John David Jackson: ‘Without proper training, Kovalev got his ass whipped’
One of the first things out of trainer John David Jackson’s mouth was a little surprising about his former charge, Sergey Kovalev, when Jackson said, “Before I begin here, Kovalev is right when he says I didn’t train him the last fight. I didn’t … because he didn’t want to be trained, he trained himself.”
Jackson, the renowned Florida-based trainer, was in Cardiff, Wales, last weekend working the corner of 2016 Olympic welterweight gold medalist Daniyar Yeleussinov in a six-rounder on the undercard of the Joe Cordina-Sean Dodd fight for the Commonwealth lightweight title. He found out about Kovalev’s seventh-round demise to Colombian Eleider Alvarez on Saturday after a call to a friend.
But Jackson knew that the “Krusher” in Kovalev (32-3-1, 28 knockouts) had left a while ago. In a candid discussion with The Ring, Jackson let loose some of the things that went on behind the scenes in his attempts to train the Russian expatriate and former two-time light heavyweight champ.
Jackson, who has a strong reputation as a straight talker, said he wasn’t surprised Kovalev was stopped.
“Not at all,” Jackson said. “I called a friend of mine in London and found out the result. It’s why I say he was right when he said I didn’t train him. I wasn’t going to waste my time trying to teach or show him anything if he wasn’t willing to learn. He was real hard to work with. He said I didn’t work with him for the first [Andre] Ward fight. He lied about that, but the second fight, he’s right, I didn’t work with him at all. He was bringing in new people to train him every day and the reason why it’s all true is that Don Turner saw everything. I watched and thought, ‘This was the blind leading the blind.’
“He wanted me out of the way, so I got out of the way. When he was winning, things were great. As soon as he lost, it was my fault.”
Signs came early that Jackson might have a difficult time with Kovalev.
“The first time I met the guy I cussed him out; he was a pain to work with,” Jackson recalled. “I tried to show him a move and he told he couldn’t do that. That came the very first day. I stayed with him because I made a promise to Don Turner that I would do my best with him, and Kathy Duva is a sweetheart. I didn’t want to leave her strapped in any way. But from day one, it was a struggle for me to try and work with this guy, because he swore he knew everything from training back in Russia.”
After Kovalev’s disposal of Nathan Cleverly in the fourth round on August 17, 2013, to wrest away the WBO light heavyweight belt, Kovalev’s first title defense came against Ismayl Sillah on Nov. 30, 2013, at the Pepsi Coliseum, in Quebec City. Kovalev made easy work of the Ukrainian, stopping him in the second round.
But what was comfortable for Kovalev began an uneasy feeling for Jackson.
The first time back in the gym, ‘The Krusher” told Jackson he was too demanding.
“He came up to me and said, ‘John, you’re pushing me too hard; you can’t train me that way,’” Jackson recalled. “I told him that is my job to get the most out of him during camp. No fighter ever said that me before, or since. I push my fighters to the limit to see what they can do. After that, he changed. Everything about him changed. He’s a dirtball.
“This fight against Alvarez proved what I was saying all along. He trained himself for that fight. I know it. I saw Kovalev tired by round four. For a world-class fighter, he tired fast. He had no game plan, he had no defense. His game plan was to knock the kid out. Once the kid proved he could take Sergey’s punches, he was done. He was done. I put time into him for the first Ward fight. I would show him things for that fight, but whatever respect he may have had for me, it was long gone by then.
“I was basically taking up space. Watch that fight again and you’ll see Sergey won the first half of that fight. He did enough to win, and I honestly thought he did win that first Ward fight. For as much of an a—— [Kovalev] is, I’ll give him credit for that. He won the first Ward fight. He brought this clown in for the first Ward fight and as we were walking down the aisle toward the ring, then he told me, ‘This guy will do all of the talking in the corner.’
“I saw he was winning, and I let the other guy do the talking. Around rounds seven or eight, I was done. I let the other guy do all of the talking, because [Kovalev] wasn’t doing what I was asking him to do anyway. I wasn’t his babysitter. If he couldn’t sit down there and accept what I was showing him to win the fight, why bother? The first half of the first Ward fight I talked to him. The second half, he wanted the other guy to talk and I got out of the way.
“In the beginning, whatever I asked him to do, he did. I pushed him hard.”
Then, Jackson stressed, success and money changed everything. It seemed, according to Jackson, Kovalev had an excuse for everything. If you didn’t tape his gloves the right way, his day was off. If you didn’t tie his gloves the way he wanted, his day was off. You had to tie Kovalev’s gloves a certain place every time. If you didn’t give him water when he wanted, he had a fit.
“So, when he got stopped, I wasn’t surprised,” Jackson said. “Karma is a bitch. The things he had been doing to everyone around him came back to bite him in the ass. I wasn’t happy when I heard he got stopped. But I will say he got what he deserved. Without proper training, he got his ass whipped. There was no shock at all there; the handwriting was on the wall.
“He owes a lot to Kathy Duva and Jolene [Mizzone, Main Events’ matchmaker], but do you think he really appreciates them? Kathy went out of her way to move this clown. He wanted more money, and Kathy gave up quite a lot to make him happy. She rearranged things to satisfy him; Kathy and Jolene made him. One day, Sergey really pissed me off when he said, ‘I made myself a world champion.’ I asked him, ‘Kathy didn’t do anything for you, Jolene or Egis [Klimas, Kovalev’s manager] didn’t do anything for you? You did this all on your own?’ He said, ‘Yeah.’ I asked maybe he didn’t understand my English. He thinks he did everything himself to make him a champion.
“Sergey is a borderline racist. He shows it in certain ways. I defended his ass more than a few times. Sergey didn’t want either me or Don Turner to work with him. He is good at putting the persona on, but when he’s alone, he’s a raw, nasty person. Even his own people talk about him like a dog behind his back, I kid you not. His so-called friends couldn’t stand him.”
Kovalev, Jackson said, reached a point where the Krusher believed he could crush anything. Everything Kovalev had had ‘Krusher’ on it, from coats, bags, shoes, hats, gloves, to “probably his kid’s diapers had ‘Krusher’ on it,” Jackson said, laughing. “He forgot what made him successful was hard work. I won’t say success made him soft, but the more success he had, the less hungry he became. The more money he made, the less he wanted to train.
“He ran like my grandmother, and she’s dead. He ran like her pace. We were running one day and I lapped him four times—and he was in his early 30s and I’m in my early 50s. He should have been lapping me. His work ethic was terrible.
“He’s a frontrunner who people have figured out. I used to tell his sparring partners not to stand in front of him; make him work, because if you do stand in front of him, he’s going to hurt you. If you make him work, it would help him in two ways: First, it’s going to make him realize he’s not who he thinks he is; secondly, he’s going to have to learn how to box. In all fairness to Kovalev, when he wants to, he can box. He’s not the best, he can box a little bit.
“I think the great regret is if he would have just listened to me and learned his trade better, he would have been a better all-around fighter. If his punches didn’t hurt you, he would break down mentally. He has the bully’s mentality. Kathy Duva and Jolene Mizzone did a great job with him – and please print that. Jolene did the matchmaking and Kathy did everything else. They’re two salt-of-the-earth type of people who deserve good things. Kovalev is a crybaby who blames everyone else for his downfall. He needs to look in the mirror and the person he sees is the person that’s the cause for his downfall all around.”
Kathy Duva, the Mains Events CEO, stressed that she did not want to get involved with anything between Kovalev and Jackson, but she disputed that Kovalev was unappreciative to Main Events and Egis Klimas. “Sergey goes out of his way to thank all of us for everything almost every time we see him,” Duva said.
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