Kovalev built power, works on trash talking

June, 11, 2013
6/11/13
4:38
PM ET
Fight fans love an ass-kicker, someone who comes in and is a great bet to finish his foe before the final bell. Sergey Kovalev, who fights on Friday against Cornelius White, is starting to generate buzz as an ass-kicker.

The Russian-born Florida resident with a 20-0-1 (18 KOs) recordwho can snag the No. 1 ranking in the IBF if he downs the 21-1 White at the Sands Casino Resort in Bethlehem, PA, has a fan in HBO's Max Kellerman. The analyst thinks the light heavyweight contender will butt heads with 168 pound ace Andre Ward, who many think will jump to light heavyweight soon.

I asked Kovalev, through translator/manager Egis Klimas, if he agrees with Kellerman, and sees a showdown with Ward as inevitable.

"I am ready for Andre Ward now if he comes to 175," the 30-year-old Kovalev said. "But I'm not going to make 168. I do understand maybe I'm not ready to be for considered for Ward. Ward probably wouldn't accept me, not too many people know me but I am ready."

The 31-year-old White is coming off an eight round unanimous decision win over journeyman Otis Griffin on March 9. He is nicknamed "Da Beast" but has won two straight decisions. In contrast, Kovalev, apart from a technical draw in 2011, has stopped his last eight foes early. If he keeps up this heavy-handedness, he needn't worry: people will know his name.

I wondered if Kovalev was born with this power. We always hear how punchers are born, not manufactured, right?

Klimas offered an anecdote to give some perspective. He said when he brought Kovalev from Russia in 2008, he had him in a North Carolina gym. Veteran trainer Don Turner saw him and said, "Where did you get this guy?"

Klimas told him, and admitted that Kovalev, who had more than 200 amateur fights and was a standout in Russia who just missed the 2008 Olympics, had told him he wanted to find a trainer who could help him build his power base.

"B------t! This guy has a lot of power!" Turner declared.

Kovalev said that in fact his power has grown recently. He attributed that to gaining some muscle weight. "Maybe I was a little skinny," he said.

With that task done, another thing Kovalev could do is talk some trash, help build his buzz. I chuckled some when I heard his answer after I asked who would be a harder out, Ward or Bernard Hopkins? "I think both fights would be very good fights but maybe Hopkins would be a little more difficult because he's a more dirty fighter," he said. "Ward is more skilled, they're hard to compare."

Can you picture the headline?

"Kovalev: Hopkins Is A Dirty Fighter"

Like many, many high achievers in the sport, Kovalev came from humble beginnings. Living in Chelyabinsk, Russia, his parents divorced when he was three. By 13, he was much on his own, and had to forage to get money for food. He pumped gas, collected bottles, did what he had to do to get some money and hand it over to mom.

Anyway, as far as being a trash-talker, Kovalev is a work in progress. Asked what would go down in the Friday fight, promoted by Main Events, which will run on NBC Sports Network, Kovalev said, "I don't like or want to predict my upcoming fight. Every situation is different, it always depends on how you feel that day and how you prepared. It depends on how you sleep the night before. I don't want to say I'm going to do this or that. People who talk a lot go on the canvas very quickly. I am a fighter, not a talker."
Michael Woods, a member of the board of the Boxing Writers Association of America, has been covering boxing since 1991. He writes about boxing for ESPN The Magazine and is the news editor for TheSweetScience.com.

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