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LAS VEGAS – Sergey Kovalev skipped a scheduled session with reporters at Mandalay Bay on Thursday ahead of his rematch with Andre Ward for the unified light heavyweight championship.
Kovalev, who lost a hotly disputed decision to Ward in November, was supposed to talk with reporters before the start of the news conference. As tensions between the teams have gotten hotter than the scorching 105-plus degree Las Vegas temperatures, Kovalev opted to bypass the opportunity.
His promoters explained his decision by saying he’s here to fight, not talk.
And then, an hour or so later, Kovalev stormed off the stage at the news conference.
It was probably planned in order to create a little prefight drama, but there is little doubt that Kovalev’s disdain for Ward is all too real.
He’s had difficulty letting go of the loss in their first bout at T-Mobile Arena, a block down Las Vegas Boulevard from where they’ll contest the rematch in the Mandalay Bay Events Center on Saturday.
He’s angry at Ward’s team for floating discussion that he’s a racist. He believes Ward somehow influenced the scoring the last time and referred to him as “Son of Judges,” mocking Ward’s “Son of God” nickname.
And he said that no matter how Saturday’s bout turns out, he’ll never fight Ward again.
Even the promoters were bickering. Asked why the bout was on HBO Pay-Per-View instead of regular HBO, Kovalev promoter Kathy Duva pointed the finger at her counterparts.
“Ask Roc Nation, because it’s what they wanted,” she said.
She’s right that the fight should be on HBO and not on pay-per-view. The first fight struggled to sell, hitting only 160,000 buys. A meaningless bout between Canelo Alvarez and Julio Cesar Chavez Jr. in May at T-Mobile Arena sold 1 million on pay-per-view and drew an arena-record crowd of 20,510.
HBO, though, has little budget for boxing this year as it readies for its acquisition by AT&T, and thus it’s allowed rival Showtime to sprint past it and take the mantle as the boxing television network.
Without the money, it acceded to Roc Nation’s demands and put it on pay-per-view.
In a different place and time, this would be one of the hot fights of the year. As Duva points out, Kovalev and Ward are the best in their division, among the best pound-for-pound and, regardless of which man you believe should have won the first bout, it was a compelling and dramatic match.
“It seems strange to me that the question I have heard most often this week since I have arrived from the media is, ‘Why isn’t this a bigger event?’ ” Duva said. “This is a big event. This is the best fighting the best. Literally, No. 1 and No. 2 in the world fighting a rematch of a controversial fight, the most controversial fight of last year, both in their primes, just seven months away from their first encounter. They are two of the finest athletes in the world, two grandmasters in the ring testing their skills and their intellects in a fight that the media and the fans always say they want to see.
“This is what we have brought you. We have brought you what you want. Today you can decide when you carry our message out to the world whether you want to tell your readers, your listeners and your viewers that this is an amazing event, well worth their time and their money or if you want to spend more time talking about a lot of the manufactured drama outside of this ring. Or about that circus that is going to take place here in August [when Floyd Mayweather fights UFC champion Conor McGregor]. … I implore all of you, please go out and tell our story. Tell our story to our fans who, I promise you, will be kicking themselves on Sunday morning if they missed this. It is a great event.”
It will only be a great event from Kovalev’s standpoint if he is able to reverse the decision or, better yet, score a knockout.
And Kovalev may have reason to believe that he’s in a better position to win this time than he did in November: He was, he said, seriously over-trained the last time and he was on weight one month out.
He described himself as “empty” when the first bout began, but he knocked Ward down in the second and took a big early lead on the scorecards.
“Ward fought an empty Kovalev,” the Russian ex-champion said.
He admitted he felt a lot of pressure and wanted to do everything he could to prepare himself. But he didn’t allow his body to rest, and instead of peaking on fight night, he was weak and worn out.
This time, though, he’s hired a different strength and conditioning coach, Aleksandr Mikhailovich, who worked with members of the Russian Olympic biathlon team. Mikhailovich has a terrific reputation and he changed what Kovalev did.
The result, Kovalev believes, is that he’ll have energy he didn’t have the last time around. He said as fight day approached, he knew he was in trouble, but had no recourse. There was nothing that either Duva nor manager Egis Klimas could do.
“I couldn’t say to Egis or my promoter, ‘Don’t do this fight,’ ” Kovalev said. “ … when a car runs out of gas, the car won’t drive. This was the same with me.”
His dislike of Ward has motivated him in so many ways. He said he had to control himself at public appearances promoting the fights because he hates Ward so much, he wanted to punch him.
He managed to contain himself, and now has a chance for redemption and to regain his belts. But it hasn’t been the best experience for him.
“I don’t respect his team, [because] they’re real [expletives],” Kovalev said, sneering. “Nobody likes them and I look forward to kicking his ass.”
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