Sergey Kovalev’s press conference Thursday at midtown Manhattan’s Renaissance hotel to announce his upcoming return to the ring filled the half empty ballroom with awkward buzz. But Andre Ward’s suspiciously-timed retirement announcement on Twitter minutes before Kovalev addressed the media, made things worse for the Russian.
Fight fans hadn’t really seen or heard much from Kovalev (30-2-1, 26 KOs) since he suffered his second consecutive loss to Ward in a span of seven months, and relinquished his WBA, WBO and IBF belts to him.
And here was Ward overshadowing Kovalev once again.
During the promotion of both Kovalev-Ward bouts, Kovalev maintained that he would end the American’s career. So he joked Thursday that he finally accomplished that, but the pain of having lost his undefeated record and unification of the belts still appeared to bother the former champ.
When asked if he thought Ward planned the timing of his retirement as a way to take attention away from his return, Kovalev entertained the thought, but abruptly dismissed it.
“His team and himself can play mental games, as they did before our rematch, but I don’t know, I don’t care at all,” said Kovalev.
The man still known as “Krusher” emerged mostly thankful for the opportunity to fight Vyacheslav Shabranskyy (19-1, 16 KOs) and proclaimed that it’s his goal to prove to everyone, as well as himself, that he can become world champion again.
“I’ll be back stronger than I was before,” Kovalev said, sounding more like someone hoping to live up to that statement, rather than believing in it.
The November 25 bout has been dubbed by Kovalev’s camp as “The Next Chapter,” and will take place at The Theater at Madison Square Garden. It will also mark Kovalev’s first professional fight in New York City.
The Russian, who wore a thousand-yard-stare on his face through much of the press conference, inhabited the body of a boxer who’s been relegated to accepting fights that are beneath him.
Shabranskyy does flaunt an impressive record, but the Ukrainian has reigned over some rather pedestrian opponents. And in perhaps his greatest test against light heavyweight powerhouse Sullivan Barrera, Shabranskyy suffered his only loss, a TKO.
Kovalev’s promoter, Kathy Duva of Main Events, was refreshingly candid about her new reality trying to promote her prizefighter since his two losses to Ward.
“I want to make a point of saying that we worked really hard to find someone that was willing to fight Sergey Kovalev. A lot of people didn’t even want to take our call. A lot of people didn’t even ask how much,” said Duva.
As Kovalev’s career pushes on, he’ll do it without trainer John David Jackson. That decision from the Kovalev camp traced back to the distraction that Jackson was embroiled in before Kovalev’s rematch with Ward.
Somewhere between the first fight in November and the second contest in June, a report surfaced that Jackson had inquired about leaving Kovalev to join Ward’s corner.
However, it no longer seemed to be a distraction to Kovalev, as he assured the media Thursday that he has taken on another trainer, yet declined to say who it was.
Losing the unification of the alphabet belts, compounded by failing to regain them, would take a toll on any boxer, Kovalev notwithstanding.
No doubt that the last 10 months have been career defining for the Russian, but after a brief respite and inward evaluation, Kovalev has decided that his losses to Ward won’t be career ending.
The way Kovalev’s manager Egis Klimas sees it, Ward vs. Kovalev III is how this story ends.
“I’ll tell you what an interesting fight will be. Sergey’s going to pick up all those three titles again and Ward will come back and fight for those titles,” said Klimas, which drew a smirk and widened eyes from the former unified light heavyweight champion of the world.