Andre Ward and Sergey Kovalev: Kings in contempt of court
The stench of antipathy flourished in the Blossom Ballroom of the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel on Wednesday afternoon.
There, IBF/WBA/WBO light heavyweight champion Andre “SOG” Ward, Sergey “Krusher” Kovalev and their respective teams, sat on each side of the dais looking like they were on the last stop of a tri-city press tour announcing June 17’s immediate rematch, not withholding the fact they’ve gone through a promotion no less the third day in a row. Seven months after edging Kovalev in a controversial decision, Ward looks to defend his unified belts for the first time in an HBO Pay-Per-View main event. The super-fight will return to Las Vegas, Nevada – this time at the Mandalay Bay Events Center.
The fighters, promoters and managers on the dais seemed to hold their counterparts in contempt the whole time, and they all did so in their own unique ways.
“It’s quite simple – these guys do not like each other and are literally foaming at the mouth to get back in the ring together,” said Roc Nation Sports President Michael Yormark. Presiding over the presser, that was the lasting statement of a speech Yormark had reiterated over the past 72 hours. In it were subtle pokes at the other promotion, between all the thank yous and reminders of Ward’s big victory over Kovalev, “Ward-Kovalev II was officially announced just over a week ago and, since then, we have been overwhelmed with hype, media coverage, trash talk and verbal sparring. In fact, Team Kovalev, as the B-side promoter, has made a habit of playing nice on the dais and then talking trash to the media when they are a safe distance from Andre – a lot of good it’s done so far.”
“Michael’s speech, as always, so eloquent and he did a great job of thanking everyone, so I’m not going to waste your time repeating everything he said,” responded the CEO of Main Events, Kathy Duva, once being called to the podium. “There’s one group he didn’t thank and I’m going to take the time to do that today. I’ve done this – I hate to admit – for 40 years. I was three when I started. I was the youngest publicist in the history of boxing. My job as publicist is to deal with you, the press. I know that you don’t make a fortune. I know that most of you do this the same reason I do: for love. We are afflicted by this disease. You come out here, most of you on your own dime, on your own time. Nobody here is going to be a millionaire, yet you come and have the same passion as we do. You cover this sport so closely because you share that passion. I want you to know how much Sergey Kovalev and Main Events appreciate that. We’re never going to forget you.”
Duva proceeded to introduce Kovalev’s manager Egis Klimas, and he too appertained off Yormark’s opening remarks but not before mentioning a past dealing with Ward’s manager in a strange opening remark that didn’t make it into the official press release recapping this engagement.
“As most of you know, I don’t talk much during the press conferences because I have memories,” said Klimas. “I remember Mr. (James) Prince was promoting his fighter Ismael Sillakh in Canada. It was a lot of talking – a lot of dirty talks – bad things. In the fight, I think after second round, we had to carry out Sillakh from the ring.”
Meanwhile, James Prince could be seen sitting next to Ward, with a confused look on his face as Klimas mumbled the recollection. The Lithuanian manager continued:
“As Michael was saying about Andre Ward, he had one thing right: undefeated. But 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. He might be the best in Oakland. I believe that. We’ve been there. We’ve been in England; we’ve been in Canada. We went all around the world, which means a world champion. Andre never fought out of – maybe two times, one time, he fought Sergey in Nevada and, one time, he fought in Jersey (versus Carl Froch in 2011). Most of his (championship) fights were at home in Oakland. We hope this fight is going to be much better. After the press conference, we stopped to grab something to eat. Three or four people from (Ward’s) 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.”
Prince then gave his rebuttal.
“Now, to get down to business over here. Kovalev’s manager, let me begin with him. The man got up here and said he doesn’t talk a lot but, as we can see, he had quite a bit to say. He said a lot but he didn’t tell the truth but I like to shine the spotlight on some of those lies he told. As far as Andre Ward, he’s a gold medalist. When you become a gold medalist, that means you fought not only people in Russia but people around the world. He represented the United States of America in 2004 and won the gold medal. That means you traveled the world and defeated everybody before you. Who can dispute that? We have a good medalist here, which means we have the truth. I keep telling these guys over here, beginning with Sergey, I keep telling them that you can’t sell no fear to us. We’re men of God. We’re not buying any fear about what you want to do. We’ve cracked your code and we’re going to pick up where we left off, come June 17. With that being said, the United States versus Russia. Y’all have a president, (Vladimir) Putin, I think, is his name. And we know (President Donald) Trump; he’s a boxing fan. Maybe we need to call on Trump to call Putin. I think Trump’s a betting man. We may need to crank up something there between the presidents and see what we can get going. Once again, no weapon formed against us shall prosper. Y’all keep on hoping. They call you ‘Manager of the Year.’ I’m going to be ‘Manager of that Night’ and that’s all that matters.”
Likely the final time Ward and Kovalev will share the same room until fight week, the fighters were finally introduced to the podium. At the earlier press conferences in New York City and Ward’s hometown of Oakland, California, Kovalev spoke in Russian, when at the mic, a peculiar decision, considering his English is better than most imported fighters, but the 34-year-old made sure he got his point across to Ward in person before they hit training camp.
