By John DiSanto – PhillyBoxingHistory.com
Photo: Gary Purfield
Sergey Kovalev (21-0-1, 19 KOs), gets his first crack at a world title this Saturday when he meets Nathan Cleverly (26-0, 12 KOs), for the WBO light heavyweight title in a 12-round fight at the Motorpoint Arena in Cardiff, Wales. The fight appears to be an interesting boxer vs. puncher matchup between two unbeaten pros, and will be televised by HBO in a delayed broadcast (9:45PM Eastern). The stakes in the fight are high, given that the winner could be propelled into some very big opportunities with the stars of the 175-pound division. We caught up with Kovalev and his trainer John David Jackson by phone for the Q&A session.
How are things going in camp now that you are in the UK?
John David Jackson: This is our first week (here), but on fight night it will be two weeks total. Camp was good. Sergey is a professional and he’s already in shape when he gets to camp. That always makes it easier for us to do what we have to do and prepare for the fight.
Sergey Kovalev: It looks like we’ve already adjusted to the time zone. I can’t wait until Saturday to get on with it.
In June you won the IBF eliminator and became the #1 contender for Bernard Hopkins’ IBF Title, but jumped instead to this fight with Cleverly for the WBO title. Why?
Sergey Kovalev: The whole team, myself, the promoter Main Events, and my manager Egis Klimas, wasn’t sure the fight with Hopkins would ever happen. Because he can take a fight, he cannot take a fight. He might just fight somebody else. So chasing Hopkins would probably be a mistake. Instead of accepting a fight with Cleverly, which was already 100% confirmed.
John David Jackson: The Hopkins fight was a bigger, but who’s to say that fight would even happen at all. So the chance came for this fight, and his management thought it was the right time to take it. We took it and here we are.
What do you know about Cleverly’s style?
John David Jackson: I watched as much tape on Cleverly as I could. I had watched him previously because there was a time when he and Bernard (Hopkins) were going to fight. [Note: Jackson was Hopkins' trainer for a period.] So I watched him. I’m not underestimating him, but he just does not impress me. He’s not a bad fighter. He’s not super quick, he’s not super slick, he’s not super strong. He just does things almost fundamentally well. There’s a lot of flaws in his game. So basically we have to expose the weaknesses that he has and capitalize on those. And snuff out his strengths, which are a decent jab, stamina, he’s able to throw a lot of punches during the fight. That’s pretty much what I see from this kid.
There has been a lot of talk out of the Cleverly camp.
John David Jackson: If you listen to him and his father talk, they are going to knock Sergey out in the first eight rounds, but you can’t bring a handgun in against an army. And that’s generally what he has. His clip is half loaded. So he’s in trouble right away. He has to be a real good boxer to really frustrate and avoid Sergey. Can he box? Yes. Is he a great boxer? No. He’s a very good boxer. If you don’t have the power to get the other man’s respect, you’re in trouble. And if he tries to slug, that’s right down our alley. If he goes against the grain and tries to do what he doesn’t do really well, then he’s putting himself in the lion’s den and in the line of fire. Either way, we see a victory by knockout or by decision.
What concerns do you have about the fight?
John David Jackson: I’m not underestimating him. He’s champion for a reason. He won it and he earned it. So we definitely have to give him the respect outside the ring beforehand. But once that bell rings, all respect leaves.
Are you concerned about fighting in Cleverly’s home country?
Sergey Kovalev: Not at all. No concerns. Absolutely not.
John David Jackson: I doubt it will affect Sergey at all. I don’t think the fans are going to bother him. All the singing and chanting (by the fans) doesn’t matter because Sergey doesn’t understand English well. So what does he care what they sing about? I doubt that the crowd will be a factor for him. All he sees is the opponent across the ring.
Kovalev is a puncher and Cleverly is a boxer. How do you think the fight will play out?
Sergey Kovalev: I am a boxer as well. I can box. I’m going to try to give him the best fight possible, and if I see an opportunity to knock him down, I will knock him down.
Do you think you will have to chase him?
Sergey Kovalev: Yes, I think he will try to run.
So how will you deal with that?
Sergey Kovalev: That’s my key on how I’m going to win the fight. So I’m not willing to discuss that right now.
This is your first world title fight. Does it feel any different? Are you nervous?
Sergey Kovalev: Before every single bout, I still have sports nervousness. Today I don’t feel any different from any other fight.
If you win this fight and become champion, there will be many big fights in your future, Hopkins, Stevenson, etc. Is there anyone you are looking forward to fighting after Cleverly?
Sergey Kovalev: I’m not thinking about that. Right now I’m thinking about Cleverly and fighting on Saturday night. That’s all that’s on my mind. I’ll think about that after the fight.
But light heavyweight is a good division to be in, right?
Sergey Kovalev: In the first place, I feel as though I’ve brought the division up. But yes, there are a lot of good fighters and challengers in the division.
John David Jackson: He stacks up well (against the other light heavyweights). When you talk about Hopkins, you’re talking about an old fighter. Hopkins has been beating these guys, but these guys aren’t smart fighters as of late. The last kid he beat, Cloud, didn’t even show up for that fight. He didn’t cut the ring off. He just followed an old man around the ring, and Bernard did what he wanted to do. You can’t let Bernard do that to you. Stevenson is dangerous. I trained Stevenson for a while. He’s very dangerous, but he’s lacking in basic fundamentals and defense. And his chin is suspect. So that would be a big fight down the road if Stevenson can stay champion for a while. But right now, let the pot simmer. There are plenty of good fights out there for him, but let’s get past Saturday. Then the door will open wide for him, and his management can make the fights for him to make the big money he deserves to make.
After your last fight you said you wanted your next fight to be on HBO against one of the champions. How does it feel now that that is happening?
Sergey Kovalev: My wishes came true.
Does it feel like this fight for the championship is coming at the right time for you?
John David Jackson: The timing is right. It’s become harder and harder to find opponents for Sergey. So when the chance for a world title comes, why not take it? So this one came at the right time for him. He’s ready for it now and he wants it. So it all played out well.
Sergey Kovalev: I’ve been waiting for this kind of fight for a long time. I went through all that, and right now I’m already in a place to show my boxing skills and show what I can do best.