Kovalev vs. Ward 2 rematch is the fight for respect

During this week’s media tour, both camps engaged in verbal sparring in anticipation of the June 17 rematch.

Andre Ward and Sergey Kovalev had plenty to say about each other during their media tour promoting their June 17 rematch this week. Photo: Roc Nation Sports / Kristopher Sandifer
Andre Ward and Sergey Kovalev get their say today for the last time prior to Saturday's fight. Photo: Roc Nation Sports / Kristopher Sandifer

SAN DIEGO, April 14, 2017 – It was a fight boxing sorely needed as the 2016 boxing year closed out. Sergey Kovalev versus Andre Ward would determine who sat atop the “pound for pound” best list in boxing at the end of 2016. The fight delivered plenty of drama, but it didn’t completely answer the P4P question after a disputed unanimous decision in favor of Ward.

It has taken six months to nail down, but the rematch is secured for Saturday, June 17, at the Mandalay Bay Events Center in Las Vegas. Now light heavyweights Andre Ward (31-0, 15 KOs) and Sergey Kovalev (30-1-1, 26 KOs) have serious personal history going into what’s expected to be another competitive fight.

The pair traveled from New York to Oakland and finally to Los Angeles with their teams, promoters and HBO officials to promote the event. Both camps know each other well. There’s no need for any “feeling out” warm-up round. At every stop, verbal skirmishes broke out between the boxers, the trainers, the managers, and even the promoters. As long as there’s no shell casings littering the floor, it’s all good.

Body language: Andre Ward and Sergey Kovalev posed only as long as absolutely necessary during their media tour this week. Photo: Roc Nation Sports / Kristopher Sandifer

Ward, who won Kovalev’s WBA, WBO, and IBF belts in this division unification fight to remain undefeated, knows not everyone was universally pleased or saw the decision going his way. Ward runs hot and cold and sometimes the chip on his shoulder gets in his way. He expresses no doubt he won the fight and grows impatient and annoyed with questions about the legitimacy of the win. This time, Ward has a point and every right to get ticked off about it.

Kovalev disagreed with the decision, insisting the judges’ cards should have gone his way. He’s only grown more insistent about it in the months since then. This week, he repeated what he admitted at the time of the loss he grew tired in the second half. He now says he overtrained, and he’ll be able to correct his preparation and take advantage of what he learned during the first 12 rounds.

Surprise: these men don’t like each other. They have various criticisms for each other or the way they and their teams have conducted themselves. Even the two promoters, Roc Nation (Ward) and Main Events (Kovalev) don’t particularly like doing business with each other.

For those not following each and every development this week, we’ll give you this written highlight reel of the best shots taken in the news conferences all week.

Short version for the TLDR crowd: Kovalev is a crude bully who hides behind social media and likes the vodka. Ward is a self-absorbed prima donna who’s been coddled and avoided tough opposition. Ward says he won and he’ll prove it, Kovalev says he was robbed and he’ll prove it.

Andre Ward enjoyed the media tour stop in his hometown of Oakland, California this week. Photo: Roc Nation Sports / Kristopher Sandifer

Andre “SOG” Ward, unified light heavyweight champion:

“I’m excited about this rematch. These are the things I dreamed about as a kid. I love it. I love the back and forth, some people being with me and some people not being with me. I don’t mind the stuff they talk about on social media. That’s perception. I try and deal in the reality.”

“I don’t care what you say, I don’t care what the team says. That’s going to make headlines. That’s all good and part of the business. I understand the business very well and I’m good with that … I don’t have to do a lot of talking. To my young guys coming up, you don’t have to talk a lot. Just show up when you’re supposed to show.

“Boxing right now is not like it used to be. It’s a climate right now where there’s a lot of talking. Guys don’t do what they say they’re going to do. They don’t perform and then they find excuses on why they didn’t perform. There’s only a handful of guys in history that I know that talked and then backed it up. We don’t have a lot of that today.

It’s okay to not be the loudest talker in the room, but when it’s time to shine, be that guy. Be the hardest worker.”

“You don’t let anybody beat you before you get in the ring. I don’t care what you say, where you’re from, what your reputation is, it’s a healthy respect you have for an opponent to prepare physically and mentally, you got to have that. But you don’t let anybody – media, broadcasters, fighters, anybody – beat you before you get in the ring. You make them earn it.”

“This is the first time this team has met a team where that stuff isn’t working. You beat me, you’re going to earn it.”

“I hope he’s the best he can be. I hope he makes the adjustments he’s supposed to make. We’re going to get ready. We’re not taking it for granted. That’s what big rematches and big fights are all about. I want the best Sergey. I want his team to be focused. I want him to be focused and I know my team is going to be focused.”

Andre Ward won a narrow decision over Sergey Kovalev in their first meeting last November. Photo: David Spagnolo, Main Events

“The question I have for him and his team is, with all that loud talking, who are y’all trying to convince? Me or him?”

“I told the people in New York, you’ve got perception and you’ve got reality. You’ve got a lot of misinformation coming from that side. You’ve got a lot of lies coming from that side. A lot of old school tactics. It’s 2017 man. All that old school stuff that his side is trying to do, it’s not going to work.”

“You’re selling fear, we’re not buying it.”

