Sergey Kovalev TKO's Igor Mikhalkin in 7th to retain belt

NEW YORK -- Sergey Kovalev retained the WBO light heavyweight championship on Saturday night, defeating Igor Mikhalkin via a seventh-round TKO at The Theater at Madison Square Garden.

Kovalev (32-2-1, 28 KOs), who was dominating the fight, had opened up a cut around Mikhalkin's right eye. The referee finally stepped in and stopped the fight at 2:25 of the seventh round, when the cut became too severe.

Two of the judges had given each of the first six rounds to Kovalev, 10-9, while one judge had awarded Mikhalkin a single round, the third, by the same score. Kovalev outpunched Mikhalkin 525 to 275, and landed 186 punches compared to Mikhalkin's 43.

This was Kovalev's first title defense since he regained the WBO crown after Andre Ward retired and abdicated his belts. Kovalev defeated Vyacheslav Shabranskyy via a second-round knockout in November to claim the vacant title.

The little-known Mikhalkin, a southpaw, falls to 21-2 (9 KOs).

In the co-main event, WBA light heavyweight champion Dmitry Bivol defeated Sullivan Barrera via TKO in the 12th round.

Despite suffering a cut over his right eye early in the fight from a head-butt, Bivol also was dominant -- outpunching Barrera 778 to 606, and landing 243 punches compared to Barrera's 75.

It would have been an easy decision for the judges -- and all three had Bivol up 109-100 entering the 12th. But Bivol took it out of their hands by knocking Barrera down at the 1:41 mark of the final round. Barrera got to his feet, but the referee wouldn't let him continue.

"I knew that I could knock him out, and I stepped on the gas, and the knockout came," Bivol said through an interpreter.

Bivol, 27, now 13-0 (11 KOs), could be Kovalev's next opponent in a unification bout.

"I feel like I have the goods to be the best," Bivol said, "but I still have a lot of work to do."

Kovalev, 34, sounded open to that possibility following his own victory.

"If it's a big money fight, then yes, I'm ready," Kovalev said.