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Sergey Kovalev: 'I can be world champion again'

Sergey Kovalev has lost twice to Andre Ward, who on Thursday announced his retirement from the sport of boxing. AP Photo/John Locher

NEW YORK -- Andre Ward upstaged Sergey Kovalev again, without even setting foot in a ring.

Just a couple of hours before Kovalev was set to appear at a New York City press conference to promote his next fight, against Vyacheslav Shabranskyy, Ward -- the unified light heavyweight titleholder -- announced his retirement from boxing on Thursday.

Ward took those belts from Kovalev via a controversial unanimous decision on Nov. 19, 2016. The two fought again this summer, on June 17, with Ward scoring an eighth-round knockout in the rematch.

"I don't care," Kovalev told ESPN when asked about Ward's announcement. "If he's gonna retire, he has a right. He's undefeated, with the help of judges -- OK, no problem. It's sport, and sometimes sport can be dirty.

"I grew up with this all my amateur career. I understand everything. This is a business. It's not fair on my side, but I understand."

So it appears there will be no Ward-Kovalev III, unless Ward reneges on his retirement. Which makes it even more appropriate that Kovalev's fight against Shabranskyy (Saturday, Nov. 25 at Madison Square Garden, on HBO) is being billed as "The Next Chapter."

The 34-year-old Kovalev, 30-2-1 with 26 KOs, has already made some changes after the second loss to Ward -- the only two defeats of his professional career.

"First of all, I understand that I need to change my lifestyle," Kovalev said. "I should spend more time in the gym, not flying from here back to home, to Russia. I lost my shape."

Kovalev has also parted ways with his trainer, John David Jackson. Kovalev said he'll begin training for the Shabranskyy fight on Monday, but wasn't quite ready to reveal his new trainer.

"I already almost understand who will be in my team," Kovalev said. "But I'm not ready to announce it, because I'm not sure 100 percent."

Shabranskyy, 30, from Ukraine, is 19-1 in his pro career, with 16 knockouts. The only blemish on his record is a seventh-round knockout at the hands of Sullivan Barrera on Dec. 16, 2016.

Kovalev said he is focused solely on Shabranskyy right now. But his longer-term ambition is clear. He wants his belts back, whether he needs to fight Ward again or not.

"It's my goal right now to prove to everybody, and for myself, that I'm still a strong fighter," Kovalev said. "I can be world champion again. I have two close losses, a huge lesson for me -- not just in boxing, just in my life. I made a lot of analyses from these losses, and I hope I will be much stronger than I was before."