Sergey Kovalev kicks off his 2018 campaign
Sergey Kovalev begins his 2018 campaign at the very same venue – the Theater at Madison Square Garden (HBO 10:05 p.m. ET/7:05 p.m. PT) – where he ended his tumultuous 2017. He faces Igor “Home Alone” Mikhalkin in defense of the WBO light heavyweight title he won last November by stopping Vyacheslav Shabranskyy in two short rounds.
Now, if you have no idea who Mikhalkin is, well…..neither does Kovalev.
“I never saw him before, maybe his last fight, his IBO championship (bout),” said the “Krusher” last Saturday afternoon where a media luncheon was organized at the Westin Hotel near LAX. “I met him the last time I fought in Russia when I fought (Isaac) Chilemba. He came to support me personally but I met with him early in amateur boxing, when I was an amateur. But we never fought; we never sparred.
“Now it’s very interesting that we’re fighting. He’s Russian; I’m Russian and we’re going to make a very interesting fight.”
Being they are comrades, things have been very respectful between the two in the lead-up to this event. When asked to describe the southpaw with a record of 21-1 (9), Kovalev told UCNLive.com, “He’s a good boxer and an IBO champion. It’s interesting; let’s wait till March 3rd. We will see everything, what he brings, what I will bring against each other.”
For Kovalev, this is his second bout after this stoppage loss to Andre Ward last June in their rematch. There have been significant changes for Kovalev in the wake of that jarring defeat, mainly the severing of ties with long-time trainer John David Jackson. What had been a successful marriage ended in a rather nasty and public divorce.
In Kovalev’s corner now is Abror Tursunpulatov.
So does this represent a new beginning for Kovalev?
“Y’ know, yes,’ ‘he said. “Right now, it’s not new. It’s everything old – what was forgot by me without a coach. Because here in America, I can say that I had a professional boxing career without a coach but this coach (Jackson) was not a coach. For example, like Abror keeps control of everything, all my training camp, his plan, all week what I should do. When I should rest, sparring, everything. Everything under his control and it’s relaxed me more and let me concentrate more for the fight, not thinking about my training camp.”
So if things were THAT bad between the Kovalev and Jackson, why wait so long to make a change? Were the knockout victories a deodorant to what was becoming a toxic situation?
Egis Klimas, who manages Kovalev says,”I can blame myself and Kathy Duva (the head of Main Events) for taking that long because we wanted John David Jackson to be there because Sergey’s telling me for a long time, ‘Egis, I need to change trainer. I need to do this.’ And I talked to Kathy, ‘Kathy, we’re probably going to be looking for the next fight to change a trainer.’ Kathy said, ‘No, it’s not going to be good for publicity.’
“So I go back to Sergey and say, ‘Sergey, look, this is the way it is,’ this and that. We were just going with what we were telling him and that’s why it didn’t happen because we talked him into it.”
(UCNLive.com reached out to Jackson for comment but have received no reply, as of press time.)
In fairness to Kovalev’s former trainer, it was a successful run and Jackson wasn’t the first trainer to leave him on less-than-ideal terms. Abel Sanchez has made it very clear that Kovalev was difficult to train and didn’t want to necessarily work with others. It’s clear that Kovalev is a bit of a lone wolf and – like Frank Sinatra – does things his way.
But on this day, you see an individual who seems content and ready for the next stage of his career.
“I’m happy because I’m back and I’ve got a title. It was good experience for me with the fights with Ward. It was like lesson of life that I should keep up with the sport always, in-between fights, too,” he said, laughing at his newfound discipline. “You should use boxing gym and use your shoes for the running but I never did it before.”
The plan is for Kovalev to fight three times this year and hopefully begin to consolidate a very talented 175-pound division. There are still a few chapters to be written for the 34-year old Kovalev.
“I think, right now, he’s at the good peak. Let’s put it this way: We need to give him some unifications with other champions,” stated Klimas. “We need to find him fights and we will see. I think he still has everything, what a good champion needs to have, and he has the motivations. He’s always in the gym training. He’s very disciplined now.
“I think it will be very hard for someone to beat Sergey Kovalev right now.”
According to Top Rank CEO Bob Arum, while Manny Pacquiao will not appear on the April 14 card in Las Vegas, there is a chance he could fight in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. But of course, like Rod Tidwell, they have to show Pacquiao the money.
Here’s this week’s episode of ”The Next Round,” with Gabe Montoya and Yours Truly.
Found it interesting that WBC heavyweight titlist Deontay Wilder came in so light against Luis Ortiz, at just above 214 pounds, his lowest weight since 2009…I hear it’s snowing like crazy in New York. That may not be great for the walk-up sales for the shows at the Garden and Barclays Center…Seriously Top Rank got lucky with the weather, as it was cold and rainy this whole week but things will improve significantly as they stage Oscar Valdez-Scott Quigg next weekend at the StubHub Center…The Lakers are showing some real promise; aren’t they?…Really enjoying the final season of ABC’s “Scandal”…”9-1-1” on FOX has been great in its rookie campaign…I can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and I tweet (a lot) at twitter.com/steveucnlive. I also share photos of stuff at instagram.com/steveucnlive and can also be found at tsu.co/steveucnlive.