“At the end of the day, where I come from, it’s about showing up. It’s not about all that talking … June 17 is going to be no different. Reality check.”

Sergey Kovalev (center), with promoter Kathy Duva and manager Egis Klimas in Oakland. Photo: Roc Nation Sports, Kristopher Sandifer

Sergey “Krusher” Kovalev, former unified light heavyweight champion:

“We’re going to see who is the best fighter. I’m very excited for June 17. The only thing I hope is that a week or two before the fight, Andre Ward does not get injured and he has enough balls to come out and fight me on June 17.”

“They said I should prove something more, for who? For them? No. I already proved it for myself and for everybody in the boxing world.”

“Believe in yourself that everything will be good. And I believe in myself and I will get my belts back on June 17. Believe me and be sure I will finish your boxing career.”

“The other side is saying I have to prove a lot, I have to show a lot. I don’t need to prove or show anything. I showed and proved everything on November 19. Anybody who hasn’t seen that or doesn’t think that, you’re going to see it on June 17.”

“The ones who think about Andre Ward’s victory, you can still pray for him because I’m going to show it on June 17. He got those belts somehow. I think June 17 is going to be the day everybody’s going to see the way it’s supposed to be.”

Sergey Kovalev knocked Andre Ward to the canvas in the second round of their first bout, only the second time in Ward’s career. Photo: David Spagnolo, Main Events

Michael York, Roc Nation president and chief of branding and strategy

“For Sergey, he has a lot to prove, which may be why he’s been so, let’s call it active on social media. After falling short in November, Sergey has become his own personal hype machine. In one of his latest tweets he demanded Andre, ‘pray to me’. Sergey, I think what you were trying to say was ‘pray for me’, which we all will do before you get back into the ring with Andre on June 17.”

Kathy Duva, Main Events promoter:

“Both Sergey and Andre have a history now. As Michael pointed out, they both have something to prove, they each have a story. Right now, Sergey’s story is that he wants his belts back. Andre’s story is that he wants respect, because he may have those belts but as Egis just illustrated, the respect is still with this man [meaning Kovalev].”

Egis Klimas congratulates Sergey Kovelev after his bout with Andre Ward in November. Photo: David Spagnolo, Main Events

Egis Klimas, manager of Sergey Kovalev:

“Talking is very, very cheap. Trust me, I’ve been in this business for a while, and I’ve seen it many times. Managers, trainers, promoters coming in and talking a lot of shit into the microphone. But then it comes to the night, these are the two men that are going to go in the ring, and they’re going to fight.”

“Undefeated doesn’t mean the best. Muhammad Ali wasn’t undefeated. Many of the great fighters weren’t undefeated because they fought real fighters. Nowadays, it’s a lot of protection going on.”

“Yesterday, we went to Andre’s hometown of Oakland … After the press conference, we stopped to grab something to eat. Three or four people from his hometown recognized Sergey and came up to him and said ‘we hope this time you won’t leave it to the judges. You got robbed, you’ve got to kick his ass’. That was in his hometown. We’ll see you guys on June 17.”

Trainer Virgil Hunter (upper right) has worked with Andre Ward since he was young boy in Oakland. Photo: David Spagnolo, Main Events

Virgil Hunter, Andre Ward’s trainer:

“I think if you look at the realistic facts of it all, I think only Sergey’s been in the media talking. I think Mr. Klimas should understand that we haven’t said a word. The other side has talked about ending people’s careers to knocking you out to insulting God almighty. All that’s coming from this side so we understand what goes on and I think it’s a lot of doubt, it’s a lot of anger.”

“Everybody’s an expert from the reporters to the announcers when it comes to judging a fight. All of a sudden, they were all wrong that night. So, I think that’s an insult to what goes on in boxing. I think it wasn’t right. I think it was wrong particularly since HBO has built Sergey into the star that he rightfully is.”

“I’ll challenge anybody to sit with me and show me where he won the fight. He fought a hell of a fight because he’s a hell of a fighter, but he didn’t win the fight.”

“My advice [to Sergey] is relax, don’t be uptight. You can’t drink year in and year out and expect at some point for it not to catch up to you and I would bet money that if we could go internally and see inside that that’s one of the causes that’s causing him to get fatigued now. It’s not the overtraining, it’s not this and it’s not that. It’s just guys are standing up and going 12 rounds now. But you can’t drink vodka year in and year out and expect on fight night to fight somebody like Andre.”

Josh Dubin, Andre Ward’s manager:

“You can cry and complain and all that, but that’s what bullies do when they don’t get their way. Bullies make excuses, bullies try to intimidate when they don’t get their way. Bullies of all sorts, in the ring and in business. Well, you didn’t get your way, you ain’t getting your way and you’re not going to get your way. Period.

“You want to tune in to this one, because you’ll want to be able to say, ‘I got to see the best fighter to ever walk in the ring, fight again and conquer again’. Don’t miss it. Thank you.”

Kovalev vs. Ward 2, ‘The Rematch,’ airs on HBO PPV live from the Mandalay Bay Events Center in Las Vegas on HBO PPV Saturday, June 17.

Gayle Lynn Falkenthal, APR, is President/Owner of the Falcon Valley Group in San Diego, California. She is a veteran boxing observer 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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