LAS VEGAS, November 17, 2016 – In the weeks leading to Saturday’s light heavyweight pay-per-view bout between pound for pound contenders Sergey Kovalev of Russia (30-0-1, 26 KOs) and Andre Ward of the United States (30-0, 15 KOs), the fighters and their camps have sparred with each other and revealed their approach and mindset bit by bit, with the last bit coming in their final news conference on Thursday.
It is the first pay per view event for both men, and only the seventh between two undefeated boxers ranked in the Top 10 with more than 30 victories each. It’s considered a true 50-50 fight. The stakes are high and it should be a big draw, in theory. The promoters and participants are putting in a lot of work to generate the attention the fight richly deserves, but hasn’t quite achieved.
Kovalev has been cheerful and chatty, taking his English language skills out for a spin and doing his part to promote the fight. Ward has been serious, sometimes prickly and impatient when news media ask him questions he finds simplistic.
At their final news conference Thursday, the reality of the stakes for both men tempered them both toward a business-like assessment of the challenge with a healthy dose of respect.
“We’re not supposed to like each other,” said Ward. “His (Kovalev’s) side has been doing a lot of talking. That’s all right, it’s not our first rodeo. We don’t always respond right away. Sometimes our silence has been misinterpreted. We’re watching, we take notes. We will respond in the ring.
“I’m not taking no mess Saturday night. I’ll be there,” concluded Ward.
The trainers had plenty more to say. Ward’s trainer, Virgil Hunter, offered a lengthy monologue expressing philosophical concerns about boxing and business, Russian history, and turned at times to comments made about him and Ward by Kovalev’s trainer John David Jackson. “Even though he (Jackson) has sniped me and questioned my credentials, I walked away from that debate with respect for him, more respect for him… I was troubled by some things I had observed.”
Hunter eventually turned to the actual matchup. “I believe it’s going to be a great fight. I believe Sergey is everything they say he is, he’s a dangerous opponent, he’s intending to win. When his opponents step in the ring, they shiver. He carries that persona with his justifiably. It’s up to us to dilute that situation,” said Hunter.
Jackson responded to Hunter, “Both sides have said certain things All the talk will stop soon, it’s between two individuals, Sergey Kovalev and Andre Ward. … (To) a question Mr. Hunter asked, brother, yes I do respect you. Some of the things I say are to get in someone’s head.
“Whatever goes on in camp, whatever this agreement people say we have, remember this all the writers out there, come here fight night, we will leave here as we came in, undefeated,” concluded Jackson.
Kovalev’s manager, Egis Klimas, did his best to dial down the trainers’ beefs. “I hate when trainers, managers, promoters, start talking how it’s going to be. None of the promoters, none of the managers, none of the promoters can understand what’s going to happen in the ring. Only the warriors in the ring understand. Saturday night will bring us I hope the best show we’ve seen in many years.”
When Kovalev finally stepped to the podium, he seemed to be smiling at where he found himself. “Two or three years ago, I can’t imagine that I would be getting a fight at this level, undefeated boxer Andre Ward, gold medalist and Olympic champion. I have very big respect for him, his success and his career … But right now, we’re facing each other. I should prove I’m better,” said Kovalev.
Although it doesn’t seem to show, Kovalev said he’s always nervous for a fight. “Every fight for me is a very important fight. Always, you know. It’s a regular condition. When you have nerves, it’s good. When you’re never nervous, it’s not good. I’m in the best shape right now I can have for this fight.”
In contrast, Ward said nothing should be inferred from his taciturn demeanor. “Locked in is a lifestyle man. One punch can change everything. For me it’s a daily routine. There are times you can step back and smile. It’s the way I’m wired. It’s not easy sparring three, four guys. That’s all that means.”
When the two men stepped forward for a brief faceoff, it ended in a congenial handshake offered by Kovalev to Ward.
Ward has said since the bout was announced that he respects Kovalev for where he’s gotten, and given his tough road says Kovalev should get a lot more credit than he has. There were no fireworks and not a lick of trash talk directly between the two. Fans expecting the sort of invective Kovalev throws toward Adonis Stevenson might be disappointed. These two will do their talking in the ring.
What we don’t know yet is what sort of conversation the two will have the night of November 19.
Serious boxing fans are enthusiastic about this fight, but the casual fans may have been burned forever by last year’s Mayweather vs. Pacquiao debacle. It’s a shame, because this fight is competitive. But it may not produce a spectacular knockout or the kind of easy to understand fireworks any viewer can understand. If this is an elegant, tactical fight, it may best be left to the sport’s connoisseurs.
Kovalev vs. Ward airs on HBO PPV on Saturday, November 19, beginning with undercard bouts at 9 p.m. ET/6 p.m. PT.
Gayle Lynn Falkenthal, APR, Fellow PRSA, is an award-winning boxing journalist covering the Sweet Science for Communities and for boxing fans worldwide. Read more Ringside Seat in Communities Digital News. She is owner of the Falcon Valley Group based in San Diego, California. Follow Gayle on Facebook and on Twitter @PRProSanDiego. Gayle can be reached via Google +
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