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Kovalev enters tense reunion with Sanchez

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There has been very little buzz leading up to Saturday's bout between unified light heavyweight titlist Sergey Kovalev and the relatively unknown mandatory challenger Nadjib Mohammedi.

For Kovalev (27-0-1, 24 KOs), a massive puncher and overwhelming betting favorite, the bout is more of the stay-busy variety. And despite remaining confident, Mohammedi (37-3, 23 KOs), who waited more than a year to cash-in his mandatory status, has been relatively quiet in the build-up.

But the one thing this fight has offered for Kovalev, 32, is a largely unwanted reunion with his former trainer Abel Sanchez, which has grown to become the juiciest storyline heading into Saturday's fight.

Sanchez guided "The Krusher" to a 7-0-1 mark with seven knockouts from 2010 to early 2012 until a falling out led to Kovalev's ejection from Sanchez's Summit Gym in Big Bear Lake, California. In recent months, we have grown to learn the two simply don't get along.

The veteran Sanchez has enjoyed a resurgence in the corner of unbeaten middleweight titlist Gennady Golovkin in recent years. On Saturday, he enters his third bout as head trainer for Mohammedi. Sanchez is tasked with formulating a game plan to disarm the destroyer he helped mold.

Exactly what happened just over three years ago to end their somewhat brief marriage is hard to pinpoint.

Kovalev has not been willing to say much of anything about Sanchez throughout the fight's promotion, summing up his thoughts at last week's media teleconference by saying, "Who is this Abel? I don't know any Abel." On Thursday in an ESPN.com fan chat, Kovalev reiterated his stance when asked about why the two parted ways.

"I already talked an answer to this question," Kovalev said. "I don't care if Abel is the coach of Mohammedi. I don't think about it at all."

Sanchez, on the other hand, has been much more vocal. He admits to originally bringing Kovalev into camp as a sparring partner for Golovkin, telling Grantland's The Ropes podcast in May that his dismissal of Kovalev had to do with a lack of character.

"As far as I'm concerned, I want to come to my gym and have a good time," Sanchez said. "If somebody's character is not what I think it should be, I have no desire to work with him.

"I called his manager and asked him to take him somewhere else. But before I did that, I spoke with Sergey and told him that he was going to be a world champion in a couple of fights. I told him that he was going to be a world champion because of what we had developed here. But he had to change his character and had to change his way of being because you can't do this game by yourself."

Sanchez declined to elaborate on what exactly led to Kovalev's expulsion.

"I just have to have a guy with character. I have to have a guy with morals and loyalty," Sanchez said. "This business is rough enough for the coaches that I didn't feel he was one of the persons that I wanted to spend my time with."

Kovalev's exit from camp was likely escalated by the fact that he never quite worked out as an effective sparring partner for Golovkin. Sanchez claims he was "deathly afraid of Gennady" and that Golovkin, who currently competes two divisions south of the light heavyweight, handled him with ease.

It's because of this belief that Sanchez hasn't shied away from the idea of one day putting Golovkin back into the ring against Kovalev.

"Absolutely, absolutely. If Gennady's career goes the way that he wants to and he eliminates everybody like he wants to and moves up to 168, in the future I would have no hesitation with accepting that fight," Sanchez said.

How Sanchez's experience with Kovalev might play a factor in helping Mohammedi, a native of France, remains to be seen.

Kovalev, who is 10-0 with 9 KOs under the tutelage of current trainer John David Jackson, scoffed at the idea when asked about it in May at the media conference to announce the fight.

"Come on, [Sanchez] doesn't know any secrets about me because he didn't spend a lot of time working with me because he was very busy with Gennady Golovkin and then I leave this gym," Kovalev told BoxingScene.com. "What he's showing to Nadjib right now I don't know."

While Mohammedi has shown improvements and looked impressive by scoring a pair of stoppages in his first two fights with Sanchez -- albeit against very soft competition -- he's a heavy underdog for a reason. He has also been knocked out inside of two rounds in two of his three career defeats.

Mohammedi, 30, told ESPN.com on Tuesday that Sanchez has helped him upgrade his fighting style without changing it, and has helped him focus more on his power. But he wasn't ready to buy in just yet to the idea that Sanchez's experience with Kovalev would be enough, on its own, to lift him to an upset.

"Abel Sanchez knows the style of Kovalev," Mohammedi said, through a translator. "He knows his talents and his mistakes. But for now, we can say that the style of Kovalev has changed a bit [since joining Jackson]. He has always been a straight boxer -- jab, right, left, jab. But at the end, we never know."

Former middleweight and light heavyweight champion Bernard Hopkins, who went the distance in defeat against Kovalev in their November unification bout, has a different take.

Hopkins, who was a guest on ESPN.com's Making The Rounds on Monday, believes that the advantage in this case falls to Kovalev, who will be able to use his negative history with Sanchez as extra motivation to spite his former trainer.

"Yeah, it plays a role," Hopkins said. "And I respect Abel ... But I can tell you that I [would] have used it as fire, especially as a champion for 12 years holding the middleweight title. And I say to you that I used every little bit that even didn't seem that big of a problem, [but] I made it one."