Promoter Kathy Duva downplays Kovalev-Pascal race controversy
Kathy Duva grimaced.
The promoter looked in pain on Wednesday as Jean Pascal railed against her fighter, Sergey Kovalev, accusing him of being racist at the final press conference before their light heavyweight championship fight.
Duva dismissed Pascal’s tirade when it was over, calling his behavior the actions of someone who was scared of the inevitable.
“Most of the time people who are talking like that are just trying to build their own confidence,” Duva told RingTV. “And I think that’s what he’s doing.”
Still, Duva admitted that Kovalev, a product of Chelyabinsk, Russia, wasn’t totally innocent in all this.
Duva said that Pascal, who is black, simply made up instances in which Kovalev, who is white, allegedly made racially insensitive remarks to black fighters.
But she did agree that Kovalev was guilty of trafficking in boorish behavior with WBC light heavyweight champion Adonis “Superman” Stevenson as the target:
Last April, Kovalev tweeted a photo of himself and a child who was wearing a t-shirt of a chimpanzee’s head attached to a boxer’s body. Kovalev pointed at the t-shirt. The caption above the tweet read, “Adonis looks great!!!”
Duva said that Kovalev was contacted immediately to remove the photo. It was explained to him that his actions were highly inappropriate, she said.
“He was at a party and a guy and kid walked in and the kid was wearing a very tasteless shirt,” Duva told RingTV. “And guys are fooling around and sent out a tweet and it was a stupid thing to do. He clearly did not have a sense of the firestorm that would come from that. The moment we saw it, he was called and he took it down and at the time, over a year ago, it was explained to him why people in this culture would be so sensitive to a reference like that.”
Duva said that Kovalev has since expressed regret over the tweet and that he should be forgiven for a single lapse in judgment.
“I think for Sergey, you come into a new culture and you learn things,” she said. “He’s made a big mistake and he’s paid dearly for it, but at one point do you have to say, ‘It’s been over a year’?”
Pascal referenced several other examples of Kovalev supposedly making racially insensitive remarks on Wednesday.
But Duva said the only case that was true was the one involving Stevenson, and she pointed to two other situations where Kovalev was accused of being insensitive as a misunderstanding and a fabrication.
Kovalev was doing an interview in Russian several years ago when he used the word “negro” in conversation.
“He was trying to use the politically correct term for black, which is similar to ‘black’ in Spanish, which is negro,” she said. “Someone heard him say it on a tape and took it to mean him saying something else. He was trying to be sensitive.”
Duva said there was also no evidence that Kovalev called former opponent Ismayl Sillakh a “monkey,” as Pascal alleged he did before their 2013 fight.
“There is no record of him saying that anywhere,” she said. “He’s simply trying to stir something up that isn’t real.”
Duva described the controversy as a “non-issue” for her and cited trainer John David Jackson’s defense of Kovalev on Wednesday as the best explanation for his views.
The accusations by Pascal have given Saturday’s rematch at the Bell Centre in Montreal on HBO (9:45 ET) an ugly subtext. Kovalev stopped Pascal in eight rounds last March to retain his three titles.
“It’s not about race,” said Jackson, who is black and had to be separated from Pascal after Pascal offered him a banana. “Sergey may say things where at the time when he says them, they may come out wrong, but if he was racist, I wouldn’t be in his corner.”
Mitch Abramson can be reached at [email protected]