These guys, these boxers from Russia and thereabouts -- the Golovkins, Provodnikovs, the Sergey Kovalevs -- you simply have to dig them if you are a fan of a fighter with a closer's mentality. Of course, we aren't painting with such a broad brush that we assume every guy who grew up eating Siberian snowcones is an in-the-ring assassin type, but the fight game has been reminded that oftentimes, being from a certain area does breed characteristics that help form fighters in distinct ways.
Sergey Kovalev (22-0 with 20 KOs), one of the new class of Russian fighters, a man who doesn't pretend that his job isn't to try and knock his foes' head off, gloves up Saturday night in Quebec. Promoted by Main Events out of New Jersey, Kovalev grew up in Chelyabinsk, a big town. I recently asked the 30-year-old boxer if growing up there makes him a better brand of fighter. What is it about growing up in Kazahkstan, like Golovkin, or Siberia, like Provodnikov, or Chelyabinsk that helps form your identity as a stopper?
"Just real men," explained the WBO light heavyweight champion who faces the Ukraine's Ismayl Sillakh in Canada, "who can and want real fights. We have good boxers and good wish to fight, because we're hungry. USSR, life was very poor. Here, it's open to a very good future. I see a very good future and therefore I will keep working hard because my family in Russia is very poor, my mom, father and sisters, and I want to help them."
He explained that after the USSR broke up, things grew tougher. There wasn't always enough food, and he had to work from age 11 to help feed the family. He worked in a gas station, collected empty bottles and cans, whatever he had to do to help the family.
As for Sillakh, Kovalev says the 21-1 foe, who has 17 KOs, is "dangerous. He will be ready for this fight, and I will be too. It will be war."
Kovalev comes off a career-best win, taking down Welshman Nathan Cleverly and wresting away his crown on Sept. 17 in Wales. He opened copious eyes with a TKO3 win over slick boxer Gabriel Campillo in Janaury. Sillakh's resume is thinner; he bettered then 8-0 Yordanis Despaigne in March 2011 (UD10). Sillakh does good work backing up, poking his long jab to interrupt his opponents' flow, and against Kovalev, he will need to to win.
HBO will show the scrap.