“I’m glad to be back in L.A. I feel more comfortable here at home than at Oakland,” said Kovalev. “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 that I came from nothing, nowhere at all as a professional and amateur boxer. I had never been in a world championship or Olympic Games but I came here to the United States and got to where I am right now. Believe in yourself that you will get everything and I believe in myself and I will get my belts back on June 17.”
Kovalev, 30-1-1 (26), was very respectful of Ward leading up to their first fight and bit his tongue when it came to negativity. All that changed, of course, once Ward got a decision he felt he earned and the three belts Kovalev managed to unify over the past three years were gone just like that. Before his final words of a short speech, Kovalev turned to his right, to make direct eye contact with the only man to beat him, then declared, “Believe me and be sure I will finish your boxing career.”
Ward, 31-0 (15), swiveled his head right back up at Kovalev with a hushed glare that never blinked. There was an unmistakable confidence from Ward, who was able to get up off the canvas against the “Krusher” and eke out a victory.
“You’re selling fear; we’re not buying it,” proclaimed Ward once it was his turn. “At the end of the day, you’ve got to see me June 17. I don’t care what you say. I don’t care where you’re from. I don’t care how you came up. It doesn’t matter, bro. You’re going to have to see me June 17. It’s that simple. I didn’t have to take this fight. This fight is for you, the fans. This fight is for the boxing community because this is the fight everybody clamored about. At the end of the day, where I come from, it’s about showing up. It’s not about all that talking. It sells tickets, it sells pay-per-views and we get a couple of headlines. But if you watch my career, we don’t say anything. We just go get it done. June 17 is going to be no different. Reality check.”
After their words were spoken, the two posed for photos and that led to an eventual stare down. Composure was never lost, once they met eye to eye a final time, but when that was over, both fighters were available in separate media scrums and Kovalev continued to spit his fire while Ward fought it back with ice.
One reporter mentioned Kovalev looked so angry during the stare down, it seemed like he wanted to brawl in the ballroom. “Here, not enough people to watch it. No payment here,” Kovalev responded. “June 17 – a lot of boxing fans waiting for this day.” Once asked if he saw anything in Ward’s eyes, Kovalev replied, “Yeah, he’s empty.”
Kovalev was bombarded with camcorders vying to capture the quote machine at work. One scroll through his social media accounts will give you a clear view of how Kovalev feels about Ward. To highlight one, he posted a photo of Ward on his knees, after one of his right hands sent him there in their first encounter, and Kovalev depicted it by saying, “You should call yourself Andre ‘S.O.K’ Ward – ‘Son of Kovalev.’ Here’s a photo of you praying to your God.” The insults didn’t stop during the scrum, as he had the nerve to say Ward wasn’t the toughest fighter he had faced in his career, claiming Jean Pascal, the first time around, and Darnell Boone were tougher.
The only respect he had for Ward was the fact he delivered on an immediate rematch – but it stopped there for Kovalev. There was only one question this writer managed to get in to Kovalev and it was a simple one, asking if he had ever fought angry before in the ring.
“I was angry, yes,” Kovalev replied, referring to November’s showdown, “in the second part of the fight but I couldn’t do something because my tank of power and everything was empty.” Followed up whether he was more angry at himself, Sergey said, “Yeah, right now, I’m more angry. More hungry for victory.”
This writer’s inquest was better served on the other side of the room, where Ward fielded questions and, with that information freshly provided by Kovalev, it was then introduced to Ward along with how the emotion of anger could effect a fighter in the ring.
“I wouldn’t recommend it,” Ward responded before diving into what Kovalev had said. “It’s amazing to me, man – the things this guy comes up with – you can’t make this stuff up. You know, when you hear something and you say, I feel that. I see where he’s coming from. And then you hear something and you’re like, ‘What?’ What are you talking about? For the past four months, he lost me beyond just saying he thought he won the fight. All the other stuff – c’mon man.”
That said, this writer then asked Ward how he would’ve reacted if the close decision didn’t go his way.
“I wouldn’t have been happy but I try and be a man of integrity. I’m not gonna make excuses about it. I’m gonna say, ‘Look, I felt like I won and this is why…,’ then I’m gonna go about my business. Obviously I may have to repeat that a few times because I’m going to be getting interviewed and stuff but I’m not gonna start accusing the commission and.. I’m not gonna do that, man.”
As for a reaction to Kovalev, saying he will end Ward’s boxing career, Ward responded rhetorically, “My question is, who are you trying to convince – me or you?”
Some of it was subtle, some of it blatant, but the hatred these two sides had for each other was palpable. It’s an element that wasn’t so noticeable the first time around and, until June 17, the verbal jabs and insults will probably continue. It’s not like the rematch’s promotion needed it either, as elite match-ups like this one are too often few and far between. Not to mention, the first result was highly disputed and its discord still hasn’t ended.