Sergey Kovalev is one scary dude.
Don’t get me wrong. He’s polite to me, and he has never done or said anything to me or anyone I know, or even that I am aware of, that would make me think he’s anything other than a regular, everyday guy.
But I’ve seen Kovalev fight, and anyone who seems to enjoy inflicting that much damage on other human beings—even in a prizefight—deserves a certain level of respect.
|Knockout Percentage:||88 percent|
So when I interviewed Kovalev last week for Bleacher Report, I was a bit taken aback when he opened up the conversation by adamantly telling me how hungry he felt.
“I’m hungry,” said Kovalev. “Hungry.”
Fighters often say they’re hungry in reference to big-time fights and stratospheric paydays. But Kovalev was talking about hunger the same way us everyday folk do: He was talking about food.
Being thousands of miles away from him, I couldn’t very well have offered him any. Funny how that goes, though. The very same miles of distance between us that made it impossible for me to offer him food gave me little solace in regard to my personal sense of safety about the matter.
Being of sound mind and comparatively fragile body, I quickly changed the subject to ask Kovalev what he knew about his opponent on Saturday, Blake Caparello.
“I know nothing about my opponent on Saturday.”
Um, OK. But have you seen any of his fights, maybe? Any video of him at all to help you prepare for the fight?
“A couple of rounds. I’ve seen just a couple of rounds of what he’s doing. For me, enough. A couple of rounds.”
Kovalev’s last fight was against the undefeated, but unheralded, Cedric Agnew. When I visited Agnew ahead of the fight at Main Street Boxing Gym in downtown Houston, he told me he’d have a surprise for Kovalev come fight night. He wouldn’t tell me specifically what his strategy would be, but he was supremely confident he’d get the job done.
Kovalev knocked Agnew out in Round 7 with a thunderous body punch. It broke Agnew’s ribs and left him crying in the arms of his handlers in the dressing room.
Caparello has been at least equally confident headed into his fight with Kovalev. According to a recent press release, Caparello feels all the pressure is on Kovalev to perform and thinks the menacing mauler might be looking a bit past him and on to bigger fights down the line.
Who is the best light heavyweight in the world right now?
“No, I don’t feel pressure. I feel pressure only for my family. I am responsible for my family.”
Still, in an interview posted on YouTube with Aus-boxing.com, Caparello said he saw flaws in Kovalev and that he had the game plan to defeat him.
Kovalev said he had heard that one before.
“All my opponents know something before the fight, but in the fight the situation is different.”
If you’ve seen Kovalev fight, you know it’s the power he possesses in both hands that sets him apart from other fighters. Kovalev has knocked out 22 of 25 opponents, including his last eight.
Moreover, Kovalev is the type of fighter who dares you to stand in front of him and trade punches. He wants it. Because he’s betting he can hit you harder and more accurately than you can hit him, and he’s usually right.
Given all that, it’s a bit surprising that his power seems to be such a shock to his foes on fight night. You can see it on their faces the first time one of his thudding blows lands clean. Or even when it doesn’t. When Kovalev hits you, it hurts.
Didn’t they know what they were getting into? Haven’t they seen this guy fight before?
I wondered if Kovalev was surprised by it, too.
“No. I’m not surprised.”
Not given much rope to swing into a follow-up question on the matter, I pivoted to what Caparello said of Kovalev during a recent media conference call. Caparello boasted he wanted to fight Kovalev because he considered him the best light heavyweight in the world.
In 2013, Kovalev told me Adonis Stevenson was the light heavyweight who had the best year, so I wondered if Kovalev thought he or lineal champion, Stevenson, was the best in the division right now.
So I asked him. Do you think you’re the best light heavyweight in the world right now, Sergey?
One fighter who might disagree with the hungry man of few words is Bernard Hopkins. The ageless Hopkins made waves recently when he told RingTV.com’s Joseph Santoliquito that he was ready to fight Kovalev in November.
But Hopkins has been tied to Showtime over the past few years and seems firmly headed toward a more makeable clash against Stevenson instead.
So it seems reasonable to assume Hopkins was just looking for a little publicity when he broached the subject of Kovalev, or that maybe he was throwing his weight around at the negotiating table.
Kovalev wasn’t interested in discussing the matter.
“I don’t know, and I don’t know who is this ‘Bernard Hopkins’? I know that my next opponent is Blake Caparello.”
Good idea. Let’s stay on topic.
I told Kovalev that Caparello would probably want to take him to the latter rounds. The Australian is a good fighter but doesn’t have the power to stand in the pocket and trade shots with a guy like Kovalev. The most interesting part of Saturday’s fight will be seeing if Kovalev will have to chase Caparello down during the early rounds.
Kovalev didn’t want to discuss what he’d do on fight night.
“Yeah, I will see in the ring what I need to do. I am interested, too. I want to get in the ring and then show everybody what I came to do. I can say that this fight will be much better than last one. It will be more interesting with more action.”
OK. So let’s say Caparello does everything he can to stay away from Kovalev for the whole fight, and it turns into a stinker. Shouldn’t Kovalev worry about keeping his fights against guys like Caparello action-packed and entertaining enough in order to put pressure on the other big-name fighters in the division to face him?
“No, I don’t think or worry about anything. It’s just a fight. I go in the ring, and then there’s fighting.”
Fair point. Kovalev is a guy who likes to fight. You can see it on his face every time he lands a punch. You can see it in his eyes every time an opponent winces in pain. He likes it.
In fact, Kovalev is the best kind of fighter: one who enjoys his work.
“Yeah. I like fight. Yeah.”
But why? Boxing is a terribly difficult way to earn a living. Isn’t it? Why would someone want to put himself through so much in order to earn a living the most violent and dangerous way possible?
“Boxing is already in my life. I have been boxing since I was 11 years old. I can’t do more. It’s only boxing. Yeah, difficult but interesting. I can get good money from boxing for my life and go to retirement a rich man…Not 50 years old, you know?”
Kovalev said he was basically living the American dream and that boxing could provide him an early retirement.
“I came to America to get these opportunities—to fight on HBO against this level of fighter.”
If guys like Hopkins, Stevenson or even 168-pound champion Andre Ward don't want to take the risk of fighting him, Kovalev said it was on them. He wants all those fights and more, and they know it.
“I have a passion, and I am ready for it to take me farther. But it’s not my problem. I have a fight. Next fight, my next fighter, next week on HBO. I’m happy. After it, I hope to again fight somebody. Who it will be? We will see.”
Kovalev reiterated it wasn’t his job to make fights happen. There is a utilitarian aspect of Kovalev’s vocationalism that is frustrating but, at the very same time, strikingly admirable.
“It’s not my job. I’m just a fighter.”
Perhaps it’s the conversationalist in me, but I asked Kovalev how the weather has been over in his adopted home of Ft. Lauderdale, Florida. Kovalev said it’s been the same as every summer there: hot, humid and wet.
But he said he hadn’t been there very much this summer. Rather, he had traveled to his home country of Russia and California as of late, and he said that he’d be doing so again soon.
“After my next fight, I’ll be again in California for vacation.”
Perhaps I’m just a glutton for punishment, but I asked Kovalev what a guy like him did for vacation. His response was garbled coming through the phone line. It sounded something like “eating” or “drinking” was all he wanted—I don’t know, but the two other folks on the call—his manager Egis Klimas and Ellen Haley from Main Events—laughed along with him after he said it, so it must have added some levity to things a bit.
So I laughed, too. Because you don’t ask a man like Sergey Kovalev to repeat himself, no matter how far away he may be from you at the time, especially when he’s hungry.
Kelsey McCarson regularly contributes to Bleacher Report, The Sweet Science and Boxing Channel. Unless otherwise noted, all quotes were obtained firsthand.