Gauging Just How Much Sergey Kovalev Still Loves or Likes Boxing

We hear and talk about skills eroding as fighters get older. But desire diminishing can be just as much a factor in a boxer’s losing some zing as they age up as erosion from aging is.

Putting up with BS just gets harder to handle as you pile up the rodeos entered. Horses hooves on your butt, in the form of the outside the ring hurdles, can accumulate and to the point that you fall out of love with the sport. And when your love dims, it makes it that much harder to get pumped up to deal with the crap. Especially, it must be said, when you’ve reached high-level peaks that left you with enough money to consider saying, “To hell with this, I’m out.”

Sergey Kovalev is 35 years old, and you had to be wondering, after his two losses to Andre Ward, would he, could he come back to the game and compete at that highest level? Would he be able to shrug off the losses and get back on the horse after being bucked? He’d socked away paydays so that the house was paid for, the cars bought, the education fund stocked so the Ivy League could be attended if offspring had that ability. With smart money management, he’d not have to toil to survive and keep the lights on.

To me, it has looked like he’s bounced back pretty damn well from the ego puncture of the Ward outings. He’s fought twice since the last Ward collision, and looked the part of world-class pugilist against Vyacheslav Shabranskyy..

…and then Igor Mikhalkin.

He’s being quite capably escorted back to the spot where where he will be able to engage in a fight that will approach the place of prominence the Ward fights did. On Aug. 4, he’s in against another man he
will be favored to beat, but not within the same odds frame that his last two foes afforded him. Elder Alvarez is 23-0 and has more of a chance to screw up the Kovalev career reset than Shabba and Igor did.

But on a recent conference call, I prodded. I wanted to hear for myself if Kovalev’s head seems like it’s screwed on as straight as it needs to be.

‘Sergey, I am wondering, you are 35 years old. You’ve had these high-level fights and good paydays and have been a long time in this sport. How much do you still love, or how much do you still like boxing,’ I asked.

“I don’t feel that I am old or something like that,” the Russian with the 32-2-1 mark told me. “It’s just a number for me, 35. God blessed me and gave me an opportunity as still fighting on this level, like a champion, and I’ll be fighting, I hope, ’til I get all four titles. It’s my goal and when I get this goal I am done. That will be like a goal to retire.”

I followed up with his manager, Egis Klimas, who in fact will be forthcoming with the truth serum talk if and when one of his guys is off kilter, mentally…

‘Egis, what do you see outside looking in? How much does your guy still like or love boxing?’

“Well, if I see him every day in the gym, working for two, three hours, sparring with a bigger guy and not saying much about it, I think it’s still in him what he had,” Klimas answered. “He’s not complaining. He’s always ready and every time he sees me he’s always asking about possibilities about who’s gonna be next. I think he’s still interested in this sport and I think he’s still gonna bring something to it.”

I kept prodding. I wanted to know if that outside the ring BS, and yes, that can include feeling stale listening to some of the same stupid queries from guys like me, has infected him and maybe stolen some of his regard for the game…

‘Sergey, I don’t want to disrespect your foe for this fight,’ I said. ‘I’m wondering, does it get frustrating for you that we, the media and fans, still ask about people like Andre Ward and Adonis Stevenson and guys that are not at the table right now? Is that frustrating for you?’

“No, it’s okay, because it already was; this is part of my career, you know, and I understand everything. I got a big experience from Andre Ward, the fight, you know, like and what was around this fight,” Kovalev said. “Also, I’m happy that I’m still fighting, but Andre Ward already retired.”

My three cents: It SOUNDS to me like the guy is in a good space now. I think he handles Alvarez and then, then it gets more interesting. Then we probably get a possible changing of the guard bout, Kovalev against Dmitriy Bivol. Bivol, I asked him if he thinks he’s right now the top gun at 175, and he said, “I do not think that now I am the best light heavyweight but I am now one of the best. One of four guys but I hope in not far future, we will know who is the best.” Yeah, Sergey will need to be at his mental best when he and Bivol decide who is at the apex of 175. Readers, shall we get out in front of ourselves a bit, and ponder who wins and how when, I mean IF Kovalev fights Bivol?

Michael Woods
About the Author:

Michael Woods. Host, TALKBOX podcast, powered by EVERLAST; 1st VP, Boxing Writers Association of America; is my site