Jim Lampley: ‘I don’t think I’d call Sergey Kovalev-Vyacheslav Shabranskyy a comeback fight’
He’s a Hall of Fame talent, a credit to the sport, because he’s a reminder in this diluted age that our sport attracts analysts possessing skills sets of cerebral heft and the inclination to the lead the examined life.
In the age of “MAGA,” when chants to lock up political foes can be heard at “rallies,” which feature a tone some of us had immodestly assumed could only be fomented in other, lesser, more bestial regions of the world, we will take pockets of thoughtfulness and reasoned scrutiny. I now appreciate more takes from the likes of Jim Lampley informed by a recognition that heart and soul and spirit are, in actuality, the most prevalent agents of most of our daily doings, despite messaging, on screen, and from hallowed halls, which surely must rattled with the perturbation of shaking spirits of less damaged and more righteous beings. Beings, who wonder if, in fact, this nation’s inhabitants are actually being led by persons quite appropriate for their existences.
Lampley checked in with RingTV, the night before Thanksgiving, in jubilant spirits, hale and vibrant in the way one can be after frolicking with grandkids, getting invigorating hugs and then handing the delights back to Mom and Pop, who can then go about shepherding the youth toward tooth-brushing and bedtime.
We talked the fight game, particularly what we could be seeing Saturday, at the Madison Square Garden Theater. He’s in the midst of a stretch that some might think grueling, with fights to call for HBO, on Saturday, then December 2 and again December 9. All are to unfold in New York, leaving us in the region grateful to be carpet-bombed by a Santa’s sleigh worth of goodies.
First query. Does Lampley consider it a “comeback” for Sergey Kovalev (30-2-1, 26 knockouts), age 34, having lost his last two against the now-retired pugilist-specialist Andre Ward?
“I don’t think I’d call it a comeback fight,” Lampley said of the face-off with Vyacheslav Shabranskky (19-1, 16 KOs), a Ukrainian-born California resident, who was smacked down by Sullivan Barrera, one of Kovalev’s victims, last December. “It looks to be a mental challenge, which is a highly ironic situation, being that he had losses in his last two fights but is now considered, with certain logic, as the top guy in the division.” Now Lampley said, we will see if Kovalev – do we still use that “Krusher” tag or has that been mothballed till we get confirmation that he is able to suggest the incarnation is present tense appropriate? – can “continue unimpeded or if there’s a legitimate reason to question how he will react in the ring now that his aura of invincibility has been pierced.”
Now we are moving from the physical to the mental; Kovalev hadn’t lost pre-Ward. With that comes a confidence, which can sometimes edge toward immodesty. Kovalev has all but admitted that infected his mind, ego bloat, basically, and he thought he had all the keys in his pocket and could drive to a place of increased prominence. Ah, but even the hottest shots need someone to drive the limo. They must allow a servant to steer the wheel and ply their trades in negotiating the vehicle through traffic and take the right route. Kovalev dissed the limo driver (John David Jackson) and that helped leave him broken down, on the side of the road, thumb out, looking to get back onto a smooth-paved avenue, where onlookers waved and clapped.
“There are two caveats on this avenue Kovalev is on,” Lampley continued. “I’d say maybe he knows he’s unquestionably the number one guy in division and will take over and show who is boss…or he could be walking in to the ring in New York thinking and wondering, ‘Who am I?'”
Might Lampley be able to discern if Kovalev is dead-set certain he is who he thought he was before he had that Ward reckoning, during the fighter meeting today? Lampley said he will be most interested in hearing that for himself and that Kovalev is good, in that he’s not too self-protected, so, it sounds like the HBO fixture might know if the Ward losses damaged his image to the point that he won’t be able to get back into a pre-Ward form. Besides, Lampley told me Shabranskyy isn’t in Ward’s league. No one is; it’s safe to say, so, it could be that Kovalev, with his message from God and new trainer tweak (Abror Tursunpulatov), can get back to being the “Krusher.” But we might not get a truer test, to see what he’s really capable of till someone other than Shabranskyy ushers him into deep water and slips a lead vest life preserver on him…
We touched on something you are sure to hear from Lampley and Max Kellerman on Saturday, that Kovalev almost died in a car accident and then had a spiritual awakening in Greece. Lampley noted, “This guy had an exceptionally hard life. They were brutally poor, in a rough place…it was a very hard existence and, a lot of ways, in the last few years, he’s lived a life of luxury. Sometimes it’s hard for guys to adjust. Is there a comparison? You compare it to a Jack Dempsey, a Mike Tyson. It’s a common experience in a Russian package.”
My three cents: Shabranaskyy and Kovalev aren’t dissimilar, in that both failed their step-up tests. Ward and Sullivan Barrera proved hills too hard to climb. Since those losses, their fights have arguably been as much mental as physical. I do think the physical elements will loom largest in their vacant WBO title fight tomorrow and that what Kovalev, even one who’s had to reckon with the fact that his ceiling might be lower than he’d figured, has his way with “Slava,” along the lines of what we were seeing from Krusher, when that nickname came with no asterisk. Your thoughts, readers?
Follow Michael Woods on Twitter @Woodsy1069.
You can order the current issue, which is on newsstands, or back issues from our subscribe page.
On the cover this month: THE RING 100