Kathy Duva declares ‘next big thing’ in Kovalev, sees ‘true world champion’
On Saturday evening Sergey Kovalev followed up his career-best win, a shutout decision over Bernard Hopkins last November, with a definitive eighth-round stoppage of former WBC titlist Jean Pascal.
Kovalev (27-0-1, 24 knockouts) walked Pascal down from the beginning, and though he ate several hard counters from Pascal, he took the science out of the fight and was simply too big and strong for the game Canadian.
Kathy Duva who’s company, Main Events, has expertly maneuvered Kovalev over the past couple of years, was jubilant following the victory.
“Just total domination in the end,” Duva told RingTV.com, describing Kovalev’s performance. “The way he adjusts, the way you can see his mind moving and figuring out a way.
“He just keeps surprising everyone – not that he wins, because he’s always been chosen to win – it’s the way he wins and that’s what I’m so happy about.”
Duva was keen to point out that when she signed Kovalev she told a few reporters that he is the baddest thing on the planet and that she was laughed at, though she doubts those same reporters are laughing now.
“Jim Lampley said he is meaner than Sonny Liston,” Duva said, laughing. “That’s part of his myth and his appeal and part of why he’s so effective. He’s mean but he’s smart about it. It’s absolutely thrilling to watch. It’s amazing.”
Outside the ring, Kovalev is a smiling assassin, a genuinely nice guy. However, once he steps into the ring his demeanor noticeably changes.
“When people say, ‘Why did you sign him when nobody else did?’,” Duva recollected her first experience of working with Kovalev. “Nobody else bothered to look at him; we put him in a ring and watched him fight Darnell Boone.
“It was before the fight started I realized something was different about this guy because I had met this sweet, very nice, very charismatic smiling guy the day before and then he got to the ring and I saw lasers coming out of his eyes. It reminded me of Ray Leonard – not in the way he fights, or anything, except the eyes; they’re the same, they never blink, they focus 100 percent. He had that look in his eyes the first time I saw him, where you literally saw this guy flip the switch and [he] goes into beast mode and then he flips it back and he’s smiling and nice again when the fight‘s over. It’s unnerving.”
And Duva‘s praise doesn’t end at the ropes. She says over time we’ll see an amusing character come through: “Sergey is very, very glib; he’s funny. As his English gets better you are all going to see more and more of that. He’s one of the funniest people I‘ve ever known. His personality is going to take him very far.”
Kovalev, 31, splits his time between Florida and Los Angeles and is currently enjoying some down time with his wife and recently born baby.
That doesn’t mean Duva will take any time off. She is already planning the Russian’s next outing, against his IBF mandatory challenger, Nadjib Mohammedi, who has reeled off 13 consecutive wins (including a sixth-round TKO of Lee Campbell on the Kovalev-Pascal card) and boasts a record of 37-3 (23 KOs).
When asked, Duva said that HBO had green-flagged Mohammedi for this summer: “They were thrilled with Kovalev; they want to have all of his fights on their network, they’re totally sold. Up until Saturday I’m not sure they were 100 percent sold on Sergey but I know they are now.”
While some fighters don’t care for mandatories and will freely toss the titles aside, Kovalev isn’t one of them.
As Evander Holyfield used to say: “Everyone tells me the belts don’t matter but it seems when I’ve got all of ’em I make more money than when I don’t.”
“The belts are important to him,” said Duva. “That was his goal, the night he beat (Nathan) Cleverly, I was sitting on the steps with him waiting to be interviewed by one of the TV stations, we were talking and I said, ‘This is it, you’ve accomplished your dream, you’re champion of the world.‘ He just looked at me and he goes, ‘When can I win another one of those belts? I want them all.‘ It mattered to him a lot. There’s one left, so in the meantime, to maintain those belts you have to honor your mandatories. He’s going to do that.”
RING Magazine champion and WBC titlist Adonis Stevenson was at the fight Saturday and said all the right things, telling the HBO crew that he wanted to fight Kovalev. But haven’t we been here before? Actions speak louder than words.
Does “Superman” really want to see if this heavy-handed Russian is his Kryptonite?
While Stevenson has an April 4 date with former WBC 168-pound champion Sakio Bika and Kovalev‘s projected summer meeting with Mohammedi, the hope is that both men can meet for all the marbles this fall.
The guys at the WBC seem to say so. At the WBC convention last December, Duva and her team made strong overtures to the sanctioning body about wanting to fight for their title.
“In fact, the WBC has ordered the champion of the WBC to face Sergey … assuming he wins his mandatory with Mohammedi. If Sergey is successful against Mohammedi, and if Stevenson is still champion, [he] will be ordered to face Sergey next.”
Duva says a venue for a projected fight with Stevenson wouldn’t be an issue and had no problem going to Stevenson’s home region: “To tell the truth, if that fight happened now in Canada, Sergey would have more fans than Stevenson. The fans don’t like [Stevenson], they come to watch him lose.”
Cultivating new markets is also part of Duva’s job.
“Sergey is that guy who can make anyone be his fan,” she explained. “I was inundated by people after the fight. At the bar at the hotel, Canadians came up to me and said, ‘He’s my favorite fighter now. We’re going to see him wherever he fights and we want to see him here again.‘
“He’s going to become a big fan-favorite up there. We want to keep going back to Quebec because it’s such a wonderful market, they’re crazy for fights. It’s a five, six hour drive from where we live; it’s not that far away. I have a great relationship with Jean Bedard, the president from Interbox; we love working together, our staff love working together. So we’re talking about doing fights together irrespective of Sergey fighting there. I’d be very happy to go there and fight there.”
Duva clearly believes in her horse and is keen to back him to the hilt.
“I think Sergey is on his way to becoming the next big thing,” she said. “I think this guy is going to be able to fight in a lot of different places.
“We also intend to bring him back to Atlantic City in the foreseeable future. Eventually we’re going to go to Russia. There has been some small interest from Asia. I had an inquiry from South Africa. We want to be a true world champion and travel all around the world.
“I think at some point when he gets to bigger and bigger fights, you’re going to go to Las Vegas because that’s where the real money is. You can make a lot more money at the gate there than you can anywhere else because you get the casino support. Ultimately our goal is to go there with him.
“With Mayweather-Pacquiao fighting, both at the end of their careers, finally this career-defining fight they’re going to have, truth told it’s going to be pretty hard for them to top it. Everybody is saying ‘Who’s going to be there next, what’s going to happen when they retire?‘ I’m telling you I know who’s going to be there next: Sergey. The super middleweights and light heavyweights, you can see they’re starting to converge in the same place. Those superfights are going to happen in the next three, four years in the light heavyweight division.
“I don’t know if Carl Froch wants any of it but that’s another fight where Sergey would love to come to England and fight him, or in Las Vegas. Why not? Lets make a big fight. He’s that guy now and he’s going to be the centerpiece.”
Main Events has invested heavily in the 175-pound division. Along with Kovalev in the main event and Mohammedi on the undercard on Saturday, they have Isaac Chilemba (who posted a points win over another client, Vasily Lepikhin) as well as Lionel Thompson and Sullivan Barrera.
“I believe part of my job as a promoter of Sergey Kovalev is to develop good opposition for him,” she explained. “The last thing you want to do is you’re standing there, you’re the man and there’s nobody to fight you.
“I think to some extent it’s happened to the heavyweight division on Klitschko’s watch, because they didn’t feel it’s their responsibility to do that. I think it is. If my guy is going to be the king of the light heavyweight division then it’s partly my job to give fans the opportunity to develop talent so he has famous people he can fight.
“I want to see the light heavyweight division thrive. I want to see as many fighters as possible come into it. When you have a guy who is going to move into that pay-per-view realm and draw that kind of interest and fan support and money, believe me, it won’t be hard to find people to fight him.”
Once upon a time, that was exactly what Duva’s late husband, Dan, did when Evander Holyfield won the heavyweight title. He invested deeply in the division, signing Lennox Lewis and Michael Moorer.
“Sergey’s goal is to hold all the titles,” she said with a smile. “So if you want to be a light heavyweight and you want to be a champion, you’re going to have to fight him.”
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