From Russia with menace, Sergey Kovalev brings boxing home Monday

Kovalev fights an interim tune-up Monday in front of hometown fans before his date with Andre Ward in November.

Sergey Kovalev (left) and Issac Chilemba both made weight Sunday in Russia. Photo: Courtesy Alexandr Safonov,
Sergey Kovalev (left) and Issac Chilemba both made weight Sunday in Russia. Photo: Courtesy Alexandr Safonov,

SAN DIEGO, July 10, 2016 – Boxing fans are counting down the days until top pound for pound boxers in the world face each other in November. But before Russian Sergey “Krusher” Kovalev and American Andre Ward put on their light heavyweight version of the Cold War, both must win their interim bouts.

Not many people give their opponents a chance. If there’s going to be a shocker, the most likely candidate is Isaac Chilemba of Malawi, now fighting out of South Africa. Kovalev (29-0-1, 26 KOs) and Chilemba (24-3-2, 10 KOs) meet at the DIVS Palace of Sports in Ekaterinaburg, Russia on Monday evening. The fight will be shown in the U.S. on HBO via tape delay Monday night at 10:15 p.m. ET/7:15 p.m. PT. It will actually take place at approximately 12:30 p.m. ET. It will air live via Match TV in Russia and BoxNation in Great Britain. Avoid your favorite boxing interwebs if you don’t want to know what happens.

The official promotional poster for Kovalev vs. Chilemba in Russia. Courtesy Main Events
The official promotional poster for Kovalev vs. Chilemba in Russia. Courtesy Main Events

Both fighters made the 175 pound weight limit within a half pound.

This is Kovalev’s third professional fight in his home country, and his eighth defense of his WBA, WBO, and IBF title belts. He has wanted to fight in Russia again; the last time was a seventh round TKO in December 2011 against countryman Roman Simakov. In a tragic turn of events, Simakov died of injuries suffered in the bout.

Promoter Kathy Duva of Main Events didn’t realize when she booked the Palace of Sports as the venue, it was the same location as the Simakov fight. Kovalev, who had not discussed the 2011 fight openly, has talked about it in recent weeks and said he has put it in the past. To be clear, Simakov’s team was at fault for letting the fight continue long past the point it should have been stopped. Kovalev also says being less experienced at the time, he did not back down or shift his punches away from Simakov’s head when he began to realize he’d hurt him.

Sergey Kovalev salutes the Russian crowd at Sunday's weigh-in. Photo: Courtesy Alexandr Safonov,
Sergey Kovalev salutes the Russian crowd at Sunday’s weigh-in. Photo: Courtesy Alexandr Safonov,

At the final pre-fight news conference, Kovalev focused on the fight ahead of him. “Thank you to everyone for their organization and for making this event for everyone who loves boxing. The hardest time of my training camp is past now and I am going to give you good show. My opponent, Chilemba, is very motivated and that is why he is so dangerous. But I am also motivated. There are a lot of fights in my future,” said Kovalev. “I will be glad to see you all Monday night.”

Chilemba was on a strong four fight win streak until a disputed majority decision loss to Eleider Alvarez of Colombia in Montreal. Chilemba is not a big power puncher. He is a counterpuncher and relies on toughness and drive to get his victories. But after his disappointing loss to Alvarez, Chilemba vows he will not leave this fight in the hands of the judges this time.

Chilemba said he’s been chasing a title since he moved up to light heavyweight. “Now I have a shot at three world titles. I really believe God works in mysterious ways,” said Chilemba. “This is my time. This is my destiny. I believe I was destined to be WBO, WBA and IBF World Champion … In my life I have been through a lot of obstacles. I stumble and fall and I know how to pick myself up. I have been through hell and made it back. Nothing can stop me.”

Sergey Kovalev (left) and Issac Chilemba face off Sunday in Russia. Photo: Courtesy Alexandr Safonov,
Sergey Kovalev (left) and Issac Chilemba face off Sunday in Russia. Photo: Courtesy Alexandr Safonov,

Chilemba will have to take considerable risk to land his best shots against Kovalev. No one thinks for a second he’ll survive long if Kovalev lands any significant blows, and he certainly won’t survive any mistakes. His best bet is to come on strong and strike early, to see if he can test Kovalev’s chin. Chilemba has fought on his opponent’s home turf much of his career, so he won’t be intimidated by the enthusiastic Russian crowd backing Kovalev. Chilemba says he’s received a warm welcome from fans in Russia, who must be thrilled by the chance to see the man many people consider the world’s single best pound for pound boxer in Kovalev.

Andre Ward (29-0, 15 KOs) faces lightly regarded Alexander Brand of Ohio (25-1, 19 KOs) on August 6 at Oakland’s Oracle Arena. Ward and Brand were scheduled for a bout last November, but Ward suffered a knee injury during training and was forced to call off the bout. Brand now gets his chance, and fewer people think Brand has a chance than Chilemba against Kovalev. Assuming no surprises, the build up to November will start in earnest in mid-August, something to amuse us during the dog days of boxing summer.

Gayle Lynn Falkenthal, APR, is President/Owner of the Falcon Valley Group in San Diego, California. She is also a serious boxing fan covering the Sweet Science for Communities. Read more Ringside Seat in Communities Digital News. Follow Gayle on Facebook and on Twitter @PRProSanDiego. Gayle can be reached via Google +

Please credit “Gayle Falkenthal for Communities Digital News” when quoting from or linking to this story.  

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