By Jeremy Herriges
Saturday, March 14th on HBO, Sergey Kovalev (26-0-1, 23 KOs) will defend his share of the light heavyweight title against Haitian-Canadian Jean Pascal (29-2-1, 19 KOs) at the Bell Centre in Montreal, Canada.
For the last two years, Sergey Kovalev has dominated the light heavyweight division. In 2013, an unknown Kovalev made the most of his title shot against then undefeated Welshman Nathan Cleverly. Kovalev was supposed to be just a contender, even though he entered the fight with 19 wins by knockout and no losses on his record.
Cleverly was supposed to be the new golden boy of the light heavyweight division, but Kovalev had other plans. He massacred Cleverly, knocking him down twice in the third round and forcing a referee stoppage in the fourth. The rest is history as they say.
Since the Cleverly fight, Kovalev has gone on to display masterful knockout power, knocking out three of his last four opponents. The only fighter in this group to sustain a full 12-round beating was the legendary Bernard Hopkins. It should also be noted that Kovalev put Hopkins down in round one and arguably gave Hopkins the worst loss of his career.
Now, Sergey Kovalev is a boxing superstar. His dominance makes him part of most boxing experts’ pound-for-pound best list.
Recently, I had a chance to talk to Sergey Kovalev and his manager Egis Klimas. It would be easy to see how a boxer with the meteoric success that Kovalev has been blessed with over the last couple of years could develop an inflated ego, but that’s not the case with Kovalev. He doesn’t see himself as a superstar.
“I’m doing my job,” said Kovalev. “If people think that I’m becoming a star, then that’s just a big complement for me.”
In a sport and time where showmanship has become the centerpiece of self-promotion, it is refreshing to see that one of boxing’s biggest and brightest is humble and selfless. Kovalev’s demeanor and attitude speak volumes about his focus going into his fight with Jean Pascal.
When asked about his opinion of Pascal’s boxing ability, Kovalev displayed respect for his opponent.
“He’s a dangerous boxer,” said Kovalev. “He’s got [a] hard punch. For me this will be a very interesting fight. It will be a good test.”
Even though Kovalev is a heavy betting favorite, he is not overlooking Jean Pascal’s ability. He seems to show a level of humility that is becoming a rare commodity in the sport of boxing.
On a humorous note, while talking about Pascal, Egis Klimas (Kovalev’s manager) reminded me that Pascal is the putting his WBC Diamond belt on the line, which was news to Kovalev.
“I didn’t know that Pascal [was] bringing the WBC Diamond belt. That means I will kick his ass even more,” exclaimed Kovalev in laughter.
While most don’t see Pascal as a threat to Kovalev, he does have the home field advantage. The fight is taking place in Montreal, Quebec, which is where Pascal lives. Kovalev will be facing a hostile audience in addition to his opponent, but doesn’t seem fazed.
“For me it doesn’t matter where I’m fighting,” said Kovalev. “If he wants to fight at home I’m ready. Kick his ass at home, for all his fans.”
While Kovalev has shown Jean Pascal respect, an area of contention between the two camps has revolved around drug testing. Pascal’s camp asked for additional drug testing from a company of their choice. Kovalev and his camp were put off by this request. He sees this as theatrics on Pascal’s part.
“I think Pascal is scared and he’s looking for any opportunity to get annoyed with me,” said Kovalev. “We will give a drug test before the fight and after the fight. I think it’s enough.”
Egis Klimas echoed Kovalev’s sentiments: “He [Pascal] cannot dictate what we are going to do,” said Klimas. “Sergey is a champion. He is bringing in three titles. He is coming to Canada and now he is going to tell him what to do? It’s unfair.”
Outside of his upcoming fight with Pascal, former Russian amateur boxing teammate and rising prospect Artur Beterbiev, has been vocal in the media attempting to talk his way into a future fight with Kovalev. Beterbiev has only fought in seven professional fights, so it seems unlikely that he will be in line for a title shot anytime soon. Both Kovalev and Klimas confirmed that this is the case.
In regards to Beterbiev, Kovalev said, “Right now he’s nobody. And he will be nobody for later.”
Klimas quickly added, “He will need to go a long way to reach where Sergey is at now.”
Before planning begins for his next fight, Kovalev still has to dispatch Pascal. Former champion Roy Jones Jr., who also works as an assistant coach for Jean Pascal, has told numerous media outlets that he thinks that Pascal can beat Kovalev.
Kovalev doesn’t see much merit in Jones’s words. “He’s [Jones] saying [sic] press. He’s promoting the fight,” said Kovalev.
Even though he is very confident in his abilities and training, Kovalev is making sure to not look past Pascal. When asked to offer up a fight prediction and if he thought he would be victorious Kovalev told me, “I don’t know because it’s boxing. Who will win? We don’t know. Nobody will know. Only God knows.”
During my time talking to Kovalev, I would say that he is focused, determined and ready for anything that Pascal has to throw at him. I wouldn’t be surprised if Sergey Kovalev handed Jean Pascal the first knockout loss of his career.
The real question that should be on fight fans’ minds is if there is anybody in the light heavyweight division that can defeat Kovalev. There might be, but I doubt that it is Jean Pascal. Look for a motivated Kovalev to show the world why he is boxing’s next great superstar.