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Sergey Kovalev: New coach, new attitude

Photo by Jim Laurie/Main Events
13
Nov

It is a time-honored cliche, that, when a boxer takes an L, or maybe two in a row, he looks for answers within himself and then outside and then makes changes, which might include dumping his trainer.

Sergey Kovalev lost a decision – along with his three light heavyweight title belts – to Andre Ward last year and then, in a sequel against the skilled and clever Oaklander, was stopped in round eight. He asserted that Ward, last June, had repeatedly battered the family jewels, which left Kovalev disabled.

Then, after a spell, after time spent looking inward and out, he reacted. Kovalev ditched trainer John David Jackson, with whom he’d been since before he reached a true level of prominence.

And the dumping wasn’t a mutual parting of ways, a “conscious uncoupling,” done with maximum kindness. Kovalev said Jackson really wasn’t much of a tutor and that, too often, he was left to his own devices. Jackson, a former 154 and 160-pound champ, burned a couple bridges in painting Kovalev as stubborn and sometimes lazy. Once he started winning and earning, Kovalev got sloppier, Jackson said, and camps got worse and worse. They scrapped over money, he said, as Kovalev sought to cut Jackson’s cut. Maybe the harshest cut came when Jackson, 54, said he was doing work with Sergey and dug to the Russian’s body and folded him up. Yes, this divorce was TMZ-ready, with Kovalev manager Egis Klimas telling a pressman that he thinks it’s possible that Jackson dosed Kovalev with sleeping pills before the Ward rematch.

Yep, ugly, like National Enquirer-level material…

So, those pages have been turned. Maybe some bitterness lingers and painful memories remain but Kovalev and his new teammates now look forward, publicly. He will seek to get back on a fast track, November 25 in New York, at the Madison Square Garden Theater. Now 34 (30-2-1, 26 knockouts), it is no given that a reset of corner-persons will restore Kovalev’s momentum. First of all, 34. It’s not in the bloom of youth, not just talking physically, because a man’s athletic peak can start dipping at 27 or so. But mentally, as well…once a fighter or any athlete has acquired champagne taste and then the means to indulge, that can dull the fires of ambition. Why wake up at 5 a.m. to do road work when the sheets are 1,000-thread count? Why train three times a day because, “C’mon, I have been there and done that and my accumulated wisdom allows me the luxury of not having to work as hard as I did on the way up.” Not saying this is the case for Kovalev but we’ve seen it before and will again.

On November 25, Kovalev will be in against Vyacheslav Shabranskyy (19-1, 16 KOs), who hasn’t excelled and climbed to the champagne station. The 30-year-old Ukrainian hitter lost in his step-up scrap, to Sullivan Barrera, last December. His hunger level could be at a higher station than Kovalev’s, who has enough banked that he doesn’t have to work again, as long as he doesn’t throw it away on Ponzi schemes or whatever.

I checked in with Kovalev’s promoter Kathy Duva, the sport’s role model for women excelling in the oft-sexist climate that is the boxing business world (hell, the world, period.) How is the trainer switch going for Kovalev?

“Sergey said, the other day, that he is very happy with him. He is much more comfortable hearing Russian in the corner. This guy trains a couple of other fighters from Eastern Europe and he has done a very good job with them. We co-promote one of them with Sergey’s Krusher Promotions, Bakhram Murtazaliev of Grozny, who will fight on the undercard on November 25th. He is very promising.”

Abror Tursunpulatov is the new chief second for “Krusher,” for the record.

Kovalev gave us this info via a low-key social media announcement: “I’m presenting you my coaches, Aleksandr Sedov, for physical training, and boxing coach Abror Tursunpulatov. I feel very comfortable to be working together and preparing for Kovalev vs. Shabranskyy at MSG in New York City. Hope our connection will bring us new success for my boxing career.”

Kovalev gets a little boost, perhaps, as we count down to the tango, which will screen on HBO, which is flurrying hard to close out the year. The vacant WBO title will be up for grabs. “Sergey is very happy about that too,” Duva told me. “Hitting the reset button. Starting over. Going after the WBO title, the very first world title he won back in 2013.”

That was still the come-up period, when, yes, we knew who Kovalev was, we hardcore, but the jury was still massing and hadn’t even deliberated on him. When he beat Nathan Cleverly in August of 2013, and acquired that WBO crown, he grabbed another batch of pundits who noted his power and patience and chin and promise. Today, the scouting report has changed because Kovalev comes in with back-to-back losses. Mentally, how has he handled those ego blows, not to mention the attack to the groin from Ward? Time tells…

During a recent conference call, Kovalev insisted that he is in a good place mentally, fired up and ready to rock. “Now this is like a new chapter in my boxing career. I am recharged. I am much stronger than last three fights and you will see November 25 in New York.” And interestingly, Kovalev isn’t one to go out on the limb and shout to the world that King Kong is back and has been training his tail off and will destruct and destroy all in his way.

When media asked if he considers himself the top dog in the 175 pound kennel, he replied, “Take your time. Let’s just see what will happen after next year. Right now, I have a focus on my next fight and I do not say that I’m the best. But I want to be the best. And I already have proved a lot of things to myself and to lot of people, to the boxing fans, that I can be the best. But the three last fights, it was something is wrong with me. Next fight and next year, I will show everything, who I am. But take your time. I’m working on it.”

Of course Duva is optimistic her guy, the Main Events centerpiece, while the company nurtures a new batch of younger guns, can return and still be that Krusher who was feared and respected, pre-Ward. “Sergey wants to win his titles back and continue trying to unify. So bring on all the new champions (and the one old one, if he ever decides to take the challenge). No particular order.”

And no particular guarantee, she knows in her heart, having run rodeos, since the 1970s. And that makes this next Kovalev bout, in which he should be a considerable favorite, that much more intriguing.

 

 

 

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  • chickenstock

    ward should turn up at the gym, spook him.

  • Rude Boy

    Then what? Murder his balls?

  • Cashtime

    Interesting how more time is spent on excuses as to how one guy lost and then even more time on what were doing better this time around although as long as we were winning there were no excuses or problems. Well he’s no longer a scary guy, and if you doubt that just look up the other two Russians(Pivol, Beterbiev) as well as the top sluggers( Joe, Berrera, Adonis in the division and you’ll agree his days are numbered to second he steps in the ring with them.

    • Kudos

      Oh please. We know your agenda.

      • Bar Kokhba

        I know what you mean…trust me. but in this case, I agree with Mr. Time.

        Kovalev claimed that Ward’s low blows disabled him — okay, fine, let’s take him at his word; it’s impossible for anyone other than a pro boxer to know just how much a ball blow from a professional prizefighter might diminish one’s performance.

        So let’s give him the benefit of the doubt. But if that’s the reason he lost, why fire Jackson? Was it his lousy trainer, the sleeping pills he was mickey’d, or the debilitating low blows? Is he trying to tell us it was all three?

        Kovalev’s lashing out here, and it’s indicative of a fighter who’s enduring some mental dissonance. His confidence is seriously damaged. It’s unfortunate, because I think he’s still got a lot left in the tank.

        • Rufus99

          I’m tired of the low-blow excuse. Rd7 a clear belt-line shot doubled Sergey over. The last few shots he was doubled over and it was impossible to tell where they landed. But it wasn’t impossible to tell where the right-hand that wobbled him and really ended the fight landed.

          Kovalev QUIT! From Rd6 on he was looking for a way out of the fight. He even turned his back/walked away at one point. He was exposed. He couldn’t bully or intimidate Ward, he got frustrated and QUIT!

          • Bar Kokhba

            I agree. I was using an extreme to illustrate the fallacy of Kovalev’s argument. You’ll notice the first line of my post was an agreement with Mr. Cashtime.

          • Rufus99

            I understood exactly what you were saying. I was trying to reinforce the point.

          • Bar Kokhba

            Ah. Well…cool.

          • Standing8

            I do agree that Kovalev quit, however the last two low blows were not ambiguous at all. Pause it or look at the still shots. They were blatantly low. Referee Tony Weeks even apologized for not calling them.

    • Standing8

      Your right about the other guys in the division you mention. Thats probably why Ward dumped the belts before he had to fight them….

  • ozzy

    Glad to see that the two Ward debacles haven’t put Kovalev off boxing forever. He still has some big fights out there for him and now opponents will be more inclined to take him on. It will be interesting to see whether opponents employ some of the fouls used by Ward and whether they get away with them. I advise Kovalev to get his core, in particular his abs, up to speed, as they will be the first thing opponents will test. As long as Kovalev stays away from Vegas I think he’ll still be a tough guy to beat.