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Kovalev-Mikhalkin, Bivol-Barrera official for March 3

Sergey Kovalev will headline a March 3 light heavyweight doubleheader on HBO.

Sergey Kovalev v Vyacheslav Shabranskyy Photo by Abbie Parr/Getty Images

After a couple weeks where the fights were expected to be announced at any time, Main Events made it official this weekend, announcing a March 3 HBO doubleheader in the light heavyweight division.

In the main event, WBO titleholder Sergey Kovalev will defend against Igor Mikhalkin. Perhaps the more interesting fight for boxing fans, though, is the co-feature, where Dmitry Bivol will defend his WBA belt against mandatory challenger Sullivan Barrera.

The fights will take place at Madison Square Garden, where Kovalev (31-2-1, 27 KO) returned in November, smashing Vyacheslav Shabranskyy inside of two rounds.

"I really enjoyed fighting at Madison Square Garden in November. It feels like my home,” Kovalev said. “I'm very excited to go back to MSG and to fight on HBO. Everyone should to have a great time watching my fight!"

Mikhalkin (21-1, 9 KO) is a 32-year-old Russian fighting now out of Germany, where he fought most of his early pro career. In recent years, he’s also had several fights in France, including his last victory on December 2, when he beat Doudou Ngumbu for a second time.

The most notable win of his career probably came in May, when he defeated Thomas Oosthuizen. Mikhalkin is a former European light heavyweight champion, and currently holds the IBO belt, for what it’s worth.

"It is a great honor for me to fight in the United States. This will undoubtedly be the biggest and hardest fight in my career,” he said. “Kovalev is for me the strongest man in this weight class. But I feel ready. The fight against Kovalev comes at the perfect time. I feel stronger than ever and I want to show the American boxing audience a great fight."

Bivol (12-0, 10 KO) is a rising star in the division, and the 27-year-old Russian will take on a new level of challenge in Barrera (21-1, 14 KO), a 35-year-old Cuban who has become one of the division’s top fighters.

Bivol went 4-0 in 2017, beating Robert Berridge, Samuel Clarkson, Cedric Agnew, and Trent Broadhurst. None of them made it out of the fourth round. He says he’s excited for the challenge.

“This is not the first time that I am training for the most important fight of my career, and this motivates me and makes me happy! Sullivan Barrera is what we wanted and I am glad that we will meet in the ring soon.”

Barrera has come along steadily over the last couple of years, starting really with a knockout win over Karo Murat in December 2015, which landed Barrera a spot across from Andre Ward in 2016, serving as Ward’s final opponent before the retired champion’s first fight with Kovalev.

Barrera lost, but since then has proven how strong of a win that was for Ward. He knocked out then-unbeaten prospect Vyacheslav Shabranskyy in December 2016, then won a wide decision over Joe Smith Jr in July of this year. Most recently, he beat Felix Valera on the Kovalev-Shabranskyy card.

"I came from Cuba with one dream and that was to win a world title. I know it won't be easy and I know I chose the toughest road than anyone to get here,” he said. “But I know all of the tough opponents I have agreed to fight and hard work will pay off. On March 3rd, I will become the most deserving light heavyweight champion in boxing."

With the way the division is shaking out, a unification fight between the winners of these bouts is probably going to be expected at some point in 2018, particularly if Kovalev wins, as he’ll be expected to do. Whether we get that is another story, but they’re setting it up with this doubleheader.

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