’s not my goal to knock somebody out every round, every minute. I don’t think about it. I just get into the ring. We’ll get into the ring and I’m going to do my best job for boxing fans. What will happen, we will see. Everybody will see March 3rd. Watch HBO or come to Theater Madison Square Garden.
Question: Going into this fight, I know you talked a little bit about not worrying about the knockout, but you wouldn’t be “Krusher” Kovalev if you don’t knock the people out. That’s what people want. How important is it for you to be in this stage satisfying fans with this fight?
Kovalev: I will be very happy after the fight when I will get the victory over Igor by knockout. I’m really happy when my boxing fans are happy of results of the fight.
Question: Kathy, I want to ask you because I believe that you guys announced your date first, March 3rd, your fight with the main event with HBO. The other guys came in and they announced their date. Did they try to work with you at all or did anybody exchange any words saying, “Hey, look. We already got this date set in New York,” or is it just one of those things they announced it and everybody goes?
Duva: Nobody spoke to me. As you know, we announced this date on the night of Sergey’s last fight back in November. There are many dates that are held throughout the year for boxing events. They do not happen for various reasons. I can only worry about things I can control. Unfortunately, one of those things. We’re very happy with the response thus far from the fans with the ticket sales. At this point, we’ve already exceeded what we did last time. In fact, that was the case early on, actually, a couple weeks into the sales for the fight. We’re expecting a big robust crowd. I would advise anyone, especially, really not just the Sergey fans but the boxing fans, this is a great show, top to bottom. It’s not just about coming to see one fight, it’s about coming for the whole night. We will not disappoint you.
Question: Sergey, in your last several fights, you’ve been in there with pretty much nothing but the best of the best. Is it difficult for you to get motivated for a fight like Igor the same way as a Hopkins or an Andre Ward?
Kovalev: For me, every fight is like a call. It’s a call. Right now, this call I got Igor Mikhalkin, nobody except him. I’m ready to fight anybody. Who’s else right now is ready? Only Igor Mikhalkin. We have the best guys right now. Somebody can come and they have another belt and they defend the title against another challenger. And I’m fighting anybody who is ready to get into the ring against me. And Igor Mikhalkin got the call.
Question: Okay. You haven’t fought any southpaws since 2014 when you fought [Cedric] Agnew and [Blake] Caparello, two southpaws back-to-back. Who were some of the guys you’ve been sparring with to prepare for your first lefty in about four years?
Kovalev: It’s a little bit difficult to find somebody who looks like Igor Mikhalkin. But I’m ready because I have sparred already like three weeks with a southpaw. And day-by-day, spar-by-spar, I feel much better and more comfortable against southpaw. And this thing that will be interesting fight. I’m really excited that I’m fighting early on this year already and I’m really happy that I’m back on the high level to box high stakes.
About March 3: The Saturday, March 3 main event between Sergey “Krusher” Kovalev and Igor Mikhalkin is a 12-round match-up for the WBO Light Heavyweight World Title at the Theater at Madison Square Garden in New York City. The co-main event features WBA Light Heavyweight World Champion Dmitry Bivol versus Sullivan Barrera in a 12-round title fight. Tickets range from $50 to $300 and are available at TicketMaster.com and the Madison Square Garden box office. The event is promoted by Main Events, Krusher Promotions and World of Boxing in association with EC Box Promotions and will be televised live on HBO World Championship Boxing® at 10:05 p.m. ET/PT.
Header photo by Ed Mulholland/HBO