Glynn Evans delves into the background of the ‘Krusher’ from Russia who defends his WBA Super, WBO and IBF titles in a rematch with Canada’s Jean Pascal at the fabulous Bell Centre, Montreal this Saturday night, live on BoxNation.
1) Sergey Kovalev was born in Kopeysk, Russia on the 2nd April 1983 and raised in the radiation touched town of Chelyabinsk, an ice hockey stronghold, close to the Ural mountains. He has two brothers but his parents split when he was young and was reared in poverty, growing up on a diet of ‘spaghetti and eggs’.
To help make ends meet, he sold newspapers and washed cars. Later he served in the Russian army. Today Sergey lives in Fort Lauderdale, Florida with wife Natalya, 15 month son Aleksandr and dog Picasso.
2) Formerly an ice hockey player, Sergey switched to boxing when he was 11. His childhood ring heroes were Kostya Tszyu, Tommy Hearns and Roy Jones Jr. All told, he had 215 bouts in a headguard and vest, losing just 20. He won national titles at both junior and senior level and was a regular on the Russian national squads.
The ‘Krusher’ also bagged a brace of World Military titles in 2005 (South Africa) and 2007 (India). However, he usually missed out on selection to the major international tournaments to Artur Beterbiev – who defeated him twice.
3) Kovalev was already 26 when, in 2009, he relocated to North Carolina, turning pro under Lithuanian born manager Egil Klimas and renowned US trainer Don Turner. An unknown commodity, he served his apprenticeship in US tank towns like Greenboro, Fairfax, Tacoma, Louisville and Lafayette.
The solitary blemish on his 29 fight pro portfolio came in fight 17 when he detonated an accidental - but illegal and fight ending - blow to the back of opponent Grover Young’s head. The fight was declared a two round technical draw. Klimas relentlessly touted his ward to every reputable US promoter. Eventually, in 2012, they nailed a deal with Main Events, whose CEO Kathy Duva dubbed him ‘Krusher’ explaining: ‘US fans never remember Russian names.’
4) Tragedy struck in December 2011 when, in only his second pro gig in his homeland, compatriot Roman Simakov lapsed into a coma following a brutal seven round ‘bang up’ in Ekaterinburg. The 27 year old from Kemerovo – who’d lost just once in his previous 21 – passed away three days later.
Kovolev compassionately flew Simakov’s parents to Ekaterinburg and donated the entire purse for his next fight to the late boxer’s family. Though Kovalev refuses to discuss the matter, it doesn’t appear to have robbed him of his menace. Ten of his 11 subsequent opponents were rubbed out before the scheduled finish.
5) Since the Simakov tragedy, the ‘Krusher’ has been coached by John David Jackson, a Denver-born, Florida based former two weight world champion. A globetrotting southpaw, ‘Action’ Jackson fought for world titles in France, England, Italy, Argentina and Mexico, in addition to the US.
In October 1990, he successfully defended his WBO light-middle title against hometown hero Chris Pyatt at the Granby Hall, Leicester and in 1994 he was involved in Ring magazine’s Fight of the Year, a nine round stoppage loss to Jorge Castro, whom he’d floored six times! After retiring in 1999, Jackson learnt his craft as a coach beneath grandmasters George Benton, Emanuel Steward and Don Turner. Prior to Kovalev, ‘Action’ worked with world champions Shane Mosley, Bernard Hopkins, Nate Campbell and Randall Bailey.
6) Kovalev, of course, assumed his world title status by slaughtering Wales’ WBO king Nathan Cleverly at the Motorpoint Arena, Cardiff in August 2013. He has subsequently retained the belt on six occasions, five by stoppage, twice in Canada. In 2014, he was honoured as Ring magazine’s Fighter of the Year.
7) In November 2014, Kovalev added the IBF and WBA Super titles to his collection with a 12 round shutout over the Hall of Fame destined Bernard Hopkins at the Boardwalk Hall, Atlantic City. Though the Russian entered as a 5-2 on betting favourite, 13 of 25 ‘experts’ canvassed for the fight programme favoured the Philadelphian to prevail and a Ring magazine poll also tipped BHop.
‘Krusher’ dropped Hopkins in the first round then almost stopped him with a vicious barrage during the final 90 seconds after Hopkins poked his tongue out at him. It was the only time a Kovalev fight has gone past round eight and he later acknowledged that, even at 49, Hopkins was the best foe he’d fought.
8) There has been an almighty clamour within the trade to pitch Kovalev against the WBC and Ring magazine champion Adonis ‘Superman’ Stevenson, with all the marbles at stake. Last year promoter Duva lobbied the WBC to install Kovalev as mandatory with a 50-50 purse split but then withdrew her man as the Russian was exclusively tied to HBO.
Last April, Kovalev compromised the match by tweeting a photo of a chimpanzee wearing boxing gloves, with the caption: ‘Adonis looks great!’ He swiftly deleted the post and tendered a public apology, citing a lack of understanding of US cultural history. Stevenson responded: ‘Wanna fight? Punch above the belt